West Common

Description

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  • Overview
    West Common is a large area of common land to the west of the city centre that is bisected by Saxilby Road. The proximity of this rural landscape to the centre of the city is a key characteristic of Lincoln. The Character Area forms a continuous swathe of open space reaching all the way from the agricultural areas on the boundary of the city to the city centre. From here there are wide views both towards the Cathedral and the profile of the north Escarpment, and out of the city into the grassland and agricultural land beyond. However, the latter is obscured in some places by the A46, which is raised on an embankment.
     
    The larger area of West Common, to the north of Saxilby Road, includes grassland grazed by horses, an area of grassland that used to be part of The Straight Mile of the Lincoln Racecourse, several plantations, a number of damper inundations, a formal pond and a range of sports facilities such as football pitches, bowling greens and tennis courts.
     
    The smaller area to the south is mainly short-mown grassland that has been used as a golf course since 1891.The Grandstand for the former Lincoln Racecourse is also situated on this side of Saxilby Road, facing on to the northern part of the Character Area. When racing meetings were held here, this section of the road was closed and traffic was diverted around the back of the building.
     
    During the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras much of the land in the Character Area and to the west of the city was held in ‘common’. Evidence for common cultivation, possibly as early as the High Medieval Era, can be seen in the series of ridge and furrow earthworks that remain.
     
    The early 19th-century enclosure and drainage of the area redefined the boundaries of this Character Area, particularly in the south and west, to its current shape. The racecourse was established by the Lincoln Corporation on West Common in 1773. It closed in 1964 but many vestiges of the track and associated infrastructure remain apparent in the Character Area, in particular the grandstand and stabling blocks which were constructed in 1897.
     
    The Common continued as a focus for recreation throughout the Early Industrial and Late Victorian/Edwardian Periods, with as many as twenty football pitches and eleven cricket pitches laid out. In 1874, public baths were constructed in the south of the area adjacent to the Main Drain, the brick walled remains of which survive in situ.
     
    During WWI much of the Common was designated No.4 Aircraft Acceptance Park and was used to test aircraft assembled in the city’s many industrial plants. The airfield had turf runways and a number of outbuildings, many of which survive as earthworks. Directly south of the grandstand there is an earthwork indicating the location of a former training trench in WW1.
     
    The topography of the Character Area is a gradual incline from south to north with the Fossdyke at the lowest point, Long Leys Road at the highest point and a levelled area in the centre accommodating Saxilby Road. The area also drops off slightly towards the east.
     
    The Character Area mainly contains improved grassland of low ecological value. However, there are also some exceptionally interesting and species-rich habitat types, namely: a large area of acidic grassland in the west where 3 holes of Carholme Golf Course are situated; a series of seasonally-inundated shallow depressions in the north-western part of the site; a hummocky area to the west, and two ponds.
     
    Numerous water features are scattered throughout this Character Area and run along its boundaries. The Fossdyke Canal, and the Catchwater and Main Drains, that run parallel to each other, bound it to the south and west. Several smaller drains and ditches cut across the golf course. There are two ponds, one each side of the road and a series of periodically inundated damp depressions.
     
    There are two clusters of leisure facilities, the sports pavilion on the northern side of Saxilby Road that is adjacent to the bowling greens, tennis courts and cricket pitch; and the grandstand building with its associated stable block on the southern side of the road. The grandstand is a focal point for the Character Area, as is the road with its avenue of trees, which has become increasingly busy in recent years.
     
    The view of the Cathedral, in particular, close by yet raised up on the north escarpment with the city leading up to it, is an important characteristic of West Common and Lincoln.
  • Historical Development
    Lincoln’s West Common is a large area of open space lying between the inner city, close by to the east, and agricultural land to the west. The Character Area has a longstanding relationship with the city centre, and, as a central area of open space, has fulfilled a wide variety of functions associated with Lincoln’s development since the Roman Military Era [AD60-90]. Evidence for previous uses of the land is discernable at many scales, including large-scale features such as the Fossdyke as well as a number of small and subtle earthworks, which are apparent across a large proportion of the Character Area.
     
    Although the area has been repeatedly exploited since the Roman Military Era, its open character persists through to the modern day, contrasting with the built form of the city to the east, conveying a sense of rurality through to the inner city. It is probable that from as early as the Roman Military Era, land in the Character Area was part of the early city’s ‘territorium’, a swathe of land surrounding major Roman fortresses in which agricultural production and services were dedicated to the service of the legion. The area may have been a focus for small-scale open quarrying, probably in the form of localised areas of ‘digging’ especially around any limestone, ironstone, gravel and clay outcrops that occur along the escarpment slope. Evidence for diggings, which probably occurred later in the High Medieval [850 – 1350 AD] and Early Modern [1350-1750 AD] Eras, is observable in the form of small scoops and mounds either side of the Saxilby Road in the north west of the area.
     Rural views over West Common leading up to Lincoln city centre
    Figure 1 Rural views over West Common leading up to Lincoln city centre
     
    To the south, the boundary of the area is defined by the ‘Fossdyke’, a canal possibly dating to the High Medieval Era if not earlier, which connects the River Witham with the River Trent. Construction of the canal entailed the straightening and re-routing of the River Till, which probably became redundant by the Early Modern Era. Since its construction, the Fossdyke has played an integral role in the industrial development of Lincoln, and continued to function as a commercial transport route until 1972. The watercourse is now used for recreation, with a large number of boats moored along its banks.
     
    During the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras much of the land in the Character Area and to the west of the city was held in ‘common’, and was farmed and used for grazing by inhabitants of Lincoln who possessed common rights to make use of the open land. Evidence for common cultivation of the land, possibly as early as the High Medieval Era, can be seen in the series of ridge and furrow earthworks which run south west to north east over the majority of land to the north of the Saxilby Road. Low-lying land in the Character Area would have been wetland, particularly during the wetter seasons, and would most likely have been an area of meadow used for grazing animals, wildfowling and for the gathering of natural materials such as reeds. Evidence for the former wetland character of the area is observable in the pools of standing water on the common to the north of the Saxilby Road, and in the current prevalence of wetland species. The continuation of wetland demonstrates how the Common has been retained in public ownership, in contrast to private lands, such as those within Burton Fields Character Area, which have been largely ‘improved’ by field drainage for commercial scale cultivation.
    Ridge and furrow earthworks on West Common, there are trees in the background as well as a view of the city.
    Figure 2 Ridge and furrow earthworks on West Common
     
    The original medieval route of Stowgate, which was an important western access route into the city by at least the 13th century, probably ran just to the north of the modern Saxilby Road. However, a contemporary medieval road, Cliffgate, ran along the current northern boundary of the Common between Yarborough Road and Mitchel Drive. The roads would have been important in the development of the city as a market centre during the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras. In addition, two hollow ways (including one which overlies ridge and furrow earthworks and runs to the north west and south east of Jubilee Pond, and a second in the far north east of the Character Area) survive as additional evidence for medieval tracks in the area.
     
    Although a small amount of land in the south of Burton Fields Character Area appears to have been enclosed before the nineteenth century, the majority of land to the west of the city appears to have been enclosed under an Act of Parliament in 1803. The Enclosure Act outlined the dividing up of common lands around the city according to common rights and private claims of ownership. Shortly after the Act of Enclosure, Lincoln West Drainage Scheme (1804-1816) was carried out to drain wetland areas in the west of the city. Although the scheme was mostly concerned with land to the south of the Fossdyke, it entailed the improvement of the Main Drain and the construction of the Catchwater Drain, both of which run along the western boundary of the Character Area. The drainage and enclosure schemes redefined the boundaries of West Common, particularly in the south and west, to its current shape. Some small-scale drains running parallel with the Fossdyke in the south of the Character Area may be contemporary with this drainage scheme.
     
    The formal process of enclosing open heaths and common lands around Lincoln displaced a number of established activities including horse racing which had been carried out around Lincoln since at least 1597. In response, a permanent course, funded by the local aristocracy, was established by the Lincoln Corporation on West Common in 1773. The racecourse closed in 1964; however, many vestiges of the track and associated infrastructure remain apparent in the Character Area, in particular the grandstand and stabling blocks (which were constructed in 1897), the number board, which is now used to advertise events in Lincoln, and part of the racecourse bordering Saxilby Road, including a number of railing posts. However, the remainder of the track in the north of the Common survives only as a slight earthwork in places.
      Part of the former racecourse track in the west of the Character Area. The former racecourse is covered in greenery and is tree lined on the left hand side and on the right has a low fence.
    Figure 3 Part of the former racecourse track in the west of the Character Area
     
    The Common continued as a focus for recreation throughout the Early Industrial and Late Victorian/Edwardian Periods, with as many as twenty football pitches and eleven cricket pitches laid out. In 1874 public baths were constructed in the south of the area adjacent to the Main Drain, the brick walled remains of which survive in situ. Nearby, a 19th-century footbridge, known as the ‘Bath Bridge’ due to its proximity to the public baths, carries the tow path for the Fossdyke over the Main Drain. In 1891, a 9-hole golf course was opened on the current site of Carholme Golf Course. The area’s use as an informal area of parkland is also illustrated by the creation of the Jubilee Pond to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1898, and the creation of a recreational walk, known as Alderman’s Walk, along the eastern boundary of the common in 1910.
     Site of the former public baths in the south of the Character Area. The site is covered with tree stumps.
    Figure 4 Site of the former public baths in the south of the Character Area
     
    During the mid 19th century, land to the west of the grandstand was also the location of an isolation hospital. Land slightly to the south was later used as a rubbish dump, in particular for glass, many fragments of which are seen in surface deposits.
     
    During WWI much of the Common was designated No.4 Aircraft Acceptance Park and was used to test aircraft assembled in the city’s many industrial plants. The airfield had turf runways and a number of outbuildings, many of which survive as earthworks such as the former area of hangars to the south of the current football pitches, and building platforms on the opposite side of Saxilby Road to the racecourse grandstand, which were used to accommodate test pilots. Crenellated earthworks just south of the Grandstand identify the location of a former training trench from WWI. These are earthworks formed from a pattern of multiple, regular, rectangular spaces cut from the ground.
     
    During the Post-War [AD1946–1966] and Modern [1968-2009 AD] Periods West Common has remained as a focus for recreation, with the creation of several football pitches and a cricket pitch in the east of the area. The golf course, which was expanded to 18 holes in the early 20th century, continues to function as a popular local amenity. Nonetheless, the common rights of grazing established during the High Medieval Era continue to be observed, illustrated by the grazing and exercising of horses on the common, many of which are stabled in the former racecourse stable block.
  • Urban form
    Saxilby Road divides this large area of grassland on the western side of the city into two parts. Carholme Golf Course on the southern side of the road is about a third of the total area and West Common, as it is known locally, on the northern side of the road makes up the other two thirds. The Character Area is roughly a diamond shape and is bounded to the north west by agricultural and improved grassland fields, to the north east by a residential development and Long Leys Road, to the south east by residential development and to the south west by the Fossdyke Canal and two parallel drains, the Catchwater and Main Drains. There is a gradual incline across the site leading to higher land adjacent to Long Leys Road in the north of the Area. Although the land dips slightly and then rises again in the east of the site, the highest point is in the north-east corner at the junction of Long Leys Road and Yarborough Road which is situated on the gradual slope that rises up the north escarpment from the area to the west of the city.
     
    The part of the Character Area that is on the northern side of Saxilby Road is made up of large areas of botanically poor habitat including lightly-grazed neutral to acidic grassland, neutral grassland cut for hay (part of The Straight Mile of the former Lincoln Racecourse), regularly mown playing fields and small plantations of relatively recent origin. However, there are also some species-rich habitat types, namely a large area of acidic grassland in the west where 3 holes of Carholme Golf Course are situated; a series of seasonally-inundated shallow depressions in the north-western part of the site; a hummocky area to the west; and a permanent pond. Several parts of the Common have changed very little over the centuries, enabling the rise and fall of the medieval ridge and furrow to be clearly visible in the landscape.
     
    To the east of the Character Area, just north of Saxilby Road, is an area of more formal sport provision that is separated from the rest of the Common by several different types of fencing. There are three tennis courts with tarmac surfacing that are surrounded by a high wire fence. There are also three bowling greens with very short mown grass and a large area of slightly longer grass that surrounds a cricket pitch. These two areas are separated from the common by a low post and rail fence. The latter is also surrounded by a thick, unmanaged hedge with many hedgerow trees that obscures the cricket pitch from view from elsewhere in the Common. Adjacent to these sports facilities is a pavilion. This is the only building in the Character Area on this side of Saxilby Road. North of this cluster of sports facilities is an area of playing fields. Although this area is not fenced off from the rest of the Common, the level surface and short mown grass differentiates it from the more naturalistic and undulating ground that surrounds it.
     Bowling green and pavilion in the east of the Character Area
    Figure 5 Bowling green and pavilion in the east of the Character Area
     
    The part of West Common with three golf holes includes large areas of diverse acidic grassland, mostly on dry sand, but including some damper areas. All the ‘roughs’ have some interest and acidic grassland species present in large numbers include sheep’s sorrel, heath bedstraw, tormentil and heath-grass. The hummocky terrain, which is the result of past digging, supports bulbous meadow-grass, a scarce plant that otherwise only occurs on the coast. The main form of management for the formal recreational areas is mowing. Horses graze elsewhere but their numbers have declined over recent years.
     
    The seasonally inundated depressions and wetland plant species suggest that this area was once wetland. One of these areas in particular is much larger than the rest and holds a huge population of water-purslane, a very rare plant in Lincolnshire. A little more occurs in the damper depressions, along with small water-pepper, which before this discovery was last seen in the county in the early 20th century. There are also a number of other more unusual species here such as marsh cudweed and strawberry clover. Jubilee Pond, which is fenced off like some of the plantations, supports an interesting flora too, including greater duckweed. The Common is an important feeding area for bats, including Noctules and Pipistrelles.
     
    Compacted earth paths criss-cross the northern part of the Character Area. There is also one formally-laid path close to Long Leys Road and a recreational walk, known as Alderman’s Walk, which was laid along the south eastern boundary of West Common in 1910. This network of paths demonstrates the ongoing use of the area for informal recreation and shows that people continue to use their common rights of access over this common land.
     
    Carholme Golf Course on the southern side of Saxilby Road is also common land and people have the right to roam across it. This part of the Character Area is bounded on three sides by watercourses and almost all the areas of higher ecological value are associated with wetland features, which include small internal ditches, little-managed larger boundary drains and a pond. The pond has such a variety of good plants that it is likely to have been planted rather than developed naturally. Species include bogbean and water-soldier.
     Drainage dyke across a fairway on Lincoln City Golf Course
    Figure 6 Drainage dyke across a fairway on Lincoln City Golf Course
     
    The majority of the golf course consists of short mown grassland and rougher unmanaged areas in between the holes that are widely planted with trees. Species in these rougher areas include Yorkshire fog, cock’s foot and false oat grass. Many of the trees here and around the periphery of the site have been planted and they include horse chestnut, rowan and various conifers.
     
    The only buildings on the south side of the Character Area are the grandstand and a nearby stable block, both of which were associated with the racecourse. The northern façade of the grandstand is in a poor condition; however, it is a prominent reminder of the common’s former function. The two-storey grandstand was constructed in 1897, and is built of gault brick laid in English Bond with red-brick dressings and stone and cast-iron piers. The roof is covered with corrugated steel, and is hipped with a half round gable containing the Royal arms flanked by two triangular gables on the front. The stand is open to the front with wooden and concrete terraces. To the rear the building has many multi-paned wooden windows, many of which are set beneath polychromatic brick arches. Two later single-storey extensions have been added on the southern and eastern façades. The adjacent stable blocks are a single-storey in height, and built of the same gault brick laid in English bond. The roof is a half-hipped gabled construction in pantile. The front façade has a long string of windows high up beneath the eaves, and former stable entrances have been covered over with wooden boarding. A complex of later plain brick-built stables, built in the Post-War Period, is located to the south east.
     East elevation of Lincoln racecourse grandstand and associated stable block
    Figure 7 East elevation of Lincoln racecourse grandstand and associated stable block
     
    Trees line both sides of Saxilby Road and this both echoes the line of The Straight Mile of the racecourse and creates an avenue that leads cars into the centre of the city.
     
    This Character Area contains a variety of boundary types, including some Late Victorian/Edwardian Period cast-iron fencing associated with the racecourse, and the original posts which supported the wooden railings around the former track. Other boundaries are demarked by a variety of materials including post and rail, concrete post and wire, and low brick walling.
     Late Victorian/Edwardian cast-iron fencing and gate off Saxilby Road in the west of the Character Area
    Figure 8 Late Victorian/Edwardian cast-iron fencing and gate off Saxilby Road in the west of the Character Area
  • Views
    There are many different views into, out of and across this Character Area. Within the site there are views of grassland and the short mown grass of the fairways. There are also views on to the road and the grandstand. From the south-western and north-western boundaries of the site there are views west onto watercourses and enclosed fields. From the south eastern and north western boundaries there are differing views towards nearby houses. The Victorian houses along Rosebery Avenue have their fronts facing on to the Common. In comparison the rear of the properties on Oakleigh Terrace and Mitchel Drive can be seen from the Common. These properties are further disengaged from the Common as they have higher solid panel fences as opposed to post and rail.
     Uninterrupted views of Lincoln Cathedral from Lincoln City Golf course
    Figure 9 Uninterrupted views of Lincoln Cathedral from Lincoln City Golf course
     
    The proximity of this rural landscape to the centre of the city is a key characteristic of Lincoln. The Character Area forms a continuous swathe of open space reaching all the way from the agricultural areas on the boundary of the city to the city centre. From here there are wide views both towards the Cathedral and the profile of the north escarpment, and out of the city into the grassland and agricultural land beyond. However, the latter is obscured in some places by the A46, which is raised on an embankment.
  • Condition of Buildings and Streetscape
    The front of the grandstand is in a poor condition but the rear of the building is much better and is still able to be used as a community centre. The front of the grandstand is also fenced off with security fencing.
     
    The fencing around West Common is in need of some repair and increased grazing would help to improve the condition of the grassland. Some of the compacted footpaths in this part of the Character Area also have sections in a poor condition. When parts of the path become muddy and saturated by rainwater, people walk further and further round each time to avoid the boggy areas. This can result in quite large areas around the paths becoming degraded too.
     
    In comparison, the area that is used as a golf course is in good condition and is actively managed.
  • Use
    The use of this Character Area is a combination of both formal and informal recreation. It is used informally for walking and horse riding, and more formally for golf, cricket, football, bowls and tennis.
     
    Horses are still grazed on the Common, continuing the common rights of grazing established during the High Medieval Era.
  • Relationship to City and Surrounding Areas
    The proximity of this rural landscape to the centre of the city is characteristic of Lincoln. The Character Area forms a continuous swathe of open space reaching all the way from the agricultural areas on the western boundary of the city right up to the city centre. This is particularly characteristic of Lincoln because the city’s other two areas of common land, Cow Paddle and South Common, have a similar position and the same role on the other side of the city. 
    The relationship with the housing developments around the boundary varies. The Victorian houses front onto the Common, thus appearing more integrated into the urban fabric. The newer developments to the north west; however, are orientated away from the Common, making them feel like very separate areas.
     
    Access to this Character Area is good, though the high volume of traffic on the A57 Saxilby Road makes it difficult for pedestrians to cross between the two parts of the site. Along the Fossdyke Navigation there are access points through to the golf course and round the perimeter of the Common there are several stiles and gates. The A57 enables people to get to the site easily by car and parking is available next to the stable block. There are a number of pedestrian access points from the Carholme and Yarborough Road areas of the city. There are fewer access points from the new development to the south of Long Leys Road. These are likely to be well known by local residents but the area is poorly signposted for those people coming from further afield.
  • Key Townscape Characteristics
    ·          This is a large area of common land that consists predominantly of grassland.
    ·          It is bisected by Saxilby Road, leaving a large area to the north that is grazed by horses with several damper inundations and a formal pond, and a smaller area to the south.
    ·          The Character Area supports many recreation and leisure uses, as it is common land and local residents have common rights of access. North of Saxilby Road there is a cluster of sports facilities including football pitches, bowling greens and tennis courts. It is also used for walking and horse riding. The smaller area to the south is now a used as a golf course.
    ·          The area forms a continuous swathe of open space right up to the edge of the City Centre, bridging the divide between urban and rural, and helping to create the close rural setting that is a key characteristic of Lincoln.
    ·          Earlier landscape elements which influence the current character include:
    o         Damper inundations suggest that the lower lying parts of the area were formerly wetland
    o         Evidence for common cultivation of the land can be seen in the ridge and furrow earthworks that remain. During the High Medieval and Early Modern Eras much of the land in the Character Area was held in ‘common’, and was farmed and grazed by inhabitants of Lincoln who possessed common rights to make use of the open land.
    o         The boundaries of West Common, particularly in the south and west, were redefined to their current shape by the early 19th-century enclosure of the area and drainage scheme
    o         White railings, a board for advertising meetings and a narrow strip of grassland that was part of The Straight Mile are just a few of the remaining features of the Lincoln Racecourse. The racecourse was established by Lincoln Corporation in 1773 and closed in 1964.
    o         The remains of the 1874 public baths are still extant near the southern boundary of the golf course and this is just one indication that the Character Area continued as a focus for recreation throughout the Early Industrial and Late Victorian/Edwardian Periods.
    o         The area was used as an airfield during WW1 and various earthworks identify the locations of former hangers, buildings and practice trenches.
    ·          The topography of the Character Area is a gradual incline from south to north with the Fossdyke at the lowest point, Long Leys Road at the highest point and a levelled area in the centre accommodating Saxilby Road.
    ·          The Character Area mainly contains improved grassland of low ecological value. However, there are also some exceptionally interesting and species-rich habitat types, namely: a large area of acidic grassland in the west where 3 holes of Carholme Golf Course are situated; a series of seasonally-inundated shallow depressions in the north-western part of the site; a hummocky area to the west; and two ponds.
    ·          Water features have a strong influence on this Character Area. The Fossdyke Canal, and the Catchwater and Main Drains that run parallel to each other bound it to the south. Several smaller drains and ditches cut across the golf course. There are two ponds, one each side of the site and a series of periodically inundated damp depressions.
    ·          There are two clusters of leisure facilities, the pavilion with associated pitches on the northern side of Saxilby Road, and the grandstand building with an adjacent stable block on the southern side of the road. This building is a focal point for the Character Area, as is the road, which has become increasingly busy in recent years.
    ·          The view of the Cathedral, in particular, close by yet raised up on the north escarpment with the city leading up to it, is an important characteristic of West Common and Lincoln.