Wetlands within the valley bottom and along the River Witham have provided an essential source of food and building materials since the Prehistoric Era [10,000 BC – 60 AD]. However, the suitability of Lincoln’s topography to construct a strategic crossing across the narrow band wetland within the Witham Gap, both in Prehistoric times for the Jurassic Way, and from Roman times when a crossing point for the road from London to York was established at the location of the current High Bridge, a surviving medieval crossing built c. 1150. Many roads leading into Lincoln from outlying areas also take their alignment from the pattern of wetlands in low lying areas, with several routes skirting slightly higher land adjacent to river channels and wetland, such as Hykeham Road, Winn Street, Carholme Road and Washingborough Road, all of which run broadly parallel with the 5m contour at the base of the Witham valley. The River and, from the 9th century if not earlier, the Fossedyke also provided important trade routes uniting the city with The Wash Estuary and the River Trent respectively.
Fig. 1: View west along the engineered banks of the River Witham towards the city centre and Lincoln Cathedral
Through a series of land reclamations since the Roman period, low-lying areas at the base of the Witham Valley have been converted for industrial and residential use. As a result, the River Witham has been progressively diverted into its current course and is bounded by levees or hard channels along many stretches. Initially land drainage in Lincoln was a series of incremental reclamations, but was undertaken on a large scale to improve marginal land to the east and west of the city in the early 19th century (e.g. Skewbridge Character Area and Witham East Character Area). As a result the lower land within the city boundary is dominated by a network of drainage infrastructure, relating to successive stages of land management. Watercourses are both conspicuous and subdued elements, best illustrated by Sincil Dyke which is open for much of its length until it disappears to the south of the railway station, only to re-appear within Great Northern Terrace Character Area.
Fig. 2: The Catchwater Drain in Skewbridge Character Area, one of the many drains created as part of the Lincoln West Drainage Scheme (1804-1816)
Since the establishment of a crossing point wetland around the city has formed a obstacle to both resident and potential intruder. From the High Medieval Era, Sincil Dyke, and possibly the Great and Little Gowts, were constructed or improved to form a defensive barrier around the south of the High Medieval city. Wetland in the east and west of the city, largely comprising the ephemeral flood plains of the River Witham, has historically developed much later than the remainder of the urban area, with drier areas on the escarpment slopes proving preferable locations. The ‘egg-timer’ shape of Lincoln’s urban area is a large-scale manifestation of the biased nature of development. Open areas of wetland leading into the city centre later provided key undeveloped corridors for railway infrastructure in the mid 19th century, as well as open and relatively undesirable land that was suited to the needs of the city’s growing industries most notably in the Post-railway Expansion and Late Victorian/Edwardian Periods. The relationship between land-use and geology still survives in the modern townscape, such as Great Northern Terrace Character Area and Tritton Road Character Area.