Lincoln Overview

City Description

This part of Heritage Connect looks at the whole of Lincoln and describes some of the broader characteristics of the city. Find out about the city's overall character and its historical development according to the four themes below. Each theme is broken down into a series of sections which discuss specific topics in detail. 

  • Views

    As a result of Lincoln’s distinct topography and urban form there are many views looking into and out of the city, alongside views within the city itself. Many of these views have been immortalised by landscape painters and engravers such as DeWint, Turner, Carmichael and Pugin. This section looks at the foundations for a number of key views in the city. More detailed information can be found in the City Views part of Heritage Connect.

    View of Northern Escarpment and Lincoln Cathedral from within Character Area

    Fig. 1 An iconic view of the city's north escarpment looking across the Witham Gap from South Common

    Most, if not all, approaches to the city include a view of the built up summit of the nothern escarpment slope, in particular the Castle and Cathedral, as well as Jarvis House, the Ellis windmill, and the water tower. As the largest building at the centre of the city, Lincoln cathedral is a landmark feature visible from miles around, including as far as Belvoir Castle 25 miles to the southwest, and beyond.
    Views looking out of the city from elevated parts of the escarpment slopes are of Lincoln's rural hinterland, which envelops the city on all sides. These views, as well as those from the fringes of the city, bring a sense of rurality into built up areas. The views inlucde far ranging lanscape views of the Trent and Belvoir Vales to the west, and the rural slopes of the Witham valley as the river flows east and south to The Wash. Views to the north and south are of the top of the Lincolnshire limestone escarpment, reaching over to the Wolds in the north. In the south of the city South Common provides a stark rural or 'natural' contrast to built up areas.
    View looking south along the west Castle wall. Note the sunken gardens within the Castle's defensive ditch to the rear of terraces along Union Road
    Fig. 2 Southerly view looking off the north escarpment towards the Trent and Belvoir Vales from the Castle Walls 
    Within the city, the two opposing escarpment slopes allow for elevated and 'plan' like views of the developed and undeveloped areas of the north and south escarpments respectively. Central parts of the north escarpment slope within the historic walled city, as well as south along High Street and beyond, are characterised by a complex disarray of densely packed buildings. The random patterns of façades, roofs and chimmneys that illustrate repeated development of central parts of the city for over 2000 years is flanked to the east and west by a more regimented pattern of rows of Late Victorian/Edwardian houses (see Monk's Road to Winn Street Character Area and Alexandra Terrace Character Area).
    Within the city, views mostly consist of glimpses between buildings, complex upslope views of elevated areas and linear views along features such as roads and waterways. Glimpses are found throughout the city, and are commonly of landmark buildings on the northern escarpment summit from lower parts of the city, or of more distant rural areas from elevated areas (see Hillside Charcater Area). Linear views are also common in many areas of the city, mostly along the many main roads leading directly into the city centre (e.g. Nettleham Road, Wragby Road, High Street and Newport). These views along historic roads are often terminated by the Cathedral and/or Castle rising above the building line, creating a sense of approach and arrival to the city. Linear views are also seen from waterways such as the River Witham, the Fossedyke, Sincil Dyke, as well as along the various railways leading into the city.
    Crowning effect of Lincoln Cathedral over buildings at the top of Michealgate.
    Fig.3 View up Michaelgate towards the Cathedral
    Views in the city centre are often a mixture of linear views and glimpses. Upslope views in particular consist of views up streets such as High Street, Michealgate and Lindum Hill which have regular glimpses and views of landmark buildings, including the Castle of the Catherdal. Thses views often consist of a series of buildings rising up the escarpment slope, adding to their complexity and creating a strong vertical emphasis.
  • Agriculture

    In addition to its wider rural setting, a key feature of Lincoln is that it has retained several areas of agricultural land within its administrative boundary.

    Although both of Lincoln’s surviving medieval commons are no longer in agricultural use, some of the traditional ‘rights of common’ have been retained such as the right to graze livestock. The large open spaces have experienced a very slow rate of change since their creation probably during the 10th century, although their modern boundaries were largely defined with the enclosure of land in the early 19th century. Consequently they retain much of their agricultural character, to the extent that the rise and fall of Medieval ridge and furrow, is still visible on West Common.
    Ridge and furrow earthworks on West Common, there are trees in the background as well as a view of the city.
    Fig.1 Medieval ridge and furrow earthworks on West Common
    Other large open agricultural areas are generally located in low lying parts of the city on former wetland near to rivers or waterways which have been drained for agricultural use (see Burton Fields, Skewbridge, Witham East, Skewbridge and Upper Witham Valley Character Areas). Agricultural land often borders other open spaces such as the river itself and river corridor, and allotments and areas of scrubland such as along Burton Ridge where the gradient is too steep for them to be used for agricultural purposes. These open areas have a strong impact on the setting of the city, and combine to the east and west of the city centre to give the built up parts of Lincoln a classic ‘egg timer’ shape. Several routes into and out of the city involve passing through these wedges of open land, giving the impression of the Lincoln being surrounded by a rural hinterland. The experience is maintained until people are almost within reach of the city centre, with open spaces such as West Common stretching to within 800m of the Castle gates.
    The wedges of open land to the west of the city, such as Skewbridge, separate the city centre from suburban areas in the far southwest of the city. When viewed from the north escarpment, land within Skewbridge provides a rural foreground to housing in and around Birchwood Fringe and Hartsholme Estate Character Area. Tall trees in these areas, as well as those in Hospital Plantation Character Area shielding the A46 from view, give the impression of a continuous expanse of green space from West Common to the rural areas beyond the city’s boundary.
    View of the west facade of Lincoln Cathedral and the water tower above a belt of trees, which screens the remainder of the city
    Fig. 2 Views of the cathedral from agricultural areas in the west of the city
    Agricultural areas are generally marginalised from the city by natural features and infrastructure such as railway lines, roads and the river. As a result they are quiet areas with a lower level of vitality than other parts of the city. This combines with the natural appearance of the agricultural areas and open spaces around them to create a sense of being in the countryside even in the middle of the city. 
  • Urban

    Integral to the built up fabric of the city, are many different types of open spaces. The spaces have arisen for many different reasons and differ greatly in use, extent and character.

    Within the city centre many open spaces, such as small parks and urban squares, were first defined as early as the medieval period. Castle Hill is one of the oldest and longest serving public squares in the city, and is still host to a number of markets and events including Lincoln’s Christmas Market. Cornhill off High Street was originally the churchyard of St. John, but was converted for use as a Cornmarket from the mid 16th century. In comparison City Square has more recent origins, being created through a regeneration scheme in 1983. These squares are important public spaces, often serving as an event space for markets and fairs. Several cemeteries and churchyards in particular survive in the city centre, some of which are still used for their original function, whereas others have been converted into small parks or squares. Many, such as the former churchyards of St. Martin’s and St. Benedict’s in High Street Character Area, retain original features such as gravestones and boundary walls. However, in almost all instances open spaces have been altered to enable them to be used as a recreational space. These types of locations are often very central as they were associated with Medieval churches located in the historic core of the city.
     View of St. Benedicts Square off High Street
    Fig. 1 St. Benedicts Square and surviving church off the west side of High Street
    Outside of the immediate city centre Lincoln has a variety of parks and gardens, some of which have been purposely designed, such as The Victorian Arboretum and Temple Gardens, whereas others have come about through the re-use and regeneration of land. One of the city’s earliest designed parks survives only as a raised footpath. Besom Park was created in the mid 18th century as a parambulation along the former lower city western defences. Temple Gardens immediately west of the city centre was created as a fee paying garden in the late 19th century, and the Arboretum further east was built in 1871 as part of the city’s Victorian expansion. In the heart of the city, are the parkland style gardens within the fortified enclosure of the Lincoln Castle. In other parts of the city parks have been developed as part of the regneration of former industrial land, such as Greetwell Hollow in Greetwell Quarry and Swanholme Lakes Nature Reserve.
    From the top of Temple Gardens there are extensive views over the gardens themselves and beyond to the south escarpment and rural areas within the lower Witham valley.
    Fig. 2 View of Temple Gardens in Lindum Hill Character Area
    Two other parks in the south of the city are the surviving elements of extensive private estates from the 19th century. Boultham Park and Hartsholme Country Park are parts of former estates where the main house has been lost but part of the grounds have been given over to Local Authority control. As a result, it is possible to see aspects of the ‘private’ past in these public parks such as the formal garden with a fountain in Boultham Park, and the stable block and boating lake at Hartsholme Park.
    Allotment sites can also be found across the city, some on the edges of the urban area such as those in St. George’s Character Area, on Burton Ridge and South Common whereas others are closely integrated with residential areas such as those on Long leys Road and Wragby Road.
    Private gardens also contribute to the city’s green spaces. The majority of properties have their own private spaces whether it be a small courtyard or a large garden, with the size of the space often depending on its location in the city and the type of property. For example, some of the largest gardens in the city can be found around the properties built in Lindum Terrace Character Area where there are large detached properties set in extensive grounds. Although gardens are not publicly accessible cumulatively they contribute to the green and suburban character of many parts of the city. 
    Tall mature trees within the public/private boundary of houses along Doddington Road
    Fig. 3 Mature trees creating a suburban character along roads in the south of the city
    Waterways, such as river and drains, plus their associated river corridors, are also important elements of Lincoln’s natural open spaces. The waterways are used for several leisure activities including pleasure boating and fishing but they are also often accompanied by river-side paths that are used for walking and cycling.
    Closer to the city centre the waterways and Brayford Pool and much more ‘urbanised’ water features, often with tall concrete sides, railings and little in the way of natural verges. However, they are still large open areas that permit wider views and provide a ‘natural’ element in an otherwise heavily urbanised environment (see Brayford Pool, Sincil Street Character Areas). Brayford Pool in particular is popular as a waterside setting for eating and drinking. In urban areas these extensive open areas can be obscured by development or disconnected by infrastructure or even topography, preventing easy use of the open spaces by urban communities (e.g. Wigford Way and the Brayford, and Castle Hill and Steep Hill).
    Canal boats on the Brayford Pool. Leisure uses such as the cinema and restaurants can be seen behind on Brayford Wharf North.
    Fig. 4 Canal boats moored on the banks of the Brayford
    Overall open spaces offer tranquil places in the city and opportunities for recreation such as cycling and walking. They break up the built environment by proving ‘natural’ elements in the townscape such as a low level of noise, wider views and lower sense of enclosure. 
  • Transition areas

    One of the features of the way in which Lincoln’s open spaces are located around the city, is that several are linked to each other to form ‘green wedges’, some of which extend all the way from the rural areas outside the boundary of the city right into the city centre. The river corridors in particular are examples of these transitional areas, they bridge the whole space between urban centre and rural hinterland, and along their lengths the often gently character changes from rural to urban or vice versa. Although, almost in its entirety the river and drains have been changed by engineering, some parts are much more ‘urban’ than others and this often depends on the character of the corridor in which the waterway sits. Within the city centre the hard concrete sides of the riverbanks and safety railings are urban in character. Further out of the city centre there are fewer railings, lower river banks and much wider and softer verges with grass, shrubs and trees. However, a link with the city can still be seen in the overhead electricity cables, the telephone cables and the buildings close to the river banks which are often large industrial units, some of the few surviving buildings from Lincoln’s heavy industry. By the time the rivers reach the boundaries of the city they are largely bordered on both sides by natural verges and fields that are either in agricultural use or for grazing.

    Housing from the Late Victorian/Edwardian period, which address the river and often have features such as bay windows to the rear of the property to take advantage of the views

    Fig. 1 Victorian housing in the south of the city looking out onto the River Witham 

    Like other transition areas waterways are transitional because they change in character along their course, sometimes pulling elements of the natural environment into an urban setting but at other times pulling elements of an urban environment into a rural setting.
    The Commons are another example of transitional areas, merging urban and rural characteristics comparatively slower than seen in other parts of the city. They are large expanses of land that provide a physical link between the Lincoln’s rural hinterland and the centre of the city. However, their character is also mixed, having both urban and rural elements. On the one hand they have never been built on and have retained a natural character with wooded copses, areas of wetland, grassland and developing scrub. Evidence of agricultural use also remains in the ridge and furrow on West Common, of quarrying on South Common and the grazing of horses on both. However, they are also have a more urban use as formal recreational spaces. This can be seen in surviving features from West Common’s use as a racecourse, the golf course and football pitches (see West Common and South Common Character Areas). 
    In many areas of the city the transition between urban and rural areas is much more stark. Many developments around the city (see Bracebridge Character Area) back directly onto rural areas, turning their frontages away form the open space. In many places this is also seen in views looking into and out of the city, such as from the southern end of Broadgate there are views onto large-scale infrastructure like Pelham Bridge with the green expanse of Canwick Hill and South Common on the slopes of the South Escarpment directly behind.
    Wide-open rural views from the east of the Character Area. Hills and trees in the background and hedgerows creating divisions in the land
    Fig. 2 View from the back of houses within Brant Road Character Area in the south of the city
  • Trees and Green Spaces

    Trees are an integral and recurring feature of Lincoln’s townscape. In central areas they add a natural element to an otherwise urban environment. In many parts of the city trees from avenues, lining the road often as part of a wider verge, creating a suburban character. They are also a key aspect of many views into and out of the city. They are a characteristic of the North Escarpment with the houses tumbling down the hillside interspersed with large mature trees in gardens. They are feature in views out from elevated parts of the city onto South Common and agricultural areas to the west and south-west. In the case of the latter they shield the A46 from view, creating the impression that the rural setting of the city continues uninterrupted from Skewbridge and Burton Fields out into the countryside beyond the city boundary. 

    Closer to the city centre, where building heights and densities are generally higher, trees play an important role in breaking up the built environment as they are tall, colourful features. For example, the Plane trees in the former burial ground on Beaumont Fee are as tall and City Hall and Park View Student Accommodation making them equivalent to a seven storey building.
    There are several areas of mature trees, deep verges and low-level planting in the Character Area, which break up the large buildings and make the area quite green.
    Fig. 1 Trees along Orchard Street in the city centre
    In some instances trees and small areas of woodland are surviving features from much earlier and extensive areas of woodland. For example, Hospital Plantation, Birchwood Nature Park and the wooded edge along Doddington Road are remnants of a number of large plantations that were created during the 19th and 20th centuries, partly in response to the poor profitability of agricultural land at the time (Birchwood Estate, Birchwood Fringe and Hospital Plantation Character Areas). Similarly, the City still retains a few small orchards that were once associated with individual properties. These fruite tress are often incorporated into the gardens of modern houses (see South Common Fringe Character Area) or survive within the original plots of older houses, such as the 18th century house on the east side of Steep Hill.  
    Variations in the decorative form of houses along a cul-de-sac in the east of the Character Area
    Fig. 2 Birch tress in Modern residential development in Birchwood Fringe Character Area