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. 

  • Movement

    Lincoln's unique topography coupled with its complex development over nearly 2000 years has shaped the way in which people move through and around the city.

    Natural features such as the River Witham and the steep slopes of the north and south escarpments continue to influence the layout of infrastructure, and the ability to move around the city. Man made features including Sincil Dyke, the Fossedyke, railway lines and large road infrastructure are substantial barriers to movement. This is particularly evident in a north/south direction in the lower city centre, and in an east/west direction along south High Street. Consequently, bridges are key nodes in the city, most notably those over the River Witham and Fossedyke, focussing pedestrian and vehicle traffic over 19 crossing points in the city, 7 of which are pedestrian bridges.
    High Bridge spanning the River Witham in the west of the Character Area
    Fig. 1 High Bridge over the River Witham in the centre of the city
    Within the former walled city a fine grain of small to medium urban blocks of the city allows for good movement. However, historically fortified areas including the upper and lower Roman cities, the Cathedral Close and the Castle still act as strong barriers preventing movement in many parts. As a result, former gateways to the walled city and other fortified areas (see Cathedral and Close Character Area) still form the principal entrances and exits to the city. The former defences also lead to some relatively inaccessible parts of the city centre that have often been comparably slower to develop than other parts of the city (see James Street and East Bight Character Area).
    Top of James St where the road widens, the walls are not as high and the footpaths are replaced with overgrown verges, giving the impression of being on a country lane rather than in the city centre.
    Fig. 2 James Street, located within a disconnected corner of the Roman walled city, and later encircled by the Cathedral Close wall. The area, which is within 200m of the Cathedral has avoided the levels of development experienced elsewhere in the city centre
    The fine grain of urban blocks extends outside of the walled city into much of the remainder of the historic city centre. The strict grid-iron pattern of Late Victorian/Edwardian streets that surround much of the historic city centre, seemingly regardless of the steepness of the escarpment slope, allows for well connected movement around inner city suburbs (see West Parade Character Area and Sincil Bank North Character Area). However, where development encounters strong linear features or steep gradients of the escarpment slope, movement becomes more restricted particularly for vehicles.
    Rising pattern of house facades and chimneys up Yarborough Road. The properties differ in style and decoration.
    Fig. 3 Yarborough Road transects the northern escarpment slope, carrying vehicles up the escarpment slope
    Beyond the city’s inner suburbs streets urban blocks are based around a network of major roads that radiate out from the city centre. In the south of the city a single route formed by High Street and Newark Road carries traffic from adjoining roads, such as Skellingthorpe, Brant and Doddington Roads, into and out of the city. However, in the north of the city the radial roads of Burton Road, Newport, Wragby and Nettleham Roads, are arranged in a fan pattern. The roads are joined together immediately north of the walled city, half way up by Yarborough Crescent, Longdales Road and Ruskin Avenue, and along the city’s northern boundary by the A46 bypass. This web of roads in the north, and linear route in the south, provides the basis for a series of mainly residential expansions to the city over the past 150 years. Movement around these developments in dictated by the style and character of the street layout, such as the well connected style of the Garden Suburb layout (see St. Giles Character Area) or the increasingly disconnected layout of branching cul-de-sacs seen in late 20th century development (see Birchwood Modern Suburb Character Area). For more information on movement in particular areas of the city use the advanced search options in ‘Search Character Areas’ and select a ‘Location’.
  • Scale

    A key characteristic of the historic core of Lincoln is that it retains a longstanding hierachial pattern of building scale, decreasing in scale from ecclesiastical to civic to industrial/commercial to domestic. Lincoln Cathedral at the city centre remains the largest building in the city. Surrounding buildings are considerably smaller in scale, recognising the prominence and ecclesiastical role of the landmark buildings. The characteristic is seen to a lesser extent elsewhere in the historic core of the city where churches rise above much, if not all, of the surrounding townscape.

    Short and distant views east from the Observatory Tower of Lincoln Castle toward the Cathedral and surrounding area.
    Fig. 1 View of Lincoln cathedral from the castle walls.  Buildings around Castle Hill, larger in scale than surrounding buildings, are small in scale next to the vast size of the Cathedral
    Civic buildings including the Castle, Prison, Hospital, Magistrates’ Courts and council buildings are notably larger in scale than other buildings in the city, with the exception of churches, the Cathedral and some of the largest industrial buildings. The buildings are often large and squat in design as opposed to being exceptionally tall (with the exception of City Hall and the hospital maternity wing), often spreading out as complexes of amalgamated buildings (see Hospital and Prison Character Area). Industrial and modern commercial buildings have a similar scale, being of a low squat construction and often occurring in groups (see Tritton Road Character Area).
    One of the most recent buildings in the hospital complex. This is the highest building in the Character Area at 6 storeys. It is set back from the road and has a number of different wings and projections
    Fig. 2 One of the large scale buildings making up Lincoln Hospital 
    Within the city centre commercial buildings, such as those along High Street, are generally comparably larger in scale than domestic buildings, reflecting the prominence of their position and role, such as  the markets around Sincil Street and the Waterside Shopping Centre. However, in places commercial properties are comparable in scale to domestic buildings, reflecting more austere periods of Lincoln’s development or reflecting the conversion of former housing for commercial purposes as the city’s commercial centre has expanded (see High Street, Steep Hill and the Strait, and Sincil Street Character Areas).
    To the north of the Cathedral and Castle, buildings rarely rise above 2 storeys in height, except where they occupy a prominent location (e.g. street junctions or along main roads – see Newport Character Area) or are of comparably high status to surrounding buildings. A number of modern apartment developments are exception to this rule. To the south of the Cathedral many buildings within the former Roman walled city remain three storeys high or lower. However, groups of large-scale buildings have established themselves in the lee of the north escarpment, often on the edges of the city’s historic defences, using the elevated slope to offset their scale. These groups involve civic (see Orchard Street Character Area) or industrial buildings (see Great Northern Terrace Character Area), as well as areas of modern regeneration (see Brayford Charcater Area), but occasionally occur individually (see Free School Lane Character Area and Hartsholme estate Character Area).
    View of the modern residential appartmnet block Thornegate House
    Fig. 3 The large-scale modern residential appratmnet block Thorngate House in Free School Lane Character Area
    Throughout much of the remainder of the city building scale rarely exceeds three storeys in height, with notable exception of the city’s three residential tower blocks in the south, east and northwest. Larger buildings often define the edges of Post-war residential estates (see Birchwood Estate and Ermine East Character Areas).
  • Materials

    Up until the mid 19th century building materials in the city were almost entirely sourced locally. Arguably the most identifiable of Lincoln’s vernacular materials is the limestone quarried from the north and south escarpments. The stone is prevalent in those buildings surviving from Lincoln’s early history, and is most clearly seen in the Cathedral and the Castle, but also in the numerous buildings within the historic core. as well as the ancient city walls themselves. Although mostly confined to the city centre, the material is used elsewhere in Lincoln, most often in churches as well as farmhouses and associated buildings which have since been incorporated into residential areas (see Glebe Park Character Area and North Lincoln Ribbon Development Character Area).

    View of Lincoln Cathedral with Vicar’s Court in the foreground.
    Fig. 1 Lincoln Cathedral and surrounding buildings within the Cathedral Close built of Lincoln limestone
    During the Early Modern Era [1350-1750 AD] buildings were increasingly constructed of timber and, to a lesser extent at first, brick. Many timber famed buildings, identified by their jettied upper floors, survive from the late 15th century onwards (see Bailgate and Castle Hill Character Area and Hugh Street Character Area). Brick is likely to have begun to be used in the city from the 14th century, but does not appear to become a commonly used building material until the 18th century.
    A variety of architectural detail on Pottergate showing features such as an oriel window, pointed arched windows and doorways with hood moulds and detailing from the High Medieval period.
    Fig. 2 The Chancery at 11 Minster Yard ,Lincoln's oldest surviving brick built building
    Up until the First World War, when brick were increasingly imported from brickworks outside Lincoln, bricks were predominatly manufactured locally. Clay was quarried from the escarpment slopes from the Roman period for pottery, tiles and other clay products, but from the 18th century it was increasingly extracted for brick manufacture. For most of the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries brick making took place on and industrial scale in Lincoln, with the main brickworks locating on the west side of the city (see West Parade and Burton Ridge Character Areas). 
    Terraced houses at number 31 to 39 Bargate with some detailing in the eaves of the property and contrasting brick used around tops of windows and doors.
    Fig. 3 Lincoln brick built houses in Witham to High Street Character Area. Note how the window lintels are accentuated using a lighter Gault coloured brick
    The local brick, which is used in a vast number of buildings constructed in Lincoln between the 13th and early 20th centuries, differs in colour, texture, and size to the bricks imported from outside of the city, giving many houses a look and feel individual to the city. It may be that the use of other coloured bricks in properties, such as the light buff Gault clay brick used in several houses, may have been a mark of distinction, especially when the locally made red brick was the more economic option.
    The importation of building materials from the mid 19th century onwards signalled a change to the palette of materials used in building construction in Lincoln. Mnay construction materials ceased to be a reflection of local resources, manufacturing techniques, or styles, and instead began to reflect regional and national trends in construction and architecture. Materials such as concrete used during the Post-war period, and more recently synthetic materials, have increasingly influenced the character of development in Lincoln over the last 100 years. Architectural trends experienced across the nation also influenced the style and construction of housing and buildings in Lincoln. Expressions of contemporary architecture are often seen in prominent landmark buildings, such as the art deco cinema on lower High Street, (see St. Peter at Gowts Character Area) and the experimental parabolic designs of local architect Sam Scorer (see Brayford and Ermine East Character Areas), but also in the style and layout of public housing estates (see St. Giles and Character Area and Birchwood Estate Character Area). 
    Lincoln's first purpose built cinema 'The Ritz' at 145-146 High Street. The building no longer contains a cinema but is now a wetherspoons.
    Fig. 4 The art deco style  'Ritz' former cinema on High Street
    Modern development in the city is now almost a prefabricated process, with building materials and designs part of a national and international house construction industry. Domestic buildings often emulate former architectural styles by using a range of mass produced architectural components, such as neo-classical porches, and tiled kneelers typical of the Arts and Crafts movement. Many bespoke developments, most of seen for commercial properties, are post-modern in style, usinga mixture of modern materials such as the Lincoln University campus, the Think Tank, and the Stralizia (see Lincoln University South, Tritton Road Industrial and Spring Hill Character Areas respectively).
    The Think Tank, completed in 2009, is two storeys high, uses a two-tone paint that changes colour from different angles, has a green roof and is set around a central courtyard with seating.
    Fig. 5 Lincoln's 'Think Tank'
  • Landmark buildings

    The city has many landmark buildings dating from the Roman period through to the Modern day. Landmark buildings for each areas of the city are defined in Character Area statements, however a handful of buildings can be consider landmark buildings on a citywide scale. The most prominent landmark building is Lincoln Cathedral which dominates the top of the north escarpment, and is visible from over 25 miles away. The building sits at the very centre of Lincoln and acts as a focus for anyone within or approaching the city. The adjacent castle, with observatory tower and motte is also a conspicuous landmark seen from many parts of the city and its surrounds. Other buildings along the north escarpment such as the water tower and windmill form a landmark skyline in the city. Sincil Bank football stadium, home of the Lincoln Imps, is also a key landmark building in the south of the city.

    View of Lincoln Cathedral from Sincil Bank

    Fig. 1 The landmark buildings of Sincil Bank football stadium and Lincoln Cathedral 

    A number of modern developments are also landmark features on a citywide scale, including the three tall residential tower blocks at Stamp End, Hartsholme Estate and Ermine West Estate. The tower blocks act as waymarkers , broadly defining the eastern, southern and northwestern extents of the built up areas of Lincoln.