Did you know that Lincoln was once home to the world’s tallest building, or that it will host the world’s first ever robotic farm? Or that Downton Abbey and the Da Vinci Code were filmed here? There’s more to this city than meets the eye. So, we’ve assembled some cool and quirky facts about Lincoln to provide a little background ahead of your visit, and help you brush up on your pub quiz knowledge…
Facts about Lincoln: history and records
1. Lincoln Cathedral was the world’s tallest building for over two centuries
Lincoln’s magnificent cathedral has been the city’s iconic centrepiece for many centuries, and can be seen for many miles around. But did you know that it was once the tallest building in the world?
Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza was the world’s tallest man-made structure for thousands of years, until it was finally surpassed by Lincoln Cathedral, reaching just short of 160 metres tall when an expansion was completed in 1311. The cathedral then held the record until its spire collapsed nearly two and a half centuries later in 1549.
Had the spire remained standing, Lincoln Cathedral would have remained the world’s tallest building for nearly six centuries; its previous height was not surpassed by any other structure until the completion of Ulm Minster in 1890.
2. The cathedral has one of the last two surviving Wren Libraries
Christopher Wren is celebrated as one of the greatest architects in British history, with his works including St Paul’s Cathedral, Kensington Palace and the Monument to the Great Fire of London. Wren also designed many libraries, but today only two survive: one at the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College; the other in Lincoln Cathedral.
Built in the 17th century, Lincoln’s Wren Library displays many historic texts, including a selection of the cathedral’s earliest printed books. Find out more about how to visit in out complete visitors’ guide.
3. The vital organs of Eleanor of Castile are buried in the cathedral
When Eleanor of Castile – the wife of King Edward ‘Longshanks’ I – made a voyage from to Lincoln from London in 1290, she would sadly never arrive. She died in the village of Harby, around 50 kilometres outside the city. The king was distraught.
Edward had Eleanor’s body borne to Westminster Abbey, and ordered memorial crosses to be erected at landmarks along the way between Lincoln and London. The most famous of these ‘Eleanor Crosses’ gave the name to Charing Cross in London, and the remains of another can be seen inside the grounds of Lincoln Castle.
At the time it was commonplace for a body to be eviscerated before burial; Edward had Eleanor’s vital organs buried beneath Lincoln Cathedral, marked by a duplicate of her Westminster tomb.
4. Lincoln Castle was built by William the Conqueror
Lincoln is home to one of the UK’s best-preserved castles, and although it is not as physically imposing as the cathedral, it parallels it in historical significance. Nearly 1,000 years old, Lincoln Castle was built by William the Conqueror on the site of a Roman fort just two years after the Norman-French army’s victory at the Battle of Hastings.
William recognised the strategic value of Lincoln’s location and established a stronghold in the city, with the castle at the crux of it.
5. One of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta is in Lincoln
The most impressive relic with a home in Lincoln is without doubt the city’s original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta – one of only four that survive today. After King John sealed the historic charter, copies were sent to various religious locations around the country, and the Bishop of Lincoln brought one back to the city.
Owned by the cathedral, the copy is kept at Lincoln Castle, where you can also see an original copy of the 1217 Charter of the Forest – the only place where you can see the two side by side (when on display).
6. Lincoln was once the third-largest city in the UK
These days Lincoln is counted among the UK’s smaller cities; the current population of around 100,000 doesn’t even rank it in the top 70. But it hasn’t always been like that. Population records become sketchier the further back you go, but we do know that in Roman times Lincoln was one of the largest settlements in the country.
London was already the main hub at this point, but Lincoln (then Lindum Colonia) was among the next-biggest population hubs, along with Winchester, York and Norwich. This status carried right up until the 13th century, when Lincoln is believed to have been the third-largest city in the UK.
7. The UK’s oldest working canal runs through Lincoln
Connecting Lincoln to the River Trent at Torksey, the Fossdyke Navigation was built by the Romans over 2,000 years ago and is the oldest canal still in use in the UK.
The Fossdyke is lined by a pathway that provides some lovely countryside walking opportunities. The trail passes through the picturesque Burton Waters and the quaint village of Saxilby, where you can stop overnight at Canal View B&B. Another of our favourite Fossdyke walks leads from the city to the Pyewipe Inn, great for a Sunday lunch.
8. The Brayford in Lincoln is the UK’s oldest inland harbour
One of the things we love about Lincoln is its abundance of water features. The most prominent of these is the Brayford Waterfront, a natural lake formed where the Fossdyke meets the River Witham. Close to the heart of the city centre, it has become a hub for dining and entertainment after a series of developments in recent decades.
While it is now a pinnacle of modern Lincoln, the Brayford has roots dating back through the ages. Mooring facilities have been in place on the waterfront since Roman times, making it the UK’s oldest inland harbour.
9. The longest Roman road ended in Lincoln
Britain’s Roman roads paved the way for the country’s modern infrastructure. Characteristically long and straight, the greatest of these roads was Fosse Way, which extended over 200 miles from Exeter to Lincoln.
The sections of Fosse Way near Lincoln have been transformed into what is now the A46, linking the city with Leicester.
10. Lincoln has the UK’s oldest bridge with buildings on it
At the heart of Lincoln’s city centre stands one of the city’s most recognisable features. High Bridge, which carries the High Street at its busiest point across the River Witham, is the oldest bridge in the UK that still has occupied buildings on it.
High Bridge was built in the 12th century and is now a grade I listed building. The striking black-and-white beamed building that currently stands on the bridge is High Bridge Café, the original outlet of the city’s very own Stokes Tea & Coffee.
11. Lincoln has the only Roman archway still used for traffic
One of the Roman relics still proudly visible in Lincoln today is the Newport Arch. Built in the 3rd century, it is the only remaining Roman archway in the UK that is still used for traffic to pass under it.
The arch was part of a wall that once encircled the city, and opened the way into the centre from the north side for traders. Despite being pranged over the years by large vehicles and suffering the effects of the elements, the arch stands strong and remains in active use.
12. The only English Heritage property with a vineyard inside is in Lincoln
Lincoln may not be renowned for wine production, but the city does happen to feature the country’s only vineyard that is housed inside an English Heritage property. You will find said vineyard inside the grounds of Lincoln Medieval Bishop’s Palace.
The vineyard is part of a contemporary garden that was re-landscaped in 2012, the vines being a gift from Lincoln’s twin town Neustadt back in 1972. When it was first created, it was the northernmost vineyard in the UK. Today it is run with the support of volunteers as part of a community project.
13. Lincoln has one of only five surviving Jewish medieval houses in England
Jewish people have suffered persecution throughout history wherever they have travelled in the world, and the story in the UK is no different. In 1255, a group of 18 Jews who had gathered in Lincoln for a wedding were accused – with little basis – of murdering a young English boy, and were summarily executed. Some 35 years later, the entire Jewish population of the UK was expelled from the country.
This sorry episode in history left a void in Lincoln, which had been home to a thriving Jewish community. The remnants of this can still be seen today in Jew’s House, which, built in the late 12th century, is one of only five surviving Jewish medieval houses from the period.
14. Robin Hood (supposedly) wore Lincoln Green dyed wool
During the High Middle Ages, Lincoln’s economy centred around the production of wool. The city’s dyers created a fabric colour that became known as Lincoln Green, created by blending strong blue woad with yellow weld.
Over the years, a connection has grown between the shade of Lincoln Green and Robin Hood and his Merry Men. In many popular depictions, the band of fabled outlaws is seen wearing Lincoln Green garments.
Facts about Lincoln: art and pop culture
15. J.M.W. Turner visited the city in 1794 (before painting it)
Somewhere in a dusty backroom of the British Museum in London, there lies a painting of Lincoln cathedral by none other than JMW Turner, one of Britain’s most celebrated artists. The work was created in 1795, a year after Turner completed a tour of the towns and cities in the English Midlands, stopping in Lincoln along the way.
More of Turner’s paintings depicting Lincoln can be seen in the Usher Art Gallery. One strikingly shows the cathedral view from Brayford Pool, a scene that has changed drastically in the two centuries since.
16. Scenes in The Da Vinci Code were filmed in the cathedral’s Chapter House
When Westminster Abbey refused permission for the big-screen adaptation of The Da Vinci Code to be filmed on site due to its controversial themes, the producers needed a backup location. So the star-studded cast and crew headed to Lincoln.
The city’s cathedral made the perfect double for Westminster Abbey. Director Ron Howard said of Lincoln “it’s beautiful, absolutely gorgeous and friendly”, while lead star Tom Hanks is said to have enjoyed his time in the city with a private Ghost Walk.
17. The Netflix movie The King also had scenes filmed in the cathedral
Another film that has used Lincoln Cathedral as a double for Westminster Abbey is Netflix original The King, produced by none other than Brad Pitt. Telling the story of Henry V’s rise to power following his brother’s death, the cathedral provides the backdrop for the young king’s coronation, which you can see here:
18. The castle’s Victorian Prison has appeared in Downton Abbey
In the 19th century, Lincoln Castle’s prison was utilised for the Victorian ‘separate system’, which saw inmates isolated to prevent them from influencing one another.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the Victorian Prison made a prominent TV appearance in the popular historical drama Downton Abbey. The location acted as a double for York Prison, where the character John Bates was interred for murder.
The prison has since been renovated and is now open for the public to visit.
19. Reginald D Hunter has an honorary degree from the University of Lincoln
Each year, the University of Lincoln – like many universities – awards a small handful of honorary degrees. This is essentially an academic award without the person having ever attended lectures, completed coursework or sat exams, and they are usually given to people of significant note in their field.
The university’s Class of 2018 featured a popular name in the world of comedy: none other than Reginald D Hunter. When he came to the city to receive his Honorary Doctor of Arts, he said: “I was home with my father a few weeks ago, and I told him I was coming here to do this, and he said – ’what are they giving you a degree for?’ I said, ‘I don’t know!’”
Hunter is not the only significant name to have received honorary degrees from Lincoln over the years. Others include Barbara Dickson, John Hurt, Robert Webb, Loyd Grossman, Ian Botham and John Sergeant.
Facts about Lincoln: events
20. Lincoln hosted the first Christmas market in the UK
We have visited many Christmas markets in the UK, including those in London and Manchester, but none quite compare to the Lincoln Christmas Market. This was where it all began; in 1982, Lincoln hosted the first traditional German-style Christmas market in the UK.
When a group of Lincoln councillors paid a visit to the city’s twin, Neustadt in Germany, they were so taken by the Christmas markets there that they brought the concept back home. The first Lincoln Christmas Market had just 11 stalls. Today, it has grown to become one of the largest events of its kind in Europe, attracting over 250,000 people every year.
The link with Neustadt is still an intrinsic aspect of the market. German traders travel to Lincoln every year, staging stalls to sell art, crafts and classic winter street food such as bratwurst. It’s the one time of year when our go-to sausage fix is something other than Lincolnshire’s finest!
21. Lincoln also has the world’s largest steampunk festival
Showcasing Lincoln’s quirkier side, the city is host to another legendary event: the Asylum Steampunk Festival. First held in 2009, it was the first event of its kind in the world, and it continues to be the largest.
Steampunk is a fashion trend that has grown into a social movement, combining elements of science fiction with Victorian dress. The Lincoln gathering brings together people in traditional steampunk garb for a series of non-profit events across the Cathedral Quarter, featuring music, comedy and other activities.
Facts about Lincoln: engineering and science
22. The first British woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics was born in Lincoln
Charlotte Scott may not be a household name, but she is an important figure in the world of mathematics. And being born in 1858, it was not an easy field in which to achieve success as a woman.
Despite the societal barriers she faced, Scott advanced to become the first British woman to receive a mathematics doctorate, achieved at the University of London in 1885 (it wasn’t until 1948 that Cambridge University awarded degrees to women!). She moved to the United States where she did pioneering work throughout an illustrious career, authoring the first research paper on that side of the Atlantic to be recognised in Europe.
Scott’s success inspired more women to become active in the mathematics community, and she personally guided many talented young women to help them follow in her footsteps.
23. The tank was invented in Lincoln
In 1915, two men in a hotel room in Lincoln produced a feat of engineering that would change the course of World War I and shape military conflicts for decades to come; the invention of the tank. The two men were William Tritton and Walter Wilson, and it was in Lincoln where they created the first tank prototype, ‘Little Willie’.
The site of the first tank tests is today occupied by Tritton Road, named after the lead engineer. At the time he was the director of William Foster and Co Ltd, which specialised in agricultural machinery.
24. One out of fourteen WW1 aircraft were built in Lincoln
Continuing the military theme, Lincoln has also played a key role in aviation throughout the years. When entering the city, one of the most prominent and visible landmarks is the memorial spire at the International Bomber Command Centre.
Lincoln’s aviation legacy dates back to World War 1, when the city manufactured more than 3,500 aircraft – more than anywhere else in the country. The tradition rooted in the city went on to burgeon through the 20th century, with a series of RAF bases opening around Lincolnshire. Today the county is also the home of the legendary RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.
25. Lincoln will be home to the world’s first robotic farm
The last of our facts about Lincoln takes a look towards tomorrow’s world. As we have seen, Lincoln has played an important role in the UK’s history; now it will play a part in shaping the future as the host of the world’s first robotic farm!
Robot Highways is a project funded by Innovate UK and led by a consortium that features the University of Lincoln, which is home to the largest research centre on agri-robotics in Europe. The university’s Riseholme Campus will stage the development of a fleet of renewable-powered robots to boost efficiency and reduce waste in farming, with a view to rolling out the concept across the UK by 2025.
Do you know any fun facts about Lincoln? Let us know in the comments below.