Lincoln is one of the UK’s oldest cities. Its most famous buildings are Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral, both of which were built during Norman times – but the city’s history goes back much further even than this. It’s a little-known fact that Lincoln was one of the largest settlements in Britain during Roman times! You can see the footprint of this impressive heritage today by exploring the many Roman ruins in Lincoln.
When visiting Lincoln, you can connect with its past by taking yourself on a guided tour of the Roman ruins or simply looking out for them as you explore the city. In this article we’ll explain where you can find them and the history behind them.
You won’t have to look very hard, and it will cost nothing. Use your imagination to bring history to life as you walk underneath arches that have stood for almost 2,000 years, and look down on the remains of the city walls built by our ancestors.
A brief history of Roman Lincoln
Lincoln (originally named Lindum) was conquered by the Romans in around AD 50, who saw the potential in its location. The successful conquerors then transformed it from an insignificant Iron Age hamlet into one of the most important Roman settlements in the country.
(A quick note on the city’s name. Some sources say it was named ‘Lindon’ by its earlier Celtic inhabitants, which meant ‘the pool’, and was then later latinised by the Romans to ‘Lindum’.)
Not only was Lindum at the juncture of two key Roman roads – Ermine Street and Fosse Way, linking the city to London and Exeter – it also stood on the River Witham, which the Romans widened to turn Lindum into an inland port.
The Romans built a wall around the city and a military fortress on top of the hill. This operated for around 35 years before Lindum was turned into a retirement home (Colonia) for legionnaires, due to its strategic location joining the north and south of the country. Thus Lindum became ‘Lindum Colonia’, and joined York, Gloucester and Colchester as strategic retirement settlements and thriving communities.
Lindum Colonia continued to prosper, and it is estimated that it had a population of 6,000–8,000 people. As the settlement developed, Roman architects continued to fortify the city walls and build baths, shops and a marketplace, laying the foundation for the city as we know it today.
How to see Roman ruins in Lincoln
In this article I will explain how you can find the most prominent surviving Roman ruins in Lincoln, most of which can be seen free of charge.
But if you also want to learn more about the background of each of the ruins beyond the brief introduction given below, then we recommend taking the Lincoln free walking tour with local experts Brant and Matt.
The tour weaves through the city’s historic highlights, embellishing them with colourful anecdotes. When it comes to the Roman ruins, Brant and Matt will also show you some fantastic illustrations of what the city looked like during its pomp in the era.
The tour takes place on Saturday mornings from Castle Square, and you can book a place on their website.
Surviving Roman ruins in Lincoln today
Lincoln flourished from its Roman foundations, becoming the third-largest city in the country during medieval times. (For more local trivia like this, check out our collection of facts about Lincoln.)
Much of the magnificent Roman architecture either fell into decay or was subsumed into the foundations of new buildings. Lincoln Castle, for example, was built in the 11th century on the site of the old Roman legionary fortress.
Plenty of evidence of the Roman era in Lincoln survived, however. Sections of the old city walls and gates still stand proudly today, while the traces of old Roman roads and foundations of original buildings are visible around modern Lincoln.
Discovering these remains is one of the most educational things to do in Lincoln. But where to start? Let’s take a look at the best-preserved Roman ruins in Lincoln and where you can find them.
Newport Arch (Upper North Gate)
The most impressive of Lincoln’s Roman remains is Newport Arch. The great stone archway was once the north gate of the upper city facing onto Ermine Street, the original Roman road linking London with York. More than just a gem of Lincoln, it is also one of the best-preserved Roman monuments in the entire UK.
Newport Arch is still in use today. In fact, it is the only Roman archway in the country that still has traffic passing underneath it. There have been a few mishaps over the years, not least when a lorry got wedged underneath it in 2017, causing some minor damage.
The archway was built in its current form around AD 200. Today, you will find it standing at the northern end of Bailgate where it meets Chapel Lane.
Fosse Way remains under St. Mary’s Guildhall
The Fosse Way was one of the most important roads in Roman Britain, stretching 230 miles from Lincoln to Exeter. It formed the basis for many modern carriageways, such as the A46 between Leicester and Lincoln, which follows the ancient route.
A section of the original Fosse Way can be seen under protective glass in the foundations of St Mary’s Guildhall. Located south of the city centre down the High Street, the building itself is a historical treasure, built in the 12th century as a royal palace for King Henry II.
The Fosse Way remains under St Mary’s Guildhall once formed part of the road’s northernmost section, just before it met Ermine Street south of the old city walls.
You can arrange private tours of St Mary’s Guildhall by getting in touch with Cate Waby at Lincoln Civic Trust, which manages the building. Donations will be put forward to supporting the building’s maintenance and community services.
Roman Upper East Gate
Another gate of the Roman upper city can be seen in front of The Lincoln Hotel. The old east gate was once one of the most splendid structures of Roman Lincoln, but its remains have not fared as well as those of Newport Arch.
The crumbled remnants of the gate are fully visible in a display area on the hotel’s forecourt, standing just beneath the surface of the modern city.
One of the longest surviving original sections of the Roman eastern wall also stands to the north of the gate, just behind the hotel. If you ask the reception staff nicely they will let you through to take a look.
Roman Lower West Gate
Roman Lincoln was divided into the upper city – which was the primary settlement and hub of activity – and the lower city, which was built to defend it. Part of the west gate of the lower city was excavated in the early 1970s.
This gate’s ruins are one of Lincoln’s lesser-known Roman relics. They stand on The Park next to the City Hall, which forms the office of the the City of Lincoln Council.
You can still walk through it today (although the original archway is long gone), and a section of the wall continues under the City Hall building.
Roman Upper South Gate
Steep Hill is one of modern Lincoln’s most popular attractions. The narrow cobbled ascent is at the heart of the city’s independent shopping scene, crammed with local craft, fashion and food outlets, as well as cafés, restaurants and galleries.
The sloping road also has roots in Roman Lincoln, and another of the old city gates can be found midway up its climb. Just inside the shop entrance at number 44 Steep Hill are some remains of the spina of the upper south gate, which separated two arches. To the rear of the shop you can also see remains of the eastern carriageway of the gate.
Outside, on the opposite side of the road, a column of stonework between Steep Hill Wines and Pimento vegetarian café marks part of the gate’s original structure. When you walk past this point, you are stepping where ancient visitors to the Roman city once passed under the majestic double-arched gateway.
Find out more about this part of the city in our guide to Steep Hill Lincoln.
The southern wall of the lower Roman city had an additional entrance to its main gate, through which pedestrians, traders and merchants could enter Lindum Colonia. This gateway is known as Posterngate.
This gateway was built in the 4th century in the latter days of the Roman Empire. In the centuries that followed it fell out of use and knowledge, until it was uncovered once again in the 1970s. After being excavated, the gate’s remains are now protected in a room underneath Saltergate.
This is one of the few visible Roman remains in Lincoln that cannot be accessed freely. Posterngate is owned and managed by The Collection, which occasionally runs tours down to the site. Check out the latest event listings for any upcoming tours.
The main south gate to the lower Roman city was replaced in the 14th century by the Guildhall and Stonebow, which still stands prominently over the High Street and continues to host City Council meetings to this day.
The Mint Wall
One of the best preserved Roman ruins in Lincoln is also one of the most obscure. The ‘Mint Wall’, as it has come to be known, is an old Roman defensive wall hidden away to the rear of the Castle Hotel.
The wall once formed part of the outer structure of the basilica, which was the old Roman town hall. Originally a metre thick and some nine metres tall, it has endured the ravages of time and is one of the largest specimens of its type remaining in the country.
We can’t know for sure where the moniker ‘Mint Wall’ originates, but some historians believe it stems from an old antiquarian in the city who mistakenly thought that the wall was originally part of a coin mint.
Bailgate in uphill Lincoln is one of the city’s most popular streets today, lined with shops and restaurants, and always full of activity. When walking along it, it’s easy to miss the brick roundels on the floor that hark back to the city’s ancient past.
These roundels denote the bases of columns that formed a colonnade running alongside the Forum, which was at the centre of life in the Roman city. There were once 19 columns standing here at the entrance to the Forum.
One of the most significant surviving features of Roman life in Lincoln is not a building structure, but a canal. The Fossdyke was built by the Romans around AD 120, and is believed to be the oldest canal still in use today in the UK.
The Fossdyke connects the River Witham in Lincoln with the River Trent in Torksey. Immaculately maintained to this day, it still provides an important means of navigation and transportation of materials.
It also provides one of the nicest scenic walks in Lincoln. If you follow the trail a couple of kilometres outside the city, you will reach a pub on the water’s edge called the Pyewipe Inn, which is renowned for its great Sunday lunches.
Check out our guide to the Pyewipe walk along the Fossdyke to try it yourself.
Map of Roman ruins in Lincoln
Not all of the Roman ruins in Lincoln we have highlighted here are featured on Google maps, but below you can see some of the most notable locations:
Have you explored Lincoln’s Roman heritage? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
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