Reflecting Lincoln’s strategic importance within the east of England, the Normans wasted no time in investing in the city. Work on the current cathedral was commissioned by William shortly after the invasion. Remigius de Fécamp, the first Bishop of Lincoln, began construction in 1072 and it was consecrated 20 years later. At the end of the 11th century, Lincoln Cathedral was the head of the largest diocese in England – extending from the Humber to the Thames.
Following two centuries of rebuilding and extension (in part necessitated by fires and earthquakes) the cathedral took on a Gothic style of architecture. The central spire was eventually completed in 1311, reaching a height of 160m so displacing the Great Pyramid of Giza as the tallest building in the world. This -remained the case until 1549 when the spire collapsed in a storm.
Lincoln Cathedral owns one of only four surviving copies of Magna Carta, signed in 1215 and brought back to Lincoln by the Bishop of Lincoln.
William ordered the building of Lincoln Castle and new city walls, as part of his strategy to control the rebellious north of the kingdom. Initially of wood, the castle walls were rebuilt in stone in the 11th century. Reflecting the importance of Lincoln and its location on a still much used route north, the castle saw regular royal visitors. In 1141 King Stephen was in fact imprisoned during his war with his cousin Matilda. King Henry II visited Lincoln several times in the late 12th century. King John visited in 1216 (shortly before he died of dysentery at Newark Castle). Edward I visited Lincoln in 1290 as he embarked on Queen Eleanor’s funeral procession to Westminster Abbey. In the early 14th century Edward II and Edward III held parliaments in Lincoln. Indeed Henry VIII came in 1541 with Catherine Howard as part of his “royal progress” to York.
The commercial importance of Lincoln was reinforced when in 1121 Henry I ordered work to make the Foss Dyke Canal navigable again. In 1157 Lincoln received a charter providing more independence for townspeople. From the 12th to the 14th centuries, Lincoln’s prosperity was particularly based on wool which was woven and dyed in the town; Lincoln Green was a famous cloth which benefited greatly from product placement in the Tales of Robin Hood! With trading privileges as a Staple Town (1291) much of the finished cloth was transported along the Witham for export abroad.
Lincoln’s prosperity faded from the mid-14th century. Many died in the Black Death and the population is estimated to have fallen below 3,000. The “staple” was moved to Boston. Navigability of the Witham was impeded by downstream mills. A 1335 commission set up to address obstructions to the Foss Dyke noted that it was:
“so obstructed the passage of boats and ships is no longer possible”.
A new generation of stone bridges over the main rivers (including the Trent at Newark) was taking away any remaining right for Lincoln to be considered to be on the Great North Road.