In Roman times Lincoln was a significant hilltop fortress, called Lindum Colonia, ‘Lin’ referring at the time to what is now the Brayford Pool, a lake formed by a widening of the River Witham. The Romans used this as a port, which they connected to the River Trent by means of the Foss Dyke, the latter effectively being the country’s oldest canal. The city was also served by two major Roman roads, the Fosse Way and Ermine Street.
The city declined after the Romans left in the early 5th century, and was only revived after the Vikings came around 450 years later, again becoming a notable trading centre due to its accessibility by water. The city’s development has been dominated by its geography ever since, in ways visible to this day. The top of the hill was an administrative centre, and from the 11th century became home to both the castle and the cathedral. Meanwhile, at its southern foot, by the river, was the trading centre, which later grew as a modern industrial town.
From the 11th to 13th centuries, Lincoln prospered thanks to the cloth trade with Flanders. The city’s weavers formed a guild in 1130, which became famous for the ‘Lincoln green’ now remembered in legends of Robin Hood. The city was also known for one of England’s largest Jewish communities, before they were expelled by Edward I in 1290.
Lincoln castle’s walls still stand today. The cathedral, meanwhile, is famous for being the world’s tallest building until 1549, when its central spire collapsed.
By the 17th century, Lincoln’s fortunes had fallen. Competition from Flemish weavers – and from nearby Boston after Lincoln’s river silted up – saw the gradual decline of the cloth trade, and the Black Death in the 1340s saw the population of Lincolnshire as a whole fall from 385,000 to 212,000. Lincoln was three days’ ride from London and now had no major industry, and consequently became something of a backwater.
The city only began to recover from the mid-18th century, with a new building programme and the benefit of a public stagecoach link with London at last. New assembly rooms and a theatre drew local Georgian nobility, and improvements to the Foss Dyke and the River Witham opened up trade and industry once more.
The modern town now developed industrially. In the same decade that the railway came to the city, the 1840s, several major industrial firms started up. Proctor & Burton was founded as millwrights and engineers, becoming Ruston, Proctor & Company in 1857 (then Ruston & Hornsby from 1918) and expanding to manufacture locomotives, steam shovels and combustion engines. Clayton & Shuttleworth began in 1842, and made steam engines and threshing machines. And William Foster & Co specialised in making agricultural machinery, and later became an iron foundry. All three firms later played a crucial role in World War 1, two of them making planes such as the Sopwith Camel, and Fosters notable for building the first-ever tanks.
The area around Lincoln is militarily notable for its key role in the air force. Canwick Hill on the south side of Lincoln is where the new International Bomber Command Centre is currently being built, which will open to the public on 30 January.
Exclusive census analysis from the data at TheGenealogist.co.uk reveals that common Lincoln surnames include Jackson, Dixon, Ward, Harrison, Green, Hall, Walker and Marshall. Foster, Cooper, Turner, Holmes and Kirk were also common in 1841, as were Clarke, Chapman, Richardson and Dawson in 1911.