Standing on High Street near the Saxon St Peter at Gowts Church, this was one of the most substantial civic buildings of its time. The building dates from 1155-75 and had a central entrance with rooms on either side with a courtyard behind. The present building has rather a squat appearance as the top story has been lowered at some time.
The building has connections to Henry II who had a series of Royal Palaces around England. This seems to have been used as a Royal storehouse and cellar for the King’s wines. The wine was sold off in 1236 and gave the cellars to his butler. The building later passed to the Gracemen and Brethren of the Great guild of St Mary. This was a group of prominent citizens and merchants and they would have used the building to conduct their affairs and meetings. The guildhall was used at least twice for sessions of the King’s bench.
The Guild was dissolved by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The buildings were then leased to a series of owners who sublet them. There was major rebuilding work in the C17th when they were being used by Christ’s Hospital School. They were responsible for removing the top part of the building and rebuilding the southern part of the west range and the north range.
After the school left, the buildings were used for both domestic and commercial use, gradually becoming more run down. The buildings were taken over by Lincoln City Council in the 1930s with a view to restoring them. They are now run by the Lincoln City Trust.
The Gatehouse leads into a passageway with rooms off on either side. Originally the building would have been symmetrical, but the room on the south side is part of the C17th reconstruction. That to the north is part of the original C12th building, although the ceiling was lowered in the C17th and is now flat. The original corbels supporting an vaulted ceiling can still be seem on the walls. The room was lit by two small Norman windows, although one of these has been blocked off. Between them is a tiled lined fireplace. When it was restored any replacement stones were carefully left to look new. A staircase in the north east corner led to the upper floor.
During excavations, the remains of the Roman Fosse Way were found under the floor and have been left exposed.
The room above stretched across the length of the building and was the grandest room in the west range. This would have been the main meeting room. The room is a lot lower than it was originally and with its steep roof, now feel more like an attic room.
During its restoration, metal was used for the rafters rather than wood because of cost. On the north wall is an impressive blind arcade with carved capitals. This may have been the dais end of the hall with the staircase from the lower room providing private access for important guests. The base of the original windows with their window seats and the fireplace are visible on the west wall.
The courtyard originally had buildings round all four sides. The entrance from the west range is the original.
The east range has been demolished and not rebuilt. The south range was rebuilt about 1895 as workshops for the building company CR Lucas, who used them until a few years ago. The north range was demolished and rebuilt at some time and incorporates much of the earlier masonry including carved stones. These buildings were used for malting and storage in the C19th and have been left very much as it was when malting ceased.
At the far end is the ‘Norman House’. Although it looks like a Norman building, it is C17th. This is now in very poor condition and unsafe to enter.
The Lincoln Civic Trust has slowly been restoring the buildings since the 1980s and returning them to community use. It also houses the offices of the Lincoln Civic Trust and the church hall of “St Peter at Gowts.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/lincolnshire/lincolnshire_three/lincoln_stpeter/index.html
In many ways there isn’t a lot to see, but it is the history of the building that makes it so important.
I visited during the Heritage Open Days weekend. Otherwise visits can be arranged by contacting the “Lincoln Civic Trust.”:http://www.visitoruk.com/Lincoln/st-marys-guildhall-C567-AT271.html
There is limited on street parking outside the building. The post code is LN5 7SF and the grid reference is SK 973705.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/marys_guildhall/index.html