Stonebow and Guildhall

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Things to do


Date of travel

January, 2017

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I’ve visited Lincoln many times and walked under the Stonebow which straddles High Street, marking the boundary of the top and bottom of the city. This is the first time I’ve actually made time to visit the Guildhall above those famous archways. The tour is fascinating and takes about 45 minutes. Joe Cooke has been the Mayor’s officer for 33 years his pride in his job and the Guildhall shines through. He is a wealth of information and stories. What he doesn’t know about the Guildhall wouldn’t even cover a postage stamp.

The building is on the site of the Roman south gate into the city. The name comes from the Norse ‘stennibogi’ meaning stone arch. In the C13th the gateway had become very unsafe and was in danger of collapse. Richard II ordered the city to build a new gateway. Money was embezzled and it wasn’t finished until 1520. The Guildhall has been the seat of the City Council since 1500. It is still used for council meetings every eight weeks to ratify council decisions.

It is an impressive building, especially seen from the south where the royal coat of arms of James I and VI looks down from above the main archway. On either side are statues of the the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of Lincoln and Archangel Gabriel. On top of the roof is the Meeting Bell dating from 1371 and still rung to summon the City Fathers to council meetings.

The Council Chamber is an impressive room with a huge wooden table put here in 1724 to stop councillors stabbing each other with their swords when debates got a bit too heated. The Aldermen would have sat at the raised dais at one end. This now seats the mayor, leader of the council and the ‘portfolio holders’. The rest of the councillors sit round the table. The public gallery at the far end is overlooked by the coat of arms of the City of Lincoln.

Beyond the Council Chamber is the room used for entertaining important visitors.

On the opposite side of the Council Chamber is the Robing Room with the Mayor’s Parlour beyond.

Steep steps lead down to a corridor with the charter chest used to store royal charters relating to the powers of the city council. The city’s oldest charter dates back to 1157 delivering the city to the citizens, allowing them to collect their own rents and taxes and for them to continue to have Merchant Guilds.

Beyond and through a locked iron door is the insignia room. This used to be the old debtors prison and still has the iron bars on the windows.

This is a wonderful display of civic pomp as well as gold and silver items depicting links to local events and industry. The trophies are some of those won at Lincoln racecourse before it closed in 1965. There are the last remaining four pieces of the city’s original banqueting set. The rest was sold in the C19th.

There are examples of maundy money, the splendid red and gold Caps of Maintenance worn on formal occasions as well as the mayoral chains of office. The mace dates back to the time of Charles I and beside it is the smaller Sheriff’s mace.

Richard II visited lincoln in 1387 rallying support in his struggle against Bolingbroke and his Lancastrian forces. He presented his sword and scabbard with its insignia of the white hart to the city of Lincoln. This is still used on ceremonial occasions when the monarch visits. Next to it is the sword of the Earl of Lincoln.

Guided tours are run on Mondays, Wednesdays , Fridays and Saturdays at 10.30 and 2pm. They last about 45 minutes and are free. They begin at the main entrance, the large wooden doors on Saltergate. There is usually an A board outside. Visitors are advised to check in advance as tours can be cancelled if there are private or civic engagements.

There is no designated parking for the Guildhall and there is some Blue badge parking on Silver Street. There are no drop off points by the Guildhall.

There are two steps into the main door. The Civic Insignia and charters are on the ground floor. The council Chamber is on the first floor, up two flights of wooden stairs. There is a chair lift available.

Trained assistance dogs are welcome.



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