Ruined Castles - England
The ruins of the once splendid palace of the Bishops of
the Norman Conquest, the diocese of Lincoln stretched from
the Thames to the Humber. The castle and cathedral reflect
this importance and dominate views of the town. The Medieval
Bishop’s Palace reflected the wealth and power of the
The ruins of what was once one of the grandest palaces in England lie on the steep slope to the south of the cathedral. It is a lovely sight but don’t go expecting to see a lot, as the Palace was sacked during the Civil War and apart from the Alnwick Tower, all that is left are the foundations of the buildings and a few walls. Don’t be put off as it is worth visiting, especially with the audio guide. It is a hidden gem, tucked away from the bustle of the city. The gardens contain one of the most northerly working vineyards in Europe and have splendid views across the city of Lincoln with the cathedral towering above it. Next to it is the Victorian Bishop’s Palace which is now a hotel.
Surrounded by a high wall, the plan is typical of all Bishop’s palaces with two hall ranges. One was for private use with a chapel attached. The other was for public display, cathedral business and ceremonial occasions.
At first, the Bishops lived in the Castle until they were granted land by King Stephen to build a palace in the C12th. The Civil War between Stephen and Matilda meant that building didn’t begin until more settled times under Henry II when Bishop Chesney began to build the palace for himself and his large household. In 1166, an earthquake destroyed much of the cathedral and perhaps also Bishop Cheney’s palace. Bishop Hugh rebuilt the cathedral and then began to rebuild the Bishop’s Palace in the C13th. In the C14th, Bishop Henry Bughersh acquired to land to the south of the palace to provide a terraced garden. In the C15th Bishop William Alnwick modernised the palace and built the entrance Tower as well as a chapel and audience chamber adjacent to the East Hall.
During the Civil War the lead was removed from the roof by the Parliamentarians, presumably for making shot. Later the buildings were fired. At the Restoration of Charles II, the buildings were regarded as beyond economic repair. In the 1880s, an impressive new palace was built. After the Second World War this was considered too large and the buildings are now a hotel and conference centre. The ruins of the Medieval Palace were placed in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works and now English Heritage.
The shop, ticket office and exhibition are in the C19th stable block adjacent to the Alnwick Tower, which was built by Bishop William Alnwick to link the private apartments in the East Hall with the public West Hall. It is now the main entrance to the Palace.
It is a tall square battlemented tower with two rooms. The vaulted ground floor acted as a lobby between the West Hall and the Bishop’s private chapel. The rooms above are reached by a spiral staircase. That on the first floor was the Bishop’s privy chamber (bedroom) with fireplace and an oriel window overlooking the cathedral. The blocked doorway led to the Bishop’s private pew in the chapel.
The room above is much plainer and was probably used by the Bishop’s chaplain.
Steps from the Alnwick Tower, lead to a flat area which was Bishop William Alnwick’s Ante-Chapel, with vaulted storage areas beneath.
There is now nothing left of his chapel beyond. Beneath the chapel was the Bishop’s Audience Chamber which reached off the east Hall.
Through the gateway at the base of the Alnwick tower, between the West and East Halls, is a small steeply sloping grassy yard with a well. This gives access to buildings on either side and the gardens at the bottom.
On the left is the C12th East Hall of Bishop Hugh. On the right is the C13th West Hall, which has a C19th chapel built above the service quarters.
The West Hall was begun by Bishop Hugh but finished by one of his successors. When finished, it was one of the finest aisled halls in medieval England and designed to reflect the power and importance of the Bishop of Lincoln. This was the public face of the Bishop and used to receive and entertain important guests and on feast days. Cathedral business was also carried out here. Now all that is left is a flat grassy area. At the far end are three blocked doorways which would have led to the buttery, pantry and the kitchens.
The kitchens were built on the same level as the great hall and had five large fireplaces. In April 2015 they were being restored and were shut. Below them, and reached by an arched doorway lower down the grassy yard, were the brew house and bakehouse.
Opposite the West Hall were the Bishop’s private apartments in the East Hall. The Bishop’s apartments were on the first floor with those of his household beneath.
The East Hall is reached off the central yard. It is now a large grassy area. Only the upper north end survives. The Bishop’s private rooms with latrine and wardrobe were at the south end. When Bishop William Alnwick moved his private quarters into the Alnwick Tower, this was refurbished to provide more working accommodation for himself and also for his growing household.
Steps lead down from the east side of the East Hall into what was the Bishop’s Audience Chamber below the chapel. Only the walls survive. This abuts the C19th stable block, which is now the shop and exhibition). On one wall is an elaborate buffet and on another is a stone sink.
Off the Audience chamber are are small vaulted chambers. One was the Treasury, the other a strong room.
The windows of the Lower East Hall can be seen along the west side of the Audience Chamber
The Lower East Hall is reached off the central yard. It is a large vaulted area subdivided into different areas. The Bishop’s household lived and worked here. By Bishop William Alnwick’s time it was no longer used as living quarters and was mainly used for storage.
The Lower Terrace Gardens are reached by stone steps either through a doorway from the Lower East Hall of from the bottom of the grassy yard. These were established in the C14th by Bishop Henry Bughersh, who was a keen gardener. Set under a tall wall to the south of the palace, they have views across the city. The first garden was replanted in 2001with nine tightly clipped hornbeams set in grass. There are neatly clipped yew hedges round the walls with seats. This is a lovely place to drop out on a sunny day.
Beyond it under the walls of the Bishop’s Palace is the most northerly working vineyards in Europe. Three different varieties of white grapes from the north side of the Rhine are grown here.
Being built on a steep slope, the buildings are on several levels. Now ruined, the site can be difficult to interpret and visualise the relationship of the different buildings. There are a few signs around the site but much of it is left to guess work, unless you have the audio guide. The guide book has a wealth of information but needs to be read before a visit and again afterwards. On a warm, sunny day the gardens are a lovely place to sit and relax.
The Palace is open weekends during the winter months and Wednesdays-Sundays during the summer. There is some parking on Minster Close, otherwise the nearest car park is on Westgate, behind the Castle. The nearest postal code is LN2 1PU and the grid reference is SK978717.
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