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Medieval Bishops' Palace



Constructed in the 11th century the Bishop of Lincoln’s Medieval Palace was once one of the most impressive buildings in the country. It entertained Henry VIII and James I and many of the elite of English society. Severely damaged during the Civil War, it was subsequently abandoned and fell into disrepair before undergoing restoration in 1876 and then again in 2021.


The Bishop of Lincoln’s Medieval Palace was once one of the most impressive buildings in the country. Its grandeur reflected the power and wealth of Lincoln's bishops, who at that time were responsible for the administration of the largest diocese in England, which stretched from the Humber to the Thames.

Located to the side of Lincoln Cathedral, the palace is situated on the edge of the hill overlooking the city and with good views of the countryside beyond. Today it is referred to as the Medieval Bishop's Palace to distinguish it from the more modern residence of the Bishop of Lincoln.

The land for the palace was granted to the diocese of Lincoln by King Stephen in 1135, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 12th century that Bishop Robert de Chesney started its construction, completing it in 1163. The building consisted of upper and lower halls with slender lancet windows.

During the Civil War  (1642-1651)  the palace was damaged and largely abandoned, and subsequently fell into disrepair.

The ruins comprise of the central buildings of the 12th to 17th-century palace.
It is known that at least two monarchs, Henry VIII, and James I, were guests at the bishop’s palace.

In 2021 a £2.5 million conservation project was started by English Heritage on the Palace to help safeguard the building. The project lasted for two years, and the site is now open to visitors.

Visitors enter the palace through the ticket office/souvenir shop.


They then enter by what was the private entrance to the medieval private apartment.


By the entrance is the Alnwick Tower, which is named after the bishop responsible for its construction in the 1430s to link his private rooms in the east hall with the public west hall.  


The vaulted ground floor was originally a lobby between the west hall and the bishop’s chapel. The chapel was part of Bishop Alnwick’s modernisation of the palace in 1430. 


At the side was the anti-chapel which was a two-floor building containing the bishop’s private pew. This also allowed access to his bed-chamber in the tower which today is accessed by a stair from the west hall. 


The tower contains two rooms; the first floor contained the bishop’s bedroom or privy chamber with an oriel window that looks towards the cathedral.  At the opposite end of the room is a fireplace. To the left of the fireplace is a blocked-off door that led to a short passage to a latrine.  


The upper floor room was probably for the bishop’s chaplain.  The tower underwent restoration in 1876 to be used as lecture rooms for Bishop Wilberforce’s Theological College.

The east hall consisted of two levels; the upper level was the accommodation for the bishop. In the upper level, only the northern end above floor level survives. The remains however do give an indication of the quality of the room. This was the bishop’s private accommodation.


At the far end was the bishop’s great chamber. By the 15th century, more privacy was required than that which was provided by the large open hall, this resulted in Bishop Alnwick modernising the palace in 1430 and moving to the newly constructed tower. The great chamber was shortened, and a floor was constructed over it. A spiral stair was also constructed to lead down to the kitchen courtyard.

The Lower East Hall was built between 1186 and 1200 by Bishop St Hugh and is one of the site's most impressive features that still survives. This was the accommodation and facilities for the bishop’s household. It has undergone a number of changes due to the raising of the surrounding ground level, resulting in its windows being blocked up, giving it now the appearance of a basement.


The west hall was begun by St Hugh's, and completed in the 1230s by Hugh of Wells.  Stretching to 105 feet in length this was the public and ceremonial centre of the palace. The north end of the hall would have had a raised platform where the bishop would have sat. At the end of the hall were three service doors that lead from the hall to a buttery, pantry, and kitchen passage. 


The kitchen had five large fireplaces; these still remain as do their tiled backs. 


Following the civil war, the ruins of the hall were converted to a paddock resulting in the walls being reduced in height and the blocking up of the doors and windows.

On the lower level of the palace grounds is a small terrace that forms the Lincoln Contemporary Heritage Garden. There has been a garden here since 1329 when Bishop Burghesh was in residence. Originally, it would have been a place to grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers.


Next to that is the vineyard which was re-established in 2012 and planted with vines from Lincoln's twinned town, Neustadt An Der Weinstrasse in Germany.




              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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