Connected project reveals unknown details about Lincoln Cathedral’s history

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Historic documents that date back to the 18th and 19th centuries have been unearthed by Lincoln Cathedral’s Connected team which have revealed unknown details about the Cathedral.

The documents, which include details of who lived in the Cathedral Close at the time and insightful information on the wishes of the Cathedral’s architect, give a glimpse into the past which have been captured in the pages of archival material.

Over the last 12 months, a palaeography group at Lincoln Cathedral has been studying historical leases and documents relating to the Close dating back to as early as 1851 and through this research these documents have been found. In addition, the Lincoln Civic Trust gave access to previous research carried out as part of the Survey of Ancient Buildings in Lincoln.

One document, the 1851 Census, states that over 140 tenants once resided in the Close, which is the area immediately around the Cathedral and includes Castle Square, James Street and others.

In the census, details can be found on the properties and the residents who lived in the Close over 166 years ago. Residents included butchers, paupers, clergy staff, physicians, a distributer of stamps and a portrait artist. The rich variety of tenants and social classes that populated the Close also maintained the Cathedral grounds, bringing domestic trades and over 100 servants to the area.

Fern Dawson, who is part of the Lincoln Cathedral Connected team and the lead for this research project, said: “In 2016 we set up the palaeography group so that we could learn more about the Cathedral’s rich history and so far, it hasn’t disappointed. These unearthed documents have allowed us to learn more about the people that once populated the grounds of the Cathedral, which we can now share with the public.

“It’s fascinating to hear about the range of people who once lived here and to learn more about the lifestyle they led throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Part of the magic of the Cathedral is there is still much we don’t know about it and when we have the opportunity to unlock some of the mystery and add to Lincoln’s vibrant and rich heritage it’s incredibly exciting and important.”

Amongst the Close documents, the Connected project also revealed letters dating from 1881 to 1894 written by the Cathedral architect at the time J.L Pearson. Mr Pearson had documented the current repair works to the Cathedral as well as some plans that were never completed, which could have dramatically changed the way we see Lincoln Cathedral today if they had been.

One letter from Mr Pearson stated his plans for the 15th century medieval library to be moved from the north-east corner of the Cloister to Tennyson Green, and even though this project was not completed it’s hard to imagine a Cathedral, which is so well known, with a different layout.

Fern continues: “These letters demonstrate that the history of Lincoln Cathedral is not just the history of what is but what could have been, and allow us to hear the voices of the people directly involved in the creation and image of the Cathedral as we see it today.”

These documents will form part of a temporary exhibition in the Cathedral’s exhibition gallery in its new visitor centre which opens in 2020. In addition, as the research continues into the Cathedral’s archives and collections throughout the coming years, other interesting finds will be gathered to inform what else will be included in the exhibition gallery, as part of the ongoing Connected project.

Lincoln Cathedral Connected is a Heritage Lottery Fund backed project that will radically improve visitor experience at the Cathedral. Its aim is to engage people in the Cathedral’s past, archaeology and architecture through activities and events to educate, inspire and inform.

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