Long ago recognised as an important centre, Lincoln was one of the four provincial capitals of Roman Britain. Nearly 2,000 years ago a Roman fort would have been seen occupying the same position on the hilltop now taken over by Lincoln Castle. Following the Norman invasion of England, William the Conqueror built a network of royal castles, and Lincoln Castle was one of the first.
From 1068 'prisoners' were held in Lincoln Castle, and this tradition continued until 1878. The first castle was probably no more than a wooden stockade and a mound (or motte), but by 1115 there is evidence that the walls were being replaced with stone. The high curtain walls have remained remarkably intact, and sections of early Norman herringbone masonry are still visible. There are two mottes at Lincoln Castle, both on the southern edge of the bailey, the larger one being topped with a 12th century shell keep (Lucy Tower), and the other houses the Observatory Tower. This square structure topped with a round turret has three distinct building periods. It started as a rectangular Norman tower, extended during the 14th century to square it off, and during the early part of the 19th century it was capped with a Victorian turret.
Defensively, Lincoln Castle had two main gatehouses, and a squat tower (Cobb Hall) set within the north-east corner of the curtain. The West Gate was the most important entrance, and this has recently been restored after it was blocked up in the 15th century. Today, visitors access Lincoln Castle through the impressive East Gate, which was given a new fašade during the 14th century with two great drum towers but only the foundations of this work are still visible. None of the medieval domestic buildings usually found within the bailey have survived, as these were replaced over the centuries to accommodate the prison.
Lincoln Castle suffered damage on various occasions, but the Civil War really ended its use as a stronghold. The old medieval hall of Lincoln Castle became a court room early in the 18th century, replaced in 1776 by the first courthouse. When this subsided, the present Gothic Crown Court building was built in the 1820s. A small bath house of similar style was also constructed to the north of the court building which served as the prison laundry. A gaol, dating from 1787 and enlarged during Victorian times, dominates the southern part of the bailey.
Perhaps today not the most easily identifiable as one of the great Norman castles, Lincoln Castle has evolved through the centuries to provide for the needs of the city and its people. Within a single enclosure, the social and political history of the city is unveiled in a fascinating array of architecture and exhibitions. A wall walk allows visitors to see how the city has developed around this nucleus, and provides some wonderful views of the ornate west front of Lincoln Cathedral.