Towering windows, armoured from the outside by an iron framework, let white light gleam onto the auburn hair, and contrasting cerulean uniform, of a young midwife. She trails behind an ageing woman, who dons her nun’s habit, as they descend the wrought iron stairs in the centre of a white washed stone fortress, broken up merely by the deep dark doors that separate inmates from their escape from solitude.
Cut. End scene. I find myself looking at the camera equipment, realising that I haven’t been transported in time; though, just a few seconds before, I was seeing history happen right in front of me. In actuality, I’ve been welcomed onto the set of Call the Midwife, a hugely successful BBC period drama, as they film scenes in a Victorian prison. The prison which resides in Lincoln’s grand castle doubles up for Holloway Women’s Jail as the midwives visit to help with a delivery.
A place that I often visited as a child, with my family and with school, Lincoln Castle was erected by William the Conqueror and constructed from the remains of an old Roman fortress, in the centre of Lincoln city. The castle is rich in history and well-known for being the home of one of the original 1215 Magna Carta. Its grand medieval walls, commanding towers and newly refurbished re-interpreted Victorian prison showcase its history and attract visitors from all over the country.
The prison was designed in line with the ‘separate system’, a regime that kept prisoners isolated from their fellow inmates’ corrupting influence. Each prisoner had their own hammock, toilet and sink. Men, women and children as young as eight were held here in the 19th century and during this period, seven murderers were hung at the castle; their bodies buried at Lucy Tower.
I visited these graves whilst at the castle; perhaps the least eerie graveyard I have ever been to. It had the air of any burial ground where the dead reside, but had a peaceful atmosphere, with the sun beaming throughout that walled space, an old friendly tree standing in the centre keeping watch of the visitors and luscious green grass coating every inch of the floor.
On leaving Lucy Tower, I overheard an excited man, from New Zealand, talking to his family about how many castles have stories of sieges and battles, as does Lincoln Castle, but they weren’t also progressive prisons, a working law court and home to the Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta is why Lincoln Castle is so well-known after several events throughout the last year taking the Magna Carta across this country and world-wide to celebrate its 800th anniversary.
It has been 800 years since King John and the barons met at Runnymede and agreed a great charter of liberties known as the Magna Carta. It ensured that the king would act within the law and it has become one of the most celebrated documents in history. Visiting this artefact during my trip reminded me of when I visited the castle as a child and was bought a paper replica of the Magna Carta from the gift shop, something that I still own to this day.
Aside from notable artefacts, one of the most dramatic features of Lincoln Castle is the encompassing medieval walls that trace the perimeter of the grounds. Visitors can walk the ‘third of a mile long’ full circumference of the wall to see spectacular views all across Lincoln. I took part in the Medieval Wall Walk and was taken aback by the beauty of the city I grew up in, all too often taken for granted. This was no truer than when I reached the castle’s east wall battlements and looked onto Lincoln’s Gothic cathedral standing in all its glory.
Seen for miles around, the cathedral is an equally intriguing place to visit and adds to the vibrant history that Lincoln is renowned for. According to the Reverend Canon John Patrick, ‘Lincoln Cathedral is arguably the finest Gothic building in Europe.’ Whether or not you visit to worship, light a candle, have a moment of quiet, admire the architecture or for lunch, the cathedral is the perfect place to visit after you’ve done taking in everything the castle has to offer.
Like the castle, which has been used as a backdrop in BBC television programmes Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, Lincoln Cathedral has similarly become a filming location for Hollywood movies such as The Da Vinci Code and The Young Victoria.
Lincoln Castle may not be the setting to deliver a baby, and may not be the desired place to be locked up, but it is a great location to delve into Norman, Victorian and Georgian history, see British culture events or simply have a picnic in the gorgeous verdant grounds all the while experiencing the old walls, the tall towers and the majestic Cathedral.