Those who follow me on twitter may have seen me tweet these images earlier today, but I couldn’t resist posting about them here on the blog too. I have been sent a wonderful set of 1912 postcards showing reconstructions of historic Lincoln. Most of them show Medieval views, but two referencing the city’s Roman remains are quite fantastic, though inaccurate to the point of being farcical.
The only ‘proper’ Roman reconstruction in the set (as opposed to standing remains shown in a Medieval context, below) purport to depict ‘Roman Lincoln (Lindum Colonia), circa 50AD’. This then, is a reconstruction of the IX Legion’s fortress.
Its hard to quite know where to begin debunking the accuracy of the image – the topography, for instance, is rather off. Anyone who has struggled to climb Lincoln’s Steep Hill will be confused to see the southern walls of the hilltop fortress mere yards away from the waterfront, on perfectly level ground. The walls themselves are fine stone edifices of the sort that would not be seen until the foundation of the Colonia in the late 1st / early 2nd Century, some fifty years later at the very least. The artist has helpfully labelled ‘Newport Arch’ (at the right of the picture), though the gateway we now know by that name would not come into existence until the early 3rd Century. I particularly like the two units of stick figure Legionaries, one marching in while the other leaves, like some ancient changing of the stick-guard.
It is inside the fortress that things get particularly wonderful, though, as dominating the south west corner is a motte with a keep on top – no less a monument than the 11th/12th Century Lucy Tower of Lincoln Castle.
Depicted in a suitably Romanesque style, with an amphitheatre-like exterior and some form of classical building perched on top, quite what Roman function the artist thought the structure performed is a mystery, as is why he thought it was Roman in the first place. The other internal structures are at least plausibly classical in the most general sense, but remain a total fantasy. How the fortress was supposed to function with such a small number of large civilian buildings instead of the more usual barracks, headquarters, workshops etc is not clear. There are some very handsome tree-lined avenues, though, which I’m sure the soldiers appreciated.
The second image is of Lincoln Castle in c.1212. The depiction of the Castle itself is, as you might by now expect, rather poor, including the rather incredible addition of a whole new gateway in the north wall. Cobb Hall, too, probably didn’t exist in 1212, but by the standards set by the images that seems a rather minor mistake. Medieval accuracy is not this blog’s focus, however, and it is the Roman elements that once again attract my attention.
Both Newport Arch and the upper west gate can be seen. Newport Arch, looking strangely like some packhorse bridge, is at least vaguely in the correct position, but the west gate fares less well. Its actual location is just to the north of the Castle’s west gate, and it still sits protected under the Castle’s banks. Uncovered in 1836, the gate collapsed soon after discovery, hopefully not crushing the poor chap depicted standing under it in the contemporary engraving, below.
So, who do we have to thank for these reconstructions (and much as I have been cruel about them, I do think them rather wonderful)? The postcards were produced by the F.G.P. Publishing Company of Lincoln, but sadly the artist is not named. Hopefully the distinctive colourful style of the images will enable someone to identify them in future.
It is worth saying that, although scholarly understanding of Roman Lincoln in 1912 was not what it is today, it was not completely absent. Take, for example, a pamphlet published in July 1912 by Arthur Smith of the City and County Museum, part of an ongoing series he wrote on Roman discoveries in the city (you can download more of them from The Collection museum’s resources page). The artist had no excuse for getting so much detail wrong, but we can still enjoy these colourful but fantastical reconstructions for what they are.