Lincoln Cathedral West Front

Has been described as a Possible Masonry Castle, and also as a Possible Palace (Bishop), and also as a Possible Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are major building remains

NameLincoln Cathedral West Front
Alternative NamesRemigius' Tower
Historic CountryLincolnshire
Modern AuthorityLincolnshire
1974 AuthorityLincolnshire
Civil ParishLincoln

When first built Remigius' great tower dominated, not just the enclosure containing the attached Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary, but the whole of the upper city. In this respect it occupied the same symbolically charged site as did the mottes and towers of major castles in several shire towns in the first generation after the Conquest, which were also founded on the sites of major churches. Regardless of whether it was completed in the 1070s or c 1090, the tower adjacent to the W. end of St Mary of Lincoln must have been planned to be by far the most dominant – and the most strongly fortified structure (minimal though its fortifications are) – of which we know within the first Lincoln Castle. It must have seemed, indeed, to be the 'keep' of Lincoln Castle. And this is also, perhaps, to be expected. Remigius was not just a new Bishop in his cathedral, he was also the principal secular lord of Lincoln (Stocker and Vince, 1997)

Research set out to examine the controversial theory that the west front of Lincoln Cathedral was planned by Remigius, the first Bishop of Lincoln, as a secular, fortified, free standing tower not originally as part of the church. With help from Nottingham University Archaeology students, a stone by stone survey is being made and it is hoped that an analysis of the structure will show the archaeological and social relationships between the rooms and internal spaces of the west front. Research to date suggests that in fact little remains of what was previously accepted as Remigius' work, necessitating a reappraisal of the structural history of the west front. (David Taylor)

Gatehouse Comments

It is suggested that, as first built, the West front of Lincoln Cathedral was a defensible building being the fortified palace of Bishop Remigius (possibly initially freestanding and not attached to the cathedral). The bishop almost certainly had a palace of some sort in the castle, probably represented by the Observatory Tower motte, and after 1130 had palaces elsewhere (initially north of the cathedral then to the south). There is no actual evidence of the west front being used residentially by the bishop and any such use must have been short lived ending when the west front became an integral part of the cathedral church. However it may be that Remigius did feel a need to have two palaces; that in the castle representing his secular power (much of which function was transferred to Newark in the 1130s) and this tower representing his spiritual authority. Equally it may be the palace in the castle was consider somehow inadequate after the seat of the bishopric was transferred to Lincoln from Dorchester in 1072-3 and the west front was commenced, as a palace, shortly after this transfer. The west front has been much rebuilt but the slot machiolations over the two side doors remain and it is suggested these were a defensive feature. However, it is also suggested, rather more credibly in the view of Gatehouse, these slots could have been used for hanging banners.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSK977718
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  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 61 (slight)
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus and John Harris; revised by Nicholas Antram, 1989, Buildings of England: Lincolnshire (Harmondsworth) p444-482
  • Gem, R.D.H., 1986, 'Lincoln Minster: Ecclesia Pulchra, Ecclesia Fortis' in Medieval Art and Architecture at Lincoln Cathedral (London: British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 1982) p. 9-28


  • Taylor, David, 2011, 'The Early West Front of Lincoln Cathedral' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 167 p. 134-164
  • Harris, John, 2010-11, 'Machicolation: some postscripts' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 24 p. 231-45 esp 232-4
  • Quiney, A., 2001, 'In Hoc Signo: The West Front of Lincoln Cathedral' Architectural History Vol. 44 p. 162-71
  • Quiney, Anthony, 1999, 'Hall or Chamber? That Is the Question. The Use of Rooms in Post-Conquest Houses' Architectural History Vol. 42 p. 24-46
  • Guy, Neil, 2005-6, 'Lincoln Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol 19 p. 235-8
  • Stocker, D. and Vince, A., 1997, 'The early Norman castle at Lincoln and a re-evaluation of the original west tower of Lincoln cathedral' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 41 p. 223-33 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Arnold, T. (ed), 1879, Henrici Archidiaconi Huntendunesis Historia Anglorum (London: Rolls Series 74) p. 212 online copy


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk East Midlands Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 32 online copy
  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk East Midlands Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 33 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 East Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 32 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 East Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 32 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 East Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 45 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 East Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 41 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 East Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 35 online copy