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Stairway to Heaven

Amongst the many atmospheric spots within the castle nothing, to my mind, surpasses that
of the Lucy Tower, whether a cool, dark November afternoon or a warm, sunny summer
evening there is something about the keep which is special.
Imagine my surprise therefore in discovering that we could have been climbing the steep
stone stairs to view a very different structure if 1899 plans for an observatory and
meteorological station had come to fruition.

The story begins with a letter from Dr G M Lowe, representing the Committee of the
Astronomical Section of the Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union and Science Society, to the
County Committee in July 1899 outlining their proposals. The committee minutes record
that Lowe had asked ‘for a site within the Old Keep in Lincoln Castle on which to erect
buildings to preserve and put to use certain valuable astronomical instruments offered to
the county by the executors of the late Canon Cross of Appleby, the offer to hold good
until January 1st 1900’

The offer was briefly discussed and deferred to an October meeting when Dr Lowe made a
presentation together with a Mr Reid who was ‘a well known observatory builder of
Manchester’ and Mr Baker from the County Surveyors Office. The Stamford Mercury of
20th October 1899 reports in some depth both the presentation and subsequent discussion.
‘the proposed buildings were to be constructed of brick, for the foundations and a certain
height of wall, with a superstructure of wood and a revolving dome; also a separate
foundation of cement or concrete in the centre of the observatory for the equatorial
telescope.’ The article continues by explaining that ‘the position for the building is the
North West corner of the Old Keep which is, at present unoccupied’ and that ‘the building
will stand well clear of it’s walls and their foundations. The dome will be only partially visible
from the Castle grounds and hardly perceptible from any part of the city or surrounding
countryside. The roof of the smaller building for the transit instrument will be considerably
below the top of the surrounding walls of the keep and flat (for the use of the rain gauge
and other meteorological instruments’. Moreover Lowe was able to assure the county
committee that his organization proposed to raise funds through public subscription and
asked the committee to ‘receive the whole property in trust for the county’.
In the subsequent committee discussion it was agreed that no consent be given until such
funding was in place ‘both for erection and future maintenance’ as well as terms being
agreed for ‘access to the buildings by the persons who will have occasion to visit them’.
With Lowe’s reassurance that ‘only 5 or 6 experts would want to use the buildings by night’,
the committee did not anticipate that ‘there would be any difficulty in issuing special
tickets to these gentlemen’ nor did they consider, in the words of the Chairman, Canon
Hutton, that the buildings would be ‘an eyesore’ or indeed that there were any architectural
issues associated with the proposals. Hutton reasoned that ‘if you build a house on my land
it becomes my house’ and it therefore followed that ‘we simply allow them to put a building
upon the ground and it becomes our property absolutely’. Thus with this logic the committee
agreed to give their permission for the project.

Written by the Friends of Lincoln Castle

Sources: Stamford Mercury October 20th 1899 (British Newspaper Archives)
County Committee Minutes July and October 1899 (Lincolnshire Archives)