This site is the beginning of a history of Lincolnshire.
Although the city of Lincoln is well visited, — the cathedral
is one of the glories of Europe — much of the county’s
history is not widely known. Lincolnshire’s visual beauty
is often found just off the road, and its history
is similarly discreet. While offering a list of places
to see, — below left — some knowledge of its history —
immediately below and below right — can only
add to an appreciation of Lincolnshire as a whole.
‘Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses,
whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present,
advances us in the dignity of thinking beings.’
Dr Samuel Johnson
Horncastle — Early years 2
ORNCASTLE has made no mark on the history of Lincolnshire or, indeed, of England, as the setting for a bloody battle or even some grisly murder. It isn’t famous for treachery or as the source of mayhem. The Horse Fair, however, must have provided much local excitement of the partying kind.
A farmer did disappear during the fair one year. His body — skeleton, really, — was not found till some 30 years later, during some redecoration and hidden away between two walls. The riddle of his being there was partially solved only because one old-timer remembered his disappearance. Who had killed him and why were and still are questions never resolved.
Horncastle is quite simply a small town with a population that has never been larger than now at about 4,900; indeed for much of its existence, Horncastle has likely been inhabited by perhaps no more than a 100 souls, sometimes by half that number; with some more in surrounding groups.
The purpose of the Roman fort here is not quite clear. Although walled defensively, it is not on any of the important Roman roads. For instance, one road running north-east from Lincoln passes north of the town, ending on the coast near to Grainthorpe. In effect roads from the coast to Lincoln miss Horncastle.
Going north, however, there is the Caistor High Street which continues north, changing name on the way, to South Ferriby on the Humber. The fort here shares a late date for construction with Caistor, it northwards neighbour; as they share a peculiar lack of connection to a major road.
From this it would seem that Horncastle was not a posting station which featured at regular intervals on Roman roads. Yet it was walled and from the evidence of coins was manned until almost the end of Rome’s direct rule of England.
By the end of the third century there was much instability throughout the Empire which continued on and off till AD 410 when they left chaos behind, — denying pleas for assistance — much as the Americans when they fled Saigon in March of 1973. Indeed, in AD 343, the Emperor Constans come to the province to sort out an uprising in the north in which the Picts, Scots [from Ireland] and the Attacotti [from no one knows where] took part.
However, 24 years later something similar happened but far more dangerous for the Romans. The emperor of the time, Valentinian, sent the Count Theodosius with four regiments to sort things out. It would seem that not only were the Picts, Scots and the mysterious Attacotti attacking but the Saxons were taking advantage of Roman troubles by mounting attacks on their own behalf.
It is from this time that what is thought to have been a bastion was added to the north-east corner of Horncastle’s wall. Such a construction, projecting from the corner would have given superior angles of fire for defenders. Similar additions are thought to have been at both Caistor and Ancaster, as well as Horncastle.
In fact, it is entirely possible that these bastions were the platforms for Roman artillery, eg the ballistae which threw rocks or even iron bolts with remarkable accuracy and lethal effect. These weapons were manned by specialist troops and their inclusion here suggests the seriousness with which Rome and Valentinian took events. At that time, it is clear there was no intention of withdrawing.
However, this was the last occasion on which the Romans exerted imperial power as part of their ‘foreign policy’. Theodosius re-organised the administration and re-enforced defences. Within a 100 years Britain had virtually forgotten the Romans; the forts remained standing only because they could not be destroyed and the material re-used.
Britain may have been on the edge of the world but it remained within the empire. Afterwards, Britain became a smaller place, with the population scattered among small villages and homesteads with nothing more to think of beyond the proximate horizon.
In other words, Britain became a backwater with a few pockets of civilisation maintained by monks in uncomfortable places — until the big world broke in again with the Normans and their glory, the cathedrals.