When my wife and I arrived in North Hykeham in September 1977 neither of us thought that we would probably be spending most of our lives here.
My own personal journey had seen me living in various places up until then, growing up in Leicester, then four years at Cambridge, followed by spells in Nottinghamshire, the Canadian Prairies, what was then West Germany and finally three years in West Yorkshire.
I must confess that I had not visited Lincoln many times previously. The first time was on a bike in 1959 and included a stay at the Youth Hostel off South Common and my first visit to a pub.
The second was a 6th form trip in the early 1960s, which included a trip up one of the towers of the cathedral, and the occasional visit during my time at Newark to play staff badminton at what was then the Lincoln School on Wragby Road.
The first thing that struck my wife and me when we arrived was how difficult it was to move around. Getting into Lincoln by car involved a tortuous journey along Tritton Road which ended at Dixon Street, followed by a meander along Coulson Road and over the level crossing at the Ropewalk. It took some years before Tritton Road was finally extended into the centre and the Western Bypass was built.
In terms of geography Lincoln was dealt a poor hand. It might have been strategically advantageous for the Romans to place a fort on the hill overlooking a large part of the region; but, as the starting point for a large conurbation, with a flood plain to the west and what could almost be described as an escarpment to the north and east, it didn’t leave much room for manoeuvre. Add to that the decision to route a railway line through the centre and you had the makings of one almighty logjam, especially with the advent of the motor car.
Despite its less than promising start, Lincoln had much to be proud of. Its engineering base in many ways punched above its weight. When we arrived, Robey & Co and Clayton Dewandre were still going strong, although I think the Ruston Bucyrus was on its last legs.
We must not forget the mighty Ruston Gas Turbines and Smith Clayton Forge. Most are now just a memory, although many of their buildings survive with new occupants and RGT is now become Siemens via EGT and appears to be holding its own, at least while we remain members of the EU.
Lincoln’s majestic cathedral rivalled many in Europe. Its quality of life, which was mirrored in the county as a whole, made it the sort of place that seemed to buck the trend towards modernity, with all its concrete excesses. With its old world quaintness, it’s no wonder that Lincoln was chosen as the backdrop for the 1962 movie about university life called ‘The Wild and the Willing’, starring, among others, Ian ‘Lovejoy’ McShane, and local boy, John ‘Elephant Man’ Hurt, even though the city at the time did not have a university.
It was, I am sure, this 1950s quality, including its relatively modest house prices, that has attracted so many retirees from other parts of the country, particularly from the time we arrived and up to the present day.
Much has changed in the intervening years. A great deal of Lincoln has stayed the same. It hasn’t been able to expand like some cities because of its geographic position; but what it has done is to suck outlying communities into its orbit, notably places like North Hykeham in the southwest, which lost Swallowbeck to its big neighbour in 1921 and was almost swallowed up entirely in 1965, only surviving by a whisker thanks to the efforts of ‘Mr Hykeham’ himself, the late Alderman George Hutson, among others.
Washingborough, Heighington and Canwick in the southeast have so far managed to stay ‘rural’; but it is debatable how long this situation can continue. Lincoln City now has a university, thanks to the vision of local politicians such as Rob Parker and the late Maurice French and the County Lib/Lab administration of 1993 to 1997.
It is now attracting even more tourists thanks to the revamping of the castle, thanks to a successful Lottery bid, although parking can still be a bit of a nightmare, and expensive, too!
There is no doubt that the arrival of the university has changed the atmosphere in the city centre for the better, although I am sure that there are still some residents of the West End who would not agree.
Lincoln now has a much more cosmopolitan air about it. Back in 1977 Stokes’ was about the only place offering real coffee to the masses and the choice of reasonably priced places to eat out was virtually confined to the Berni Inn at the Falcon Arms. Just look at the choice today.
The railway still causes a problem. If only they had kept the avoiding line, many people still say. Equally, if they could have afforded to take the railway station below ground level as was envisaged some twenty years ago, we now might have an answer to some of the holdups that still plague the city centre.
The Western bypass definitely eased some of the problems around the cathedral. The soon to be completed East – West link will improve traffic flows but we are still left with that level crossing on the High Street.
If the Eastern Bypass ever gets off the ground and if even the first stage of the Southern Bypass can be built through private funds as part of the Central Lincs Local Plan, we could see a massive improvement to traffic flows in and around the city.
Outsiders often say that the 20th century, let alone the 21st century, has passed Lincolnshire by. That might seem an attractive proposition; but only if you want the county and its county town to be preserved in aspic.
Looking at Lincoln, situated where it is in easy reach of the A1 and the east coast mainline, around 15 minutes car journey away, thanks to the dualled A46, one can see the change that has taken place and yet much of the old Lincoln has survived, and that’s not a bad thing.
The real challenge may be to spread the prosperity further eastwards towards the coast and this will require a major upgrade of road and rail which, if it takes off, the Greater Lincolnshire ‘Powerhouse’ may provide. If this ever happens, and they can find a way of taking the railway line (hopefully by then electrified) UNDER Doddington and Skellingthorpe Roads then the City of Lincoln could really become the gateway to a county, whose future is brighter than some of the doom-mongers would have you believe.
John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.