Lincoln Cathedral Climbing Great Buildings


Lincoln Cathedral

Dr Jonathan Foyle scales iconic structures to reveal their secrets. The gothic Lincoln Cathedral, built in 1183, was once the tallest building in Britain.


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Transcript


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I'm hanging off the side of Lincoln Cathedral because I'm on a Gothic adventure

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to see how a group of medieval masons created a building of such wonder

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that it defined English architecture for the rest of the Middle Ages. This is Climbing Great Buildings.

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Throughout this series, I'll be scaling our most iconic structures,

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from the Normans to the present day.

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I'll reveal the building secrets and tell the story of how British architecture

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and construction developed over 1,000 years.

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The next step on my journey through the evolution of British architecture brings me here,

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to Lincoln Cathedral, built from 1185.

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it's one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Britain.

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In order to reveal the secrets and technological advances medieval architects made

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in constructing this Gothic masterpiece,

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I've been given unprecedented access, to get a perspective of the building never seen before.

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I'll be dangling 70 feet in the air to get a view of Lincoln's revolutionary vaulted ceilings.

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Sliding across the cathedral to get a unique view of a medieval stained glass masterpiece.

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I bet only a few people have ever been up here.

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And I'll be scaling the colossal central tower.

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All 272 feet of it.

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But I won't be going it alone.

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One of Britain's top climbers, Lucy Creamer,

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and a team of riggers, along with my fearless cameraman Ian Burton,

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will be helping me on my Gothic quest.

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Oh, my Lord!

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It's a sight for sore eyes, isn't it?

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And a climb for sore legs!

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So, we're moving on from Durham, Luce.

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And we're looking for the 13th century now.

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And behind that great facade lives a glorious cathedral.

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Begun in the closing years of the 12th century.

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Carried on through the 13th.

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And so there's a great evolution of early Gothic building in Britain.

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And I want to get up close and personal with it.

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-Shall we do it?

-Let's do it.

-We're off.

-OK.

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The present cathedral stands on the site of a Norman cathedral,

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most of which suddenly collapsed in 1185.

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This huge western entrance front of Lincoln is quite daunting at first,

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but you can break it down into simpler elements.

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That bare stone with the round arches that's so typical of Norman work was built as a fort-like block

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by Remigius, the first bishop here from 1072,

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scared of the Anglo-Saxon rebels so soon after the Norman conquest.

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And around that are tiers of pointed arches which make a screen-like triumphal entrance.

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They were put there in the 13th century. And the towers were topped off into the 14th century.

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So several hundred years of building here.

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But behind that complex facade is something altogether more simple.

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It is one of the most harmonious and complete 13th century cathedrals in England.

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Lincoln Cathedral is a phenomenal place.

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You walk in and you see this great, long perspective of arches marching off into the distance.

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With this bower, forest-like arrangement of ribs over your head.

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We're surrounded by a broad, light space which is gloriously intricate in its details.

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It salves the soul, but it engages the intellect.

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If this is heaven on earth, then it's the best rendition I've seen.

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You can only wonder what the people of Lincoln thought

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when they saw this giant, beautiful thing rising...

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into the sky.

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The pointed arch is the most obvious signature of the Gothic building style,

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which largely evolved in France. It was here Lincoln that the rich English Gothic style was fully

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developed and it gave us this wonderfully vast space here in the nave,

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which is the main body of the cathedral. In my first climb,

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I'm going to get up close to see the intricate stonework of the arches and the pillars that support

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them, that allowed the masons to create such an outstanding space.

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-This cathedral is fascinating. Love it.

-Yeah, it's great.

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It's really inventive. See the way these pillars...

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You remember at Durham, they were big round things. Here, look, they're all delightful shapes,

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weaving in and out under this dark Purbeck marble.

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-But every one of them's different.

-I love your enthusiasm about pillars.

-Yeah!

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Abandoning Norman round arches in favour of pointed arches added strength,

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allowing for greater spans, larger windows and more light.

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It also opened the floodgates for experimentation.

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What I really want to see up there is those arches that these

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inventive pillars carry - they're incredibly complex.

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All I see is just line after line after line.

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I want to get close and see in fact what that is.

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-Show me how it's done, madam.

-OK.

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These pillars carry perfect examples of early English Gothic arches.

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Pretty good view from up here.

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It took intricate moulds and skilful craftsmanship to enable the masons to produce them.

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Now, in order for an English mason to make an arch like this,

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I'm going to draw the kind of shaped template that a master mason would have needed to give him.

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So we're talking about a piece of metal cut in a particular shape

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that has to be set on a stone, the stone then is cut into that profile,

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but of course this isn't just one stone. From here

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into maybe there is one stone, then there's another one.

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Both incredibly complex, but very refined and simple.

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Look at that! It's crazy. It's like taking a line for a walk.

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Incredibly complex, amazingly expensive, because investment of craftsmanship is enormous.

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It needed someone of extraordinary charisma to drive the construction of this great cathedral.

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And the man tasked with the job was a Frenchman, St Hugh of Avalon.

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Nicholas, where was St Hugh from?

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He came from Burgundy. His father was an aristocrat.

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The timing was odd because Lincoln Cathedral wasn't in the best condition.

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That's right. He arrived and found the cathedral in ruins.

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As a result of whatever it was, Roger of Howden says an earthquake,

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clearly there'd have been a major collapse of the structure

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and a major challenge for a new bishop.

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Good man, right attitude. Sees a new cathedral as an opportunity, so how does he set about it?

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By ensuring there was going to be the money available to pay for the whole project

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and I think that's particularly where his contribution lay, because the people were convinced that

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by helping to rebuild the cathedral, they were securing the safety of their souls in the afterlife.

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And that was a very strong motivation.

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So, Lincoln, with its wonderful east end, its inventive architecture, the fact that frankly it stands at all

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-is ultimately due to this one man?

-Without him, it certainly wouldn't have been achieved.

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St Hugh inspired and raised the money for this architectural wonder.

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I want to have a look at one of the cathedral's most inventive features. The vaulted ceiling.

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In order to do this, Lucy and the riggers have put together something that looks pretty daunting.

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-Right, give it a little pull down. See how it tightens up?

-Yeah.

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I'm walking along something called a slack line.

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-Oh, boy!

-Is that fun?

-Yeah.

-Do a little dance up and down.

-No.

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Actually, you can't help but dance.

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Stable as a horse's bedroom.

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This will enable me to see the cathedral from angles few people will ever have experienced.

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What you see, actually, when you're here

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in this position, you get quite close up to

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another of Lincoln's novelties.

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It's called a tierceron.

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And it's a little rib that comes up from one of the central bosses, so it makes a cross-shape

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and the beauty of the tierceron is that it's totally unnecessary.

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It is making a pattern for pattern's sake.

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And it leads in England to a spate of vault design which gets ever more complex and ever more wonderful,

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to the extent that after a while, when you get to Gloucester in the early 14th century, it looks like

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someone's thrown a fishing net over the ceiling. Incredible complexity.

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Here is where it really starts.

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The complex vaulting is a key new invention seen here at Lincoln Cathedral.

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But what supports this massive stonework?

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I'm off to the roof to find out.

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At Durham Cathedral, we saw the birth of the flying buttress,

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hidden under the roof of the triforium.

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At Lincoln there are still some arches doing some bracing.

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But I've come up onto the roof on the south side of the nave to see what's above it. There we are.

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Properly, truly, flying buttresses. Now the French made a speciality of these because they built higher

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and more slender in proportion than English cathedrals came to be.

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We love long, Norman cathedrals and Lincoln builds on that as a theme.

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So we don't build as high, but we do build wide.

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That's what these things are doing,

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offering an extra level of bracing for broad, spacious, beautiful vaults over the nave.

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Bit of technological wonder.

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CATHEDRAL BELL CHIMES

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Here at Lincoln, the buttresses are intentionally left exposed

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to create a web of stonework that's intended to disguise the solidity of the structure.

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Giving the impression that the cathedral is being suspended from heaven.

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So far, we've seen three key structural devices that Gothic architecture relied upon.

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The pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress.

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Which combined to allow masons to construct higher and wider.

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This structural skeleton encouraged the replacement of walls with windows.

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Here at Lincoln, we see the development of large, stained-glass windows,

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using a stone framework called tracery. And the two medieval

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rose windows in the north and south transepts are its crowning glories.

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Right, Jonathan. You want to see this window?

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-I do want to get close up to it, yeah. But I realise that involves some dangling.

-Yeah.

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-More climbing for you, unfortunately. Or fortunately!

-How's it to be done?

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We've got this Tyrolean rigged here which you can climb up these ropes just behind us,

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pull yourself across and then you can see...

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-How do I do that?

-Easy. There's a pulley on there.

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You'll be able to ascend the rope and you'll be able to see

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the window at the distance that you want it to be at.

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-I shall be a quivering wreck. This is the stuff that I find hard, actually. Let's get on with it.

-OK.

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This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me as I'm going to be one of the only people

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to have seen the technicolour marvel that is the Dean's Eye from this unique viewpoint.

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It dates from after the 1192 rebuild started by St Hugh. It was finally completed in 1222.

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For the medieval masons and glaziers, this was an incredible achievement.

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So, when the stained-glass artist made this in the 13th century,

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they wouldn't even have illuminated tables, of course. They would have each section

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set out on a bench. Of course, it all then gets assembled and then the light floods through it.

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It must have been a surprise to them to see it in place.

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They're going to be standing back, looking at this thing, which they only just vaguely imagined,

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how it would all work and how the colours would chime together.

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I get the privilege of seeing that close-up in a way even they who made it were never able to.

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The craftsmen who installed this window would have been on a scaffold

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only inches away from the glass, unable to take in its full glory.

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Even when completed, they could only have seen the finished window from the galleries to its sides.

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Or from the floor, looking up.

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I bet only a few people have ever been up here.

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So I, sir, am going back into looking.

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These days, we take cheap window glass for granted, but this was 800 years ago

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when most people lived in a single-storey dwelling

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with little more than slits for windows.

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It's often thought that stained glass is called the Biblia pauperum, the Poor People's Bible.

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Those who were uneducated and illiterate could read the messages of the church

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through this illuminated glass, as if it were a kind of cinema.

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It's wonderful in its variety, but you get the sense that for

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people looking at it from 60 or 70 feet below, they wouldn't be able to see what happened with figures

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whose heads are that big. It makes you think, after all, the audience is not people, it's God.

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It's His eye that matters.

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At the other end of the cathedral lies another medieval stained glass masterpiece.

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The Bishop's Eye window had all its glass smashed out during the English Civil War.

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Pieces of the original glass survive, but when the window was restored in the late 18th century,

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they were put back in a random way. Although we can't see the original images, what you get instead is this

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quite astounding kaleidoscope of glowing colour.

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But unfortunately it seems it wasn't just vandals in the 17th century

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that were intent on destroying the cathedral's beautiful glasswork.

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As the restoration team at Lincoln know only too well.

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Vandals recently broke this window, escaping from the cathedral after a burglary.

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The modern glaziers are cleaning and repairing the window, to bring it back to its former glory.

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Steve. Tell me what's involved in conserving those windows.

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OK. Once you cut your piece of glass,

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you will actually need to paint it.

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So what I'm trying to paint is a piece similar to this.

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To do that, what I'll have to do is have a drawing, a tracing of the design,

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the piece of glass I've just cut, place it over the top,

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and then I have my glass paint here.

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Steve and his team make the paint using the same combination

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of heavy metals used in the medieval era.

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What I'm going to do is draw one of these straight lines.

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I'm going to use the rest to do that. Place it on top.

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-Beautiful.

-So that's one of my straight lines.

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So 800 years ago when those windows were made, that wasn't the end of the story.

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They had to be restored by someone. What inspired you to do it?

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It's just a fantastic honour to be able to be involved

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in preserving something like this for future generations to enjoy.

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I'm now in an area of the cathedral called the Angel Choir that contains the shrine of St Hugh,

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the man who inspired this incredible cathedral.

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I'm making my way through the triforium, the middle level of the cathedral,

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in order to cross over the choir on a pulley system known as a Tyrolean.

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I want to get a bird's-eye view to see how Early Gothic developed into

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the later 13th century style known as Decorated Gothic.

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This feels like the centre of the universe, this view.

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It's glorious. You can see right the way down to the west front.

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You can see over everything and all of the arches are gathered in perspective.

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It's marvellous. This is really the culmination of the cathedral.

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It's built in the 1250s and after St Hugh died and his life was written and the pilgrims started pouring in,

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the old cathedral... Actually you can see it.

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Uniquely, there are little black lines in the ground,

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where excavations found the old east end of the cathedral and

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all this was pulled down in 1255 and replaced with this east end. It surrounds this shrine of St Hugh.

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The architecture itself becomes a kind of super-shrine.

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It's a shrine around a shrine. Incredible richness.

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-Luce, are you going to come and join me?

-Yeah. Whee!

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It's great. This is fun.

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-People would pay good money for that at a theme park.

-Definitely.

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But they'd never get that view. Isn't it extraordinary?

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It goes on forever. You can see why English cathedrals are really keen on the long view.

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Rather than looking up, they look along.

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It feels like you're in this extraordinary tunnel.

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But no-one would ever see it from here.

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You can see the whole length of the cathedral.

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That's for sure, isn't it? You get a glimpse at ground level,

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-but you don't get to see the whole lot in one go.

-No.

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Gothic architecture is renowned for its intricate stone carvings, and at Lincoln it's everywhere.

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And there's one particularly famous example.

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I want to show you something while we're here

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because I remember as a lad being shown this little creature.

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And it's hard to spot, even from the ground.

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The first and probably only time I'll ever get close to it.

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-Have you heard of the Lincoln Imp?

-I have to confess, no!

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-But I have now.

-Many stories about the Lincoln Imp.

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The plausible one is that this is a little reminder that however sacred

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a space, there's always a danger that people fall prey to evil,

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so you've got to keep an eye out for that. And there he is.

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I think we need to descend to get a good look.

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But if you look back, you can see the guy who's frowning.

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He's the one who's looking across, so he's the good eye who's keeping an eye on evil.

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There's always this balance of good and evil. It's like any good movie.

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-There he is. Bang on line with him. Look at him.

-So that's the Lincoln Imp!

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There's little fella. I like him a lot. There's a story, you know, in the building of the Angel Choir.

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He was pelting rocks down.

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On his feet, there's something he's got his feet on. He's pelting rocks down

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-and it actually took the angels to come and stop him.

-Oh, right.

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Well, I'm an admirer of the Lincoln Imp. The thing is, Lu, you can chuck as much

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money as you want at a building, but you can't buy skill, can you?

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To paraphrase the Beatles, money doesn't buy you skill.

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So I want to find out what's involved, carving capitals and these beautiful leaf shapes.

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-So I'm off to see a stonemason.

-Great! Tell me all.

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-I'll tell you all about it. Goodbye, Imp. Cheers, Lu.

-See you!

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This is a stone which is a replacement for the capital up here. So although the detail

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on it is still good, it's good for us to work on, the stone's failed, so it has to come out.

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The Imp, like the rest of the building, is made from locally quarried limestone,

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which is in constant need of repair and restoration. Paul and his team of stonemasons use

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techniques and skills that have been passed down through the generations.

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Despite technological advances, all the stonework here is done the medieval way,

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with every piece of sculpture being carved by hand on site.

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Paul, Lincoln Cathedral is really remarkable for the range and variety of its sculpture.

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What kind of work have you had to do?

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Most of the decoration throughout the building is this, and it's called stiff leaf.

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A lot of our work, the bread-and-butter stuff we're doing all the time,

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things like this capital we're replacing, is in this style.

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It's a late 12th century kind of abstract leaf design.

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-It is. It's bizarre.

-Are any two alike?

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Well, they're not. They're people's interpretations of that.

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You'd have had the master mason or carver at the time would have done his one and then you'd have had all

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the other masons would be following his example.

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They look quite simple, but, believe me, they're not.

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My first one was pants when I first did it!

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To what extent do you carry on the medieval traditions that were used on this building?

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Our tools are the same. That's the traditional beechwood mallet, that one.

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And then this one is made of nylon, so it's just different materials.

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The chisels as well are very similar.

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This is a modern chisel and it's tungsten tipped.

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The old chisels would have been drawn out by a blacksmith on site.

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Were they made of iron or bronze?

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They're iron. But we're working the same way.

0:21:570:22:00

Our apprentices are taught the same way and we work the same way.

0:22:000:22:03

I admire your work and I like the way you've kept on the medieval traditions. Thanks for showing me.

0:22:030:22:07

MUSIC: "Ave Verum Corpus" by Mozart

0:22:120:22:14

I thought I'd come up on the scaffolding and see the inventive carving that

0:22:280:22:32

Paul and his team have produced. I like this little fellow a lot.

0:22:320:22:35

I empathise with him, clinging onto the building for dear life.

0:22:350:22:38

That's what I'm going to be doing, up there in the central tower.

0:22:380:22:42

And that is where inventive carving meets with inventive structure. Quite a different thing.

0:22:420:22:48

Because there was a tower standing on this site. It collapsed in 1237.

0:22:480:22:52

It was a little bit too inventive! And this is its replacement.

0:22:520:22:56

I hope it holds out for me.

0:22:560:22:58

Let's do it.

0:22:590:23:01

I'm climbing the 272 foot high central tower, which was completed in 1311.

0:23:010:23:09

Back then, it would have been even more impressive.

0:23:090:23:11

There used to be a spire on top, soaring to well over 500 feet.

0:23:110:23:17

Well, got the ropes set up and we're just going to have to head on up into the wind and the stone.

0:23:170:23:23

Any tricks on a building of this sort of height?

0:23:230:23:27

Well, it's the height, but also the delicacy of it.

0:23:270:23:30

So we've got to be really aware that we're not

0:23:300:23:32

swinging around too much, so just try and keep a nice, steady pace.

0:23:320:23:36

-Right, let's go, shall we?

-OK. Here we go!

0:23:360:23:39

I've been on level with these pinnacles.

0:23:470:23:49

You see those faces all sticking out and grimacing.

0:23:490:23:54

There's a funny order with medieval churches that it's serenity inside and chaos outside.

0:23:540:23:59

There's monkeys and people grimacing, sticking their tongues out and their bums out.

0:23:590:24:04

-Scary monsters...

-Yeah, the lot.

0:24:040:24:06

It's the chaos of the outside world and heaven inside.

0:24:060:24:09

This is my highest climb yet and I'm trying not to look down.

0:24:090:24:15

Even though it's the middle of summer, the wind is whipping all around us,

0:24:150:24:19

making it harder to ascend. But the effort is worth it to get this incredible view of the tower.

0:24:190:24:25

Gosh, it's so beautiful.

0:24:250:24:28

What I really like about this is how unnecessary it is. Look.

0:24:280:24:32

All of those little mouldings in there. They've cut them. It's so complex. We're 150 feet up.

0:24:320:24:40

Something like that.

0:24:400:24:42

And delightfully cut, concave bits of hexagons sticking out.

0:24:420:24:49

And then, these great heads of what might be plants,

0:24:490:24:53

but the sense of this dynamic life, just this organic shape,

0:24:530:24:57

as if it's sprouting and giving life.

0:24:570:25:00

There's a huge sense of generosity about that.

0:25:000:25:03

Just because it's so unnecessary. It's just there for the love of it.

0:25:030:25:07

-BELL RINGS

-Oh! That's loud!

0:25:120:25:18

I didn't expect that.

0:25:180:25:20

What time is it?

0:25:200:25:22

-We'll find out.

-It's time to be scared!

0:25:220:25:24

There is a building just over there, which is Lincoln Art College.

0:25:260:25:34

And 20 years ago, I was a student in Lincoln

0:25:340:25:37

and I used to look up at this cathedral and think,

0:25:370:25:39

"Do you know what, maybe the best building in the world has already been built."

0:25:390:25:43

But I tell you what, I'm one of the few who's seen it from this angle. I'm glad to share it with you.

0:25:430:25:49

This majestic tower was an astonishing achievement in the early 14th century.

0:25:490:25:55

-But bearing in mind the previous tower had collapsed,

0:25:550:25:58

how did they build it so high without rebuilding the foundations?

0:25:580:26:03

Hey, when you're up here, you notice that there is a real habit that the medieval builders had

0:26:030:26:09

of building in a double skin. That is, you can see there's an inner wall there where the belfry is

0:26:090:26:14

and then there's this outer series of shafts. And they're only separated by a block of masonry.

0:26:140:26:19

And that thickness, whilst retaining the lightness of the passage between

0:26:190:26:24

those two skins, allowed for a building of this tremendous height. It's also very stable.

0:26:240:26:30

And it shows how English architecture is in some ways very old fashioned and traditional,

0:26:300:26:36

and in other ways extremely inventive.

0:26:360:26:38

Quite a complex arrangement at the end, but that was a phenomenal climb. I loved it.

0:26:500:26:56

I loved to see the detail close-up.

0:26:560:26:58

This is quite cool, actually.

0:27:060:27:09

Awesome!

0:27:090:27:11

Well, that climb was extraordinary, but the view from the top is amazing.

0:27:110:27:15

You can see into neighbouring counties

0:27:150:27:18

on the light blue horizon at 360 degrees.

0:27:180:27:22

But in the Middle Ages, it would have look quite different.

0:27:220:27:25

There was a spire that stood here.

0:27:250:27:27

This low pyramidal roof is just a memory, a footprint, of what was here.

0:27:270:27:31

It stretched as high again into the air.

0:27:310:27:33

The audacity of the people who built this place, it just keeps going on amazing you.

0:27:330:27:39

But in 1548, something like a hurricane came along and it blew the entire spire off.

0:27:390:27:43

That would have woken you with a bang in the middle of the night!

0:27:430:27:47

Even without it, Lincoln Cathedral is a marvel.

0:27:470:27:49

But imagine what it would have looked like - what was officially regarded

0:27:490:27:53

as the world's tallest building in its date,

0:27:530:27:57

visible from up to 40 miles away.

0:27:570:27:59

Next time, Caernarfon Castle, where a brutal king and brilliant architect combined to build

0:28:120:28:17

an immense fortress that would crush their enemies and revolutionise castle-building in Britain.

0:28:170:28:23

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:450:28:48

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:480:28:51

Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian and novice climber, scales Britain's most iconic structures, from the Normans to the present day, to reveal the buildings' secrets and tell the story of how our architecture and construction has developed over 1000 years.

The next step of Jonathan's journey takes him to Lincoln Cathedral, built in 1183. Once the tallest building in Britain, Lincoln Cathedral is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in Britain.

With unprecedented access, Jonathan - aided by top climber Lucy Creamer - scales the cathedral to reveal the skill and innovation of the medieval gothic builders and craftsmen. On his climbs, Jonathan is suspended 100ft above the nave to get a unique cinematic view of the immense Dean's Eye stained glass window; meets an evil imp and a riot of monsters; and faces his biggest climbing challenge yet as he scales the exterior walls of the cathedral's central tower - all 272 feet of it.


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