GTAR Project: Archaeological Investigation at HSBC Bank, Lincoln

The Stonebow branch of the HSBC bank is located within the core of the modern City of Lincoln, but lay outside the Roman city wall. Contractors Kone were employed to install a new lift, which required slight enlargement of the existing lift pit below the basement.
The site is 50m to the north of the River Witham in an area thought to have been riverside land during the late prehistoric period. In the early Roman period the Ermine Street road was constructed immediately to the east of the site, with a river crossing in the close vicinity and the city wall to the north of Guildhall Street.


On the west side of the High Street, the HSBC bank site lies within the medieval area of Baxtergate, recorded after 1191 in surviving 12th and 13th century documents as Bakesteresgate. The name indicates a cluster of bakers. The present bank site occupies the plots of Nos. 220 and 221 High Street.


No. 221, at the corner of High Street and Guildhall Street, was an inn or public house called the Falcon prior to the mid-fifteenth century. King James I attended a cockfight on the premises in 1617. The name had changed to The Reindeer by 1716.


The Common Council (precursor of the Lincoln Corporation and City Council) bought the property in the early 18th century for civic entertaining, and rebuilt the large and ancient timber inn 'in a grand manner' with brick in 1741-4. During the site clearance, 'many interesting fragments were found' including the inscribed tombstone of Randolf [Ralph] Doberton which had been built into a stable wall. 


The site was converted or redeveloped as shops after 1848, occupied at various dates prior to about 1886 by a butcher and a draper, and then by drapers, tailors and outfitters.


The shops were converted by architect W. Watkins into a bank for the Lincoln and Lindsey Banking Company in 1893; a re-used date stone of 1848, commemorates the opening of an earlier bank building on the opposite side of High Street at No. 296-7. The bank was renamed the London City and Midland Bank Ltd by 1913, and was extended by architect W.G. Watkins in 1923-4 onto the adjoining site of No. 220 High Street.


The London City and Midland Bank Ltd name changed subsequently to the Midland Bank, and was renamed the HSBC Bank in 1998-9. After additions to the Guildhall Street office in 1939, the building was listed as a Building of Special Architectural or Historic Interest in 1941.


Excavation was conducted in the confined internal space at night to avoid disturbance to the bank. The contractors removed the concrete base of the existing lift pit with power tools, and then manually excavated the underlying layers. Spoil was thrown into the adjacent motor room for eventual bagging and removal off site for disposal. At appropriate intervals, the contractors vacated the pit to allow the archaeologist to inspect and record the layers.


The earliest archaeological remains from this site were pottery and animal bone from the late 2nd or 3rd century AD. The environmental material depicts riverside land subject to periodic floods but stable enough to allow at least some dumped material to accumulate. It seems to have been an unpleasantly smelly area used for cess and other waste disposal. A collection of hobnails and other iron fragments may derive from a single discarded boot but waste from shoemaking has been recorded to the south of the river and this could be another instance. A Roman coin was also found.


Three timber stake tips may represent the bottom of posts, but the 19th century basement has cut away the archaeological stratigraphy by up to 1,500 years, and the stakes cannot be dated reliably.

Photo by Chris Casswell