The story behind Lincoln Castle’s tiny observation tower

I’m not a particularly broad-shouldered man, but climbing the tight winding steps of Lincoln Castle’s Observation tower was no easy feat. Rubbing against my right shoulder was the central column which supported the minute staircase twisting far upwards; on my left, a cold metal railing. Water was a permanent fixture on each step, making the ascent much more treacherous.

When I reached the top, a blast of wind came to meet me, making me instinctively grab the railing to haul myself up the last few steps. But at last I had made it.

Built in the early 19th century, it marks the highest point in the castle, commanding a 360-degree view of the surrounding area that extends for miles in every direction. No one really knows why the tower was built, or what its original name was. However, it became known as simply the Observatory tower when the castle¬†was being used as a prison. Gaol keeper¬†John Merryweather was in charge from 1799 to 1830, during which time the tower was used to look for any potential escaped convicts. At least, that’s what it was officially known as. I went on a tour of the castle, where I found out what it was really used for.

“John Merryweather was a keen astronomer,” Graham, the tour guide, had told me, as a cold wind that made me stuff my hands deeper into my pockets rolled in. “The tower was built at around the time when telescopes were beginning to become popular.” He adjusted a black beanie on top of his head so that it covered his ears again. Breath rising in the air, he told me that Merryweather unofficially used the Observation tower as a personal observatory, where he indulged in his hobby regularly, when he wasn’t attending his duties as a gaoler, of course.

“The telescope pointed down as well as up,” Graham continued. “And it just so happened that the telescope pointed down into the prison grounds, into the women’s exercise yard.”

From the top of the tower, I could see where I lived. I quickly snapped a picture of the building from my vantage point and sent it to my flatmates before the rain came, thinking it would be at least slightly amusing or interesting to them.

They didn’t reply.


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