The Lincoln Imp

Ask anyone what our city is best known for, and no doubt they will mention our remarkable cathedral. There is something else infamous lurking within the cathedral walls however, and it happens to be a curious resident who is the subject of legend.

This legend says that one day the Devil was in a mischievous mood and sent two naughty imps to cause havoc on Earth.

Upon arriving at the cathedral, they caused mayhem and smashed the stain-glass windows, destroyed the lights and even knocked over the Dean. To put an end to their antics, an angel was sent to warn the imps off causing any more chaos.

It is said one of the imps hid underneath a table, whilst the other started throwing rocks at the Angel, cheekily shouting “stop me if you can!”.

In a moment of anger, the Angel turned the imp to stone and has remained in the same spot sitting cross-legged on top of the pillar overlooking the Angel Choir ever since. If you struggle to spot him, there’s a spotlight to help if you give in!

Legend has it the second Imp is waiting for his friend to return; the reason why it always seems so windy outside the cathedral…

This medieval grotesque is approximately 30cm high and has become internationally known as the emblem of Lincoln.  This is partly due to a jeweller in the city in the late Victorian period named James Ward Usher (of whom the Usher Gallery is named), who designed and created jewelled Lincoln Imp brooches, pins and silverware.

The Lincoln jeweller and watchmaker took charge of the family business in 1874 and was looking for an idea that would attract customers. He settled on the legendary Lincoln Imp, and by the 1880s he obtained a Registered Patent design on the imp, ensuring he had the monopoly on producing items with this design for many years.

Once his monopoly expired, by the early part of the 20th century, souvenirs showcasing the Lincoln Imp exploded onto the retail scene and popularity remains high. The Imp remains a feature across the county, including as the logo and mascot of Lincoln City Football Club, nicknamed the Red Imps, and as the logo of Lincolnshire County Council.

Lincoln College, Oxford, was founded in 1427 by Richard Fleming, the then Bishop of Lincoln. As a homage to its namesake, an 1899 reproduction of the Lincoln Imp overlooked the Front Quad of the college until 2000 when it was transferred to the bar (Deep Hall) and another Imp was erected in the traditional position above the entrance to Hall.

This has given rise to an Oxford expression: ‘to look on someone like the Imp looks over Lincoln’ as well as provide the name of the college’s undergraduate newspaper: The Lincoln Imp. The Lincoln Imp is also the mascot of the college boat club, an image of which is used to decorate the oars and jerseys of the men’s 1st VIII.