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Lincoln College

The Lincoln Imp

Every college has its menagerie of gargoyles and gremlins carved in its stonework, but Lincoln has a particularly odd addition to the usual set of grotesques. In the front quad above the doorway to Hall can be found a (not wholly attractive) figure poking its head out from amidst the Virginia Creeper. Known as the Lincoln Imp, this mischievous goblin has come to be associated with the college over several centuries. In 1899, four Lincolnite members gave the college an image of the Lincoln Imp designed by T.G. Jackson and based on the figure of an imp found in the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral. In its position next to the Hall, this Imp stood mischievously grinning down on front quad for over a hundred years, until it was replaced in 2001 by an identical image, newly sculpted to recreate the eroded features of the original.


This Imp above the doorway to Hall harks back to an earlier tradition of a devil-like figure that was carved over the north gable at the western end of front quad and recorded from at least as far back as the late seventeenth century. This 'devil', which was one of Oxford's most celebrated grotesques, had particularly ugly features and a noteworthy scowl, and it became associated with the proverb “to look on one as the devil looks over Lincoln” - that is, in an especially unpleasant or surly way. Amusingly, it had to be taken down in 1731 after losing “his head in a storm” a couple of years previously. According to one rumour, it relocated to Brasenose College next door to seize a rebellious soul, but by 2003 it decided to return to Lincoln, when a new piece of stonework modelled on a 1674 engraving of the devil was unveiled in the original position on the north gable.


The Lincoln Imp can be found not only in these two figures in front quad but also dotted around the college. What remains of the original Lincoln Imp looks on, like the spirit of misrule, from behind a cage-door in the entrance area to Deep Hall, while smaller fellow imps can be spotted in Staircase 2 and the Oakeshott room. The Imp's associations with misrule date back to its very inception: perhaps fittingly, one of the four Lincolnites who presented the college with the original Imp in 1899 was, later that same year, disciplined for causing damage to college rooms, for which he and a fellow culprit were fined £5 and ordered to pay for the repairs. These days, such associations with misbehaviour that the Imp might once have boasted have more or less disappeared, and it has become instead a figure of cheery good-spiritedness, making its way into the fabric of undergraduate life in the college: it gives its name to the college magazine, The Lincoln Imp, and has become the mascot of the college boat club, not to mention the presiding spirit of the Goblin dining club too! Long may its reign continue...

Text by MC Stamaz