Newark-on-Trent, UK: Historic Market Town, and Home to England's National Civil War Centre

Updated on June 17, 2020
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis was born and grew up in Newark-on-Trent. She can trace her family history in the area back to the early eighteenth century.

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16th century inn tucked away in the corner of Newark Market PlaceThree storey timbered coaching inn in the Market PlaceNewark Castle was partly demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell after the town eventually surrendered after the third siege by his troops. The intention was that it would never again have the ability to serve as a defence for the town.A medieval timbered building on Kirkgate, Newark. For many years it was a butchers' shop. Nowadays, drop in for a coffee. 42 Castlegate. The late 16th - early 17th century cottage in the middle is where the author's grandmother was born in the late 19th century.Queen Henrietta stayed in this building  when visiting Newark with 3000 troops to rally support for the King's cause during the English Civil War
16th century inn tucked away in the corner of Newark Market Place
16th century inn tucked away in the corner of Newark Market Place | Source
Three storey timbered coaching inn in the Market Place
Three storey timbered coaching inn in the Market Place | Source
Source
Newark Castle was partly demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell after the town eventually surrendered after the third siege by his troops. The intention was that it would never again have the ability to serve as a defence for the town.
Newark Castle was partly demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell after the town eventually surrendered after the third siege by his troops. The intention was that it would never again have the ability to serve as a defence for the town. | Source
A medieval timbered building on Kirkgate, Newark. For many years it was a butchers' shop. Nowadays, drop in for a coffee.
A medieval timbered building on Kirkgate, Newark. For many years it was a butchers' shop. Nowadays, drop in for a coffee. | Source
42 Castlegate. The late 16th - early 17th century cottage in the middle is where the author's grandmother was born in the late 19th century.
42 Castlegate. The late 16th - early 17th century cottage in the middle is where the author's grandmother was born in the late 19th century.
Queen Henrietta stayed in this building  when visiting Newark with 3000 troops to rally support for the King's cause during the English Civil War
Queen Henrietta stayed in this building when visiting Newark with 3000 troops to rally support for the King's cause during the English Civil War | Source

Places of Historical Interest in Newark-on-Trent

There is a wealth of English history associated with this small market town situated on the banks of the River Trent:-

  • The remains of a 12th Century castle
  • The Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene
  • The medieval Market Square
  • The Governor's House
  • The Georgian Town Hall
  • The remains of the Civil War earthworks on the Queen's Sconce
  • The National Civil War Museum
  • Fine examples of architecture from many periods
  • The Ossington building - built to serve as a temperance coffee house

The Crossroads to the North

Newark-on-Trent has been strategically important since the Romans invaded Britain and built roads to move their legions throughout the land. At Newark the old Roman Fosse Way, which ran from the Devon coast to Lincoln, linked with the Great North Road, which ran from London to Scotland, and with the road to the east coast.

By the 16th-century, Newark-on-Trent had become a busy and bustling staging post for horse-drawn coaches, which clattered through the town gates and across the cobbled market square frequently throughout the day—every twenty minutes or so. One imagines that the town at that time would have been a noisy, bustling, dirty, and foul-smelling place.

Inns and taverns were built within the walled town to accommodate travellers. The town was a Royalist stronghold, loyal to the King, during the English Civil war of the 17th century. It was besieged three times and eventually the garrison surrendered to Oliver Cromwell's troops. Newark Castle was then partially demolished on his orders. Over time many of the ancient buildings that surrounded the Market Place were lost. But some 16th-century treasures and a wealth of Georgian buildings remain for us to admire.

About the Old White Hart, a 15th Century Coaching Inn in Newark-on-Trent

  • The oldest surviving inn in Newark
  • 14th-century cellars lie underneath the carriageway and to the right
  • The highly decorative facade dates to 1459. It was extensively restored in the 1980s. It‘s authentic style and colour were copied from original remaining material

The Old White Hart in Newark Market Place. Three storey 15th century coaching inn with carriage entrance to the White Hart Yard.
The Old White Hart in Newark Market Place. Three storey 15th century coaching inn with carriage entrance to the White Hart Yard. | Source

Newark School of Musical Instrument Crafts

Situated in an impressive nineteenth-century building that was once the Westminster Bank, is the internationally renowned Newark School of Violin Making and Repair. Here skills are taught that are as much in demand today as they were 300 or 400 years ago. Students come from all over the world to learn how to craft a violin.

An internationally renowned violin making course  courses in piano tuning and repair, and the making and repair of a variety of stringed and wind instruments are offered here.
An internationally renowned violin making course courses in piano tuning and repair, and the making and repair of a variety of stringed and wind instruments are offered here. | Source
Newark Violin School
Newark Violin School | Source

Lady Godiva's Connection With Newark-on-Trent

In 1055 Lady Godiva gave her manor of Newark to the Monastery of St.Mary at Stow near Lincoln. She was the sister to the Sheriff of Lincolnshire, and her husband, Earl Leofric of Mercia, was friend and companion to King Edward the Confessor. Lady Godiva is renowned for having ridden naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry in the year 1040 to save the inhabitants from the unreasonable demands of her husband, who promised to remove them if she would so do.

Painting by John Collier
Painting by John Collier

About Newark Castle

  • Circa 1135 King Henry I granted a charter for the Bishop of Lincoln to build a castle at Newark. Originally a timber construction, it was rebuilt in stone towards the end of the century.
  • Newark Castle boasts a rare bottleneck dungeon (oubliette), one of only two remaining on the planet. The second is on the island of Malta.
  • 1215 - King John, regarded as the evilest king in British history, died at the Castle as a result of a severe case of dysentery (though some say he was poisoned).
  • 1603 - King James VI of Scotland stayed at the Castle en route to London to succeed Elizabeth I and become King James I of England.
  • 1646 - After the capture of King Charles I at nearby Kelham, the Castle was surrendered to the Roundheads who, within days, slighted it to render it useless as a fortress.

Rare Bottleneck Dungeon in Newark Castle

The bottleneck dungeon is one of only two surviving dungeons of this type.The ladder is a recent installation. Prisoners would simply be hurled down the vertical drop. If the fall didn't kill them they were simply left to starve to death.
The bottleneck dungeon is one of only two surviving dungeons of this type.The ladder is a recent installation. Prisoners would simply be hurled down the vertical drop. If the fall didn't kill them they were simply left to starve to death. | Source

Guided Tours of Newark Castle

With the exception of the cold winter months, tours of the dungeons and the towers are held on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, subject to warden availability. Starting in March, tours last for approximately one hour and must be booked at least half an hour in advance, either online, at the Tourist Information Centre, or at the Civil War Centre.

Discover the dark past of the Castle with a tour of the Bottle Dungeon, Barrel Vault and Debtors Dungeons.

Prices: Adults £5, Children, £2.50, Family ticket £12.50

There are precarious steps and ladders to negotiate in the dungeons and the towers, so these tours are unsuitable for children under the age of five and people who suffer from physical disabilities. Suitable shoes are essential.

King John's Tower in Newark Castle

King John's tower at Newark Castle. The room where King John died is up the stairs.
King John's tower at Newark Castle. The room where King John died is up the stairs. | Source

The Death of King John Re-Enacted at Newark Castle

The Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Newark-on-Trent

The Church is adjacent to Newark's medieval marketplace. In medieval times Newark was one of the largest towns in Nottinghamshire, which is reflected in the size of the Church, the tallest in the County and reputedly the fifth tallest in England. It has been recorded that after the surrender of Newark to Oliver Cromwell the Church was used to stable his troops' horses.

On a few days in the year visitors are permitted to climb the tower and enjoy a fantastic view of the town. Visit on a market day and you may find that a lunchtime concert is being given in the Church.

The building in front of the Parish Church in the picture below is the Moot Hall. The Hall was built in 1708 on the site of an earlier "King's Hall". It was used for meetings of the Manor Court, the Quarter Sessions, and other official business. But don't be deceived—this 'old' building was demolished brick-by-brick in the 1960s and rebuilt to the original plans, using the original bricks. A coffee shop, with outdoor seating under the pillars, is currently on the ground floor.

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, locally known simply as 'the Parish Church', seen from Newark Market Place. The building centre-left is the Moot Hall.
The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, locally known simply as 'the Parish Church', seen from Newark Market Place. The building centre-left is the Moot Hall. | Source

Newark Town Hall

Newark Town Hall was built in 1776. It is a Grade I Listed Building of outstanding architectural merit.

The Town Hall is used for meetings of the Town Council and for events and functions. It houses a museum collection of artifacts and gallery of works of fine art by local artists. Admission is free of charge
The Town Hall is used for meetings of the Town Council and for events and functions. It houses a museum collection of artifacts and gallery of works of fine art by local artists. Admission is free of charge | Source

Market Days at Newark in Nottinghamshire

Market days have drawn people into the centre of Newark since the granting of a 12th-century charter and, as in those earlier days, the town is at its busiest, bustling, times on days when the general market is held. Saturdays are particularly busy.

  • Monday (except Bank Holidays) - collectors/antique market
  • Wednesday - General Retail Market
  • Thursday - collectors/antique market
  • Friday - General Retail Market
  • Saturday- General Retail Market

A Farmers Market is held on the first Wednesday of every month. Here you will find locally grown and prepared food and drink including vegetables, fruit, jams, meat, honey, ice creams, dairy produce, and home-baked goods.

Newark International Antique and Collectors Fair

The Newark International Antique and Collectors Fairs are world renowned. They take place on 84 acres at Newark Showground. A few celebrities, including the actress and singer Cher, have occasionally been spotted there.

Tip: A no-hassle way to get to the Fair: arrive by train, or park your car at Northgate train station and then catch a shuttle bus to get to the Fair.

A Late Nineteenth-Century Temperance Coffee House

The Ossington building was built by Lady Ossington in 1882 to serve as a temperance coffee house. Nowadays it houses an Italian restaurant on the ground floor and private apartments on the upper floors.
The Ossington building was built by Lady Ossington in 1882 to serve as a temperance coffee house. Nowadays it houses an Italian restaurant on the ground floor and private apartments on the upper floors. | Source

A Walk Along Newark Riverside to the Town Locks

The River Trent at Newark was canalised near to the Castle in 1773. The river became an increasingly important means of transporting goods, which were loaded and unloaded on Newark Wharf. A stroll through the circular Riverside Walk passes the locks.

Newark Town Locks
Newark Town Locks | Source
Cross the bridge on the locks for a reviving cup of tea at Lock Keepers Cottage
Cross the bridge on the locks for a reviving cup of tea at Lock Keepers Cottage | Source

The Three Sieges of Newark-on-Trent

Because of its geographic position Newark was strategically important, in terms of keeping supplies and troops moving, to both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War (1642-1651).

Newark was fiercely loyal to King Charles I. A circle of earth fortifications were constructed outside the walled town—the remains of nine of them are still visible. The Royalist troops repulsed two sieges by the Parliamentarians before surrendering after a third assault. Evidence suggests that the townspeople suffered greatly during this period. Disease raged in the town; and it has been recorded that on occasion the people resorted to eating rats.

Civil War Earth Fortifications. An image of what the Queen's Sconce looked like during the English Civil War.
Civil War Earth Fortifications. An image of what the Queen's Sconce looked like during the English Civil War. | Source

Sconce and Devon Park

  • Sconce and Devon Park is the largest area of open space in Newark
  • Within the Park is the Queen's Sconce—the remains of a Civil War defensive earthworks constructed in 1642 and now designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Sconce is considered an internationally important heritage feature
  • Facilities within the Park include a park ranger, a children's play area, large areas of grassland and woodland, a riverside walk, nature reserves, and Rumbles Cafe
  • The Park received Green Flag awards in 2013/14 and 2014/15

The Governors' House. A 15th century half timbered building in Newark Market Place During the Civil War it was occupied by successive Governors of the town. KIng Charles I and Prince Rupert are said to have argued here over battle plans.
The Governors' House. A 15th century half timbered building in Newark Market Place During the Civil War it was occupied by successive Governors of the town. KIng Charles I and Prince Rupert are said to have argued here over battle plans. | Source

“ Hercules Clay, some time Mayor of Newark, resided in a house at the corner of the market-place [...] For three nights in succession he dreamt that the besiegers had set his place on fire,[he and his family quitted their abode}.They had no sooner done so than a bomb, fired from Beacon Hill, occupied by the Parliamentary forces, and believed to have been aimed at the Governor’s house, fell on the roof of Clay's dwelling, and, passing through every floor, set the whole building in flames."

— Cornelius Brown - A History of Nottinghamshire (1891)

Hercules Clay’s Bequest to the Poor

To commemorate the family's escape Hercules Clay left a sum of money to be distributed in charity. To this day a service is held annually at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene to honour his wishes. A Bible representing Hercules Clay's Bible is brought to the altar by a surviving relative and small loaves of bread are symbolically handed out to the Church Choir to represent Hercules Clay's bequest of £100 to the poor people of Newark.

The Mayoral procession from Newark Town Hall to the Hercules Clay Sermon. The Hercules Clay sermon is also known as the penny loaf sermon or the bombshell sermon.
The Mayoral procession from Newark Town Hall to the Hercules Clay Sermon. The Hercules Clay sermon is also known as the penny loaf sermon or the bombshell sermon. | Source
Exhibit in Newark Town Hall of the Bible That Belonged to Hercules Clay
Exhibit in Newark Town Hall of the Bible That Belonged to Hercules Clay | Source
The National Civil War Centre at Newark-on-Trent
The National Civil War Centre at Newark-on-Trent

Newark National Civil War Centre Opening Times and Prices

April - September: 10am-5pm

October - March: 10am-4pm

Prices:

  • Adults £8
  • Concessions (students and seniors 65+) £7
  • Children (5-16 years) £3.50
  • Children (under 5) Free!
  • Carers (accompanying persons registered as disabled) Free!

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Re-enactment of the Siege and Surrender of Newark by the Sealed Knot Society. The Sealed Knot Society visits Newark to re-enact the Town's pivotal place in the English Civil War.From this point a hole made by a cannonball in the spire of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene can be seen.
Re-enactment of the Siege and Surrender of Newark by the Sealed Knot Society. The Sealed Knot Society visits Newark to re-enact the Town's pivotal place in the English Civil War.
Re-enactment of the Siege and Surrender of Newark by the Sealed Knot Society. The Sealed Knot Society visits Newark to re-enact the Town's pivotal place in the English Civil War. | Source
Source
From this point a hole made by a cannonball in the spire of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene can be seen.
From this point a hole made by a cannonball in the spire of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene can be seen. | Source

A Tudor Building in Newark-on-Trent

The old bakery tea rooms.Take a break for coffee, a light lunch, or afternoon tea with delicious homemade cakes.
The old bakery tea rooms.Take a break for coffee, a light lunch, or afternoon tea with delicious homemade cakes.

A 16th Century Building in Newark-on-Trent

The Prince Rupert. A 16th century wealthy merchants house.  Underwent extensive restoration some years ago and is now a pub/restaurant.
The Prince Rupert. A 16th century wealthy merchants house. Underwent extensive restoration some years ago and is now a pub/restaurant. | Source

Visitor Trails Around Newark-on-Trent

Everything in Newark that is of historic interest is within easy walking distance of the town centre. Pick up a few leaflets at the Tourist Information office, located in the Palace Theatre, to guide you along the fascinating trails.

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Traditional Telephone Boxes in Newark Market PlaceLadies who love clothes shopping will love this high-end fashion shop in Chain LaneView along Chain Lane to Newark Market Place
Traditional Telephone Boxes in Newark Market Place
Traditional Telephone Boxes in Newark Market Place | Source
Ladies who love clothes shopping will love this high-end fashion shop in Chain Lane
Ladies who love clothes shopping will love this high-end fashion shop in Chain Lane | Source
View along Chain Lane to Newark Market Place
View along Chain Lane to Newark Market Place | Source

Newark on Trent in Bygone Days

The Romantic Poet Lord George Byron Published his First Poems In Newark-on-Trent

Lord Byron visited Newark whilst living in Burgage Manor, Southwell. He stayed at the Clinton Arms Hotel and had his first collection of poems printed at a printing shop just off the Market Place.

You can read more about Byron and his connection with Newark and Nottinghamshire here.

Early 18th century hotel with a piazza of Tuscan columns facing Newark Market Square. One of the grand coaching inns on the Great North Road with notable visitors such at Lord Byron and William Gladstone, it nowadays houses a variety of shops.
Early 18th century hotel with a piazza of Tuscan columns facing Newark Market Square. One of the grand coaching inns on the Great North Road with notable visitors such at Lord Byron and William Gladstone, it nowadays houses a variety of shops.

How to Get to Newark-on-Trent

  • The town is on the East Coast mainline railway, which runs from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh, stopping at Newark Northgate Station.
  • An East MIdlands line runs from Nottingham to Lincoln via Newark Castle Station.
  • There is a regular bus service from Lincoln and from Nottingham.
  • Newark is easily accessible by car.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 GlenR

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