Newark is positioned at the point where the River Trent intersects with the Fosse Way, an important Roman and medieval road which ran between Exeter and Lincoln. Despite the road briefly having acted as the Roman frontier during the first century AD, the site doesn't seem to have been fortified during this period. The nearest military establishment was at East Stoke (Adpontem), around three miles from Newark. However, in the late fifth/early sixth century AD the area was settled by the Angles and eventually become incorporated into the Kingdom of Mercia.
The first fortification was built at Newark in AD 829 when King Egbert constructed a fort there as a means of checking the advance of the Danes. However, by the late ninth century the area was under their control and was within the sphere classified as the Danelaw. It fell back under Saxon control during the tenth century and was re-created as a fortified, planned town. By the eleventh century a Saxon fortified manor house, owned by King Edward the Elder, had been established on the site of the later castle.
Both the Fosse Way and the River Trent remained major trade routes at the time of the Norman Conquest and accordingly Newark was seen by the invaders as a strategic communications node as well as one that could provide a lucrative income from taxation. Accordingly around 1073 Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln established an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle enclosing the earlier manor house within its defences.
Newark Castle Rebuilt
Little remains of the twelfth century other than the South West Tower (above), Gatehouse and fragments of curtain wall.
The castle was replaced by the stone fortification seen today between 1133 and 1148 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln. The original castle's motte was flattened although its legacy forced the irregular layout of the new structure. Concurrent with the construction of the new castle, the Town Walls may have been riveted by a low stone wall at this time. Alexander's upgrades, along with his construction of castles at Banbury and Sleaford, aroused the suspicion of King Stephen prompting Newark Castle to be taken into Crown ownership. It was later returned to the Bishop but in 1167 it was again briefly taken into Crown control.
First Barons' War
In 1215 King John's repudiation of Magna Carta led to the outbreak of the First Barons' War. Shortly after, Newark Castle was captured by one of the rebel barons, Gilbert de Gaunt. It was recovered by Royalist forces in 1216 and King John attempted to return it to the Bishop of Lincoln in the hope the latter would support his cause. However, the Bishop was reluctant to take custody of the castle and so John appointed a mercenary captain, Robert de Gaugy, as its custodian. Not long afterwards, the castle hosted the King who, whilst en route to meet his adversaries, arrived at the fortification suffering with dysentery. He died there on the night of 18 October 1216 allegedly screaming in agony whilst a storm raged outside. John's death coupled with the inclusive Regency of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke defused the war with many of the barons ending their resistance. However, Robert de Gaugy refused to cede control of the castle and had to be compelled to give it up by a Royal army. The castle was briefly captured by the rebel William de Forz in 1221 during his short-lived rebellion against Henry III.
Later Medieval Period
Newark Town Walls were rebuilt once more in the early fourteenth century, perhaps in response to the deteriorating relationship with Scotland. However, this strengthening of the town defences meant Newark Castle itself became less important as a fortification and according it underwent periodic modifications to enhance its residential features. In particular the west wall, facing the river, was augmented with polygonal towers in the early fourteenth century and later larger windows were installed.
The impressive waterfront facade of Newark Castle reflects the later medieval modifications to convert it from a fortification into a palace.
In 1547, following the English Reformation, the castle was taken into Crown control and subsequently passed through numerous private owners including William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Exchequer to Elizabeth I). The castle seems to have been ruinous when he took ownership and he commenced some repairs restoring it back into a residence.
Civil War: First Siege
During the seventeenth century Civil War, Newark was seized by the Royalists soon after the commencement of hostilities. The town's proximity to key Parliamentary areas in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire was such that a Parliamentary force under Major-General Thomas Ballard attempted to capture it. The first siege was in place by 27 February 1643 but it was short-lived - Ballard met a spirited defence and withdrew his forces within days.
Civil War: Second Siege
The second siege of the Civil War commenced in February 1644. At the start of that year - and in the latter months of 1643 - the Royalist position in the North Midlands had been strong with significant tax revenue raised and significant disruption to Parliamentary movements. Much of this was due to the presence of the forces of William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle. However, in January 1644 Scotland invaded England in support of Parliament. Cavendish was dispatched to intercept along with portions of the Royalist garrisons in the Midlands including Newark. The reduction in the size of the Newark's garrison encouraged Parliament to dispatch John Meldrum with a force of around 6,000 men to capture the town. On 6 March he tightened the siege by storming the land to the immediate north-west of the town but on 21 March a Royalist force under Prince Rupert engaged Meldrum's forces. He was defeated and surrendered 3,000 muskets, 2 mortars and 11 cannons to the Royalists. The shock of the defeat prompted the Parliamentary garrison of Lincoln to withdraw whilst Derby and Nottingham braced themselves for siege. However, Prince Rupert withdrew his forces keen to pursue objectives in the South West.
The Queen's Sconce
The Queen's Sconce was one of two earthwork artillery forts built after the Second Siege of Newark (February to March 1644).
The second siege of Newark had revealed the weaknesses of the medieval defences. To mitigate, two new earthwork forts were constructed, the King's Sconce and Queen's Sconce. These artillery forts were located to the north-east and south-west of the town and were intended to keep attackers away from the weak medieval walls.
Civil War: Third Siege
The third siege came after the decisive Royalist defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644. The Scottish army rendezvoused with the northern Parliamentarians and set to work besieging York. This prompted the King to dispatch Prince Rupert with a large Royalist army to relieve the city. As he approached, the Scottish-Parliamentary force withdrew but was pursued by Prince Rupert who was then roundly defeated. With no further Royalist force able to interfere, Parliament set about reducing northern garrisons with York surrendering on the 16 July. Forces from Newark had been defeated alongside the Prince at Marston Moor and this severely curtailed the operations of the garrison. Nevertheless forces from Newark successfully recaptured Bolsover and Wellbeck in Summer 1645.
The actions of the Newark garrison made the town a priority target. On 26 November 1645 Scottish forces took up siege positions. Extensive earthworks were dug around the town - manned by almost 16,000 soldiers - and the River Devon was dammed to bring Newark's corn mills to a halt. The works were complete by March 1646 but the town's Governor, Lord John Bellasye, refused to surrender. His hand was forced by the arrival of King Charles himself who, in an attempt to divide the Parliamentary-Scottish alliance, had surrendered to the Scots at nearby Southwell. The captured King was compelled to order the Governor of Newark to surrender and this was duly done on 27 April 1646.
After the Civil War the majority of the earthworks surrounding the town were flattened and Newark Castle was slighted by order of Parliament in 1648. The latter was subsequently left as an abandoned ruin until the nineteenth century when efforts were made at restoration. The castle came into the ownership of the corporation of Newark in 1889. The town walls were demolished during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with East Gate remaining standing until 1762.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Armitage, E.S (1904). Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. English Historical Review Vol 14 (Reprinted by Amazon).
Carruthers, B and Ingram, J. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Illustrated and Annotated. Pen and Sword, Barnsley
Creighton, O.H (2002). Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. Equinox, Bristol.
Douglas, D.C and Whitelock, D (ed) (1979). English Historical Documents Vol 1 (c500-1042). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C and Greeaway, G.W (ed) (1981). English Historical Documents Vol 2 (1042-1189). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C and Rothwell, H (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 3 (1189-1327). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C and Myers, A.R (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 4 (1327-1485). Routledge, London.
Gravett, C (2003). Norman Stone Castles (1). Osprey, Oxford.
Gravett, C (2009). English Castles 1200-1300. Oxprey, Oxford.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Liddiard, R (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape 1066-1500. Macclesfield.
Salter, M (2002). The Castles and Moated Mansions of the East Midlands. Folly Publications, Malvern.
Turner, H.L (1970). Town defences in England and Wales. John Baker, London.
Williams, A and Martin, G.H (2003). Domesday Book: A Complete Translation. Viking, London.
Visit Official Website
Only a small portion of Newark Castle survives but the remains include an impressive gatehouse and the riverside wall, the latter still standing to its original height. Access to the interior of the towers and the crypt is by dedicated tour only. The Queen’s Sconce, a rare surviving example of a Civil War earthwork, is nearby.
Newark Castle and Town Walls Layout. The Newark Town Walls, which would have been an earth rampart probably fronted by a ditch, were constructed during the tenth century when the town was re-founded and laid out on a grid plan by the Saxons. The walls remained extant during the medieval period and in the fourteenth century were allegedly fronted by a low stone wall. All above-ground traces of it have now been eliminated.
Newark-on-Trent Castle. The castle was built directly adjacent to the river on the site of a Saxon fortified manor house. Only a small portion of the castle survives but the remains still stand to the original height and give a clear sense of what an awesome structure it must once have been.
Gatehouse. The gatehouse Tat Newark is one of the finest examples of its kind. The upper stories were originally high-status chambers as evidenced by the fine windows.
Norman Crypt. The crypt is accessible on one of the tours of the castle ruins.
View. The impressive view from the Gatehouse.
Watergate. The castle's watergate led directly out to the river.
Castle Grounds. Most of the castle has been destroyed with only the gatehouse, waterfront curtain wall and south-west tower surviving.
South-West Tower. The tower stands to its original height and is accessible during one of the tours. Inside rare Templar graffiti can be seen which was carved by imprisoned members of that order following its suppression at the hands of Edward II.
West Front. Whilst the height of the curtain wall reflects the strength of the twelfth century castle, numerous modifications were subsequently made to convert the site into a palatial residence. This included the Oriel window (centre) added in 1470. Less glamorous were the gardrobe chutes which jettisoned sewage directly into the river.
The Third Siege of Newark (November 1645 to April 1646). The earthwork defences raised by the defenders were dwarfed by those constructed by the attackers. The Scottish forces built a network of earthwork ramparts and bastions completely encircling the town.
The Queen's Sconce. The second siege of Newark (February to March 1644) had revealed the weaknesses of the medieval defences and accordingly two new earthwork forts were constructed. The Queen's Sconce was one of these (the other was the King's Sconce) and was built upon a sandy knoll positioned to cover the southern approaches to the town as well as access along the River Devon. Named after Charles I's wife, Queen Henrietta, it had arrowhead bastions at each corner. The Sconce is a rare survivor of Civil War earthworks and was only left standing as the Parliamentary forces fled the town due to fears of plague.
and the QUEEN'S SCONCE
Newark Castle was built by the Bishop of Lincoln around 1073 replacing an earlier Saxon fortified manor house. The castle was rebuilt in stone in the twelfth century as were the Newark Town Walls. During the Civil War, castle and town endured three sieges during which extensive earthwork defences were built. One of these structures, the Queen's Sconce, survives surprisingly intact.
Newark Castle is found off Castle Gate Street and there are various pay and display car parks in close vicinity (one option shown below). The Queen's Sconce is located within a public park off Boundary Road where there is a dedicated car park.
Car Parking Option
The Wharf, NG24 1EU
National Civil War Centre
Boundary Road, NG24 4AU