The Church of St Mary Magdalene is believed to be the largest Parish Church in Nottinghamshire. It is situated just off the cobbled market place and boasts a spire over 240 feet in height.
Newark Castle is one of a group of castles originally meant as a Bishop’s Palace, and was built for the Lord of the Manor, Bishop Alexander of Lincoln.
The Castle was started in 1123. Overlooking the river with a fine Norman Gatehouse as the main entrance, there was a bridge leading from the castle onto the main road into the town. Much of the Gatehouse remains today and is considered one of the finest remaining in the country. In 1216 King John died here on his way back from Swineshead. It is alleged that he died in the south-west tower of the Castle, but it is more likely to have been the Gatehouse.
Towards the end of the 13th Century the Castle was substantially re-built with a new riverside curtain wall being constructed. During the 15th and 16th centuries fire places were added and windows enlarged and glazed as the Castle became more of a palace and less of a fortification. In 1547 the Castle passed from the Bishops to the Crown and was then leased to eminent figures including Thomas Manners (Earl of Belvoir), William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Exchequer to Elizabeth I).
During the English Civil War , Newark Castle was an important Royalist stronghold, controlling the main route to the North. The town and Castle withstood three sieges by Parliamentarian rebels in 1642, 1644 and 1646. However, in 1646, following the King’s surrender, Cromwell and Parliament ordered it to be destroyed. The demolition started but was not completed due to an outbreak of plague.
In the early 1700s the Castle was leased to the Duchess of Newcastle and stayed with the family until 1836 when the Crown land was sold off with the exception of the Castle. In 1881 a local benefactor, William Gilstrap, offered to build a library in the Castle grounds and this building was opened in 1885. The former library now houses the Newark Tourist Information Centre.
In 1887 it was proposed that the Castle grounds were laid out as gardens for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. They were officially opened on 24th May 1889 the day of Queen Victoria’s 70th birthday.
In 2000 a Heritage Lottery Fund allowed the grounds to be refurbished with new paths, extensive planting and a Bandstand – something on the original 1887 plans that was never constructed.
Newark in The Civil War
The attractive market town of Newark is steeped in history.
The Castle is where King John died in 1216. Perhaps the most important period of history for the town is during the Civil War when it was a Royalist stronghold and withstood three sieges. The town has many reminders of that time.
Newark declared early on for the King, who put four hundred men into the Castle, and thus commanded the passage over the river, strengthening the town with earthworks, and then with a further force making excursions into Lincolnshire, Melton, Oxford, Northampton, Ely, Nottingham and elsewhere.
The four hundred men for the Castle were increased to four thousand for active work.
Newark Historic Buildings
Newark is one of England’s most historic towns, identified by the Council for British Archaeology as ‘splendid and precious’.
It has a medieval street plan, a fine collection of timber framed buildings, a twelfth-century Castle, one of England’s grandest Parish Churches, what is believed to be the finest Market Place in the country and surrounded by the best-preserved collection of Civil War defences to be found anywhere.
Newark Market Place
The market place is one of the largest cobbled squares in the country and provides a backdrop to many interesting architectural gems. The Georgian Town Hall built, in 1776, has a magnificent portico and four columns which lead through to the Butttermarket which with its varied mix of shops and a cafe.
Also in the Market Place is Ye Old White Hart, a timber-framed former coaching inn built in the 15th century. Two former coaching inns, the Clinton Arms and the Saracens Head have interesting colonnades at street level.
The Governors house, a timber framed house, dating back to the 15th century, is reputed to have been the place where King Charles I quarrelled with his nephew Prince Rupert, after Rupert had lost the battle in Bristol.
Newark Town Hall
Newark Town Hall has housed the Mayor and the Town Council since it was built in 1776.
In September 1999, the Town Hall also became a registered Museum, opening up access of the Grade 1 listed buidling and its treasures to the public.
On entering the Town Hall from the Market Place, the stairs and lift to the Museum and Art Gallery can be seen on the right.