Newark Castle – History Beside the River Trent

Newark on Trent in Nottinghamshire is a historic town on the beautiful River Trent, a scenic place for walking beside the river, or for discovering a Castle with history to explore. The castle was founded in the mid 12th century by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln. Built in timber originally, Newark castle was later rebuilt in stone towards the end of the century.

newark castle full view

In the 17th century, the castle was dismantled after the English Civil War, and was restored again in the 19th century, first by Anthony Salvin in the 1840s and later by the corporation of Newark who bought the site in 1889. Today though a ruin is still a remarkable sight to see and a pleasure to walk through the gardens.

through the gates at newark castle

We were out for a leisurely drive around and without real thought of where to visit the idea to visit Newark castle became an idea since it wouldn’t be far to travel and we hadn’t been to Newark on Trent for quite some time. We easily found parking nearby in a car park next to the river. The castle in sight already was just across the road from us and the entrance gate is on the corner of the street. The weather couldn’t have been better with blue skies and scattered clouds, just perfect for a walk around to discover the history of Newark castle on a day trip.

Newark on Trent

As soon as we entered through the gates, the castle ruins immediately dominate the view and take the eye. It’s a stunning structure and I would imagine it would have quite the look of power and authority back in historic times.

historic newark

Being next to the river Trent would have been very useful I would have thought, almost like having a moat to one side of it. I’d imagine this would have made defense to the river side a little easier. It certainly makes the castle feel more of a powerful icon against its surroundings.

castle wide angle

 The riverside curtain wall would have made the halls much lighter with the larger windows along this section, which was made safer by the protection offered by the river on this side of the castle. The halls would have been used for many purposes including entertaining guests and banqueting as well as a place where Bishop Alexander would hold court, the accused would have been transported from the two prisons cells in the central tower.

castle ruins

In a charter that’s thought to date to 1135, King Henry I granted the Bishop of Lincoln permission to build a castle. The charter reads; ‘Henry, King of England to all the Barons and to the Sheriffs and to his ministers and faithful men of Nottinghamshire, Greeting. Know ye, that I have granted to Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, that he may make a ditch and rampart of his fishpond of Niwerc upon the Fosseway and he may divert the Fosseway through the same town as he shall wish.

castle by bishop of lincoln

Alexander also established a mint at the castle during the earlier part of the castle’s existence. King John died after a feast at this castle on the night of 18 October 1216 from dysentery, according to tradition from eating a “surfeit of peaches”. So as a personal thought, I see something to be learned here, everything in moderation.

civil war trail newark

Newark castle is now a grade I listed building, (first listed in 1950) and a scheduled ancient monument which is of national historical importance and an archaeological site. We are very lucky to be able to visit and learn more about Nottinghamshire and English heritage and wander freely through the beautifully kept gardens free of charge. The castle was slighted in 1648 and left derelict. Between 1845 and 1848 architect Anthony Salvin restored the castle, and in 1889 the corporation of Newark purchased the building and carried out further restoration work.

castle ruins by the river

The castle gatehouse was part of Bishop Alexander’s original castle built as a grand entrance to impress visitors and the Bishop’s quarters were also found here with a private reception area, bedroom, a chapel and private toilet too. The private entrance would have been reached by a bridge across a moat and it’s thought there would have also been an outer rampart of earthen bank. It’s believed the moat became stilted up by the early 17th century and was re-cut in an effort to protect the castle during the sieges of the civil war. Visitors would have gained access to the castle by passing under the gatehouse arch where there would have been a guard manning the heavy gate there. There were originally 3 larger windows above the gatehouse in the 12th century which were replaced with Tudor ones in 1580, but look closer and you will see the outline where the 12th century windows would have been.

model of the original newark castle

I’ve found the area absolutely fascinating and I’m definitely going back to explore much more of Newark on Trent,  the delightful old historical buildings throughout the town are worth a visit in their own right,  there are plenty of lovely eateries, bars and pubs to choose from and of course the wonderful river Trent,  one of my favourite rivers to walk beside in Nottinghamshire is always relaxing and enjoyable. A memorable visit to a lovely place steeped in history nestled beside a beautiful river, what’s not to like. I can feel a riverside wander happening on my next visit too and maybe some refreshments.

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