The English Civil War is a relatively forgotten, yet important and exciting part of British history, especially for Newark and Sherwood. Visitors to the area today can relive this pivotal period through a range of venues, sites and historical events throughout the year.
Newark – The Royal Stronghold
Charles I’s reign had been a tumultuous one; having dissolved Parliament and ruling by decree, he had upset Parliament during a time when they were becoming more influential and crucial to ruling the kingdom. To win the war, Charles needed to hold London and unfortunately Parliament had seized London early on in the conflict.
Newark was essential because of its strategic position. It lay at the crossroads of the Great North Road and the Fosse Way. This crossroads was vital due to the fact that Charles could intercept his enemies from every side of England, if the moment provided itself.
The town of Newark withstood three separate sieges during 1642-1646. The last siege saw over 16,000 troops seal off Newark and dam a river to stop water mills producing bread and gunpowder; however plucky Newark refused to surrender.
Unfortunately Charles was at breaking point and made one last attempt at political manoeuvring by making contact with the Scottish army, allies of Parliament. He hoped to drive a wedge between the Scots and Parliament but Charles misjudged and they insisted that Newark must yield. The siege lasted for six months and ended in May 1646.
The National Civil War Centre (pictured above) details the intricate and complex history of Newark’s involvement during the years of the Civil War. Through its stunning displays of authentic Civil War armour, interactive displays and games and an extensive interactive timeline of before, during and the aftermath, you can discover for yourself the history of the English Civil War.
If you also fancy a walk around the magnificent and beautiful town, the National Civil War Centre has developed The National Civil War Trail that will take you on a journey to explore the key sites of the Civil War in Newark. This can be accessed through the Augmented Reality App (available on both the App Store and Google Play, just search NCWT), or a traditional paper version of the trail is available from the National Civil War Centre.
Southwell – Battleground of Civil War politics
King Charles I is said to have spent his last night as a free man in May 1646 in Southwell at the Saracen’s Head (ironically, then named the King’s Head) before surrendering to the Scottish Army and imprisoned at Kelham Hall.
You can still stay in this charming coaching Inn as The Saracen’s Head is open today as a hotel and restaurant. Enjoy traditional dishes with a contemporary flair in the King Charles Restaurant, a room which dates back to the 17th Century, or stay in luxury in one of the 27 stunning bedrooms either from the Historic Wing or the New Wing…and, if you’re feeling brave enough, stay in the supposed room in which King Charles slept.
Just a stone’s throw from The Saracen’s Head is Southwell Minster (pictured) and the Archbishop’s Palace. The fabric of Southwell, including the Minster and Archbishop’s Palace, suffered at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s troops. By the end of the Civil War all that was left of the Archbishop’s Palace was the Great Hall, the rest was in ruins.
You can discover the rich history of the Archbishop’s Palace today and learn in more depth about its significance during the Civil War. You can also visit the Education Garden where you can explore the history of the site through living plants, which includes enclosed gardens that are inspired by medieval, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian gardens.
It is well worth taking a guided tour of Southwell Minster, which holds a whole host of stories and legends and includes the beautiful ‘Leaves of Southwell Minster’.
Written by Rebecca Firmin (BA) Hons in History
Apprentice Projects Assistant, Newark and Sherwood District Council
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