Newark on Trent

Newark Bridge.

Newark is an historic market town situated at the confluence of the River Trent and the River Devon.

The nearest Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic, up to about 8000BC) site to Newark is at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire, while Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, 8000 to 4000BC) tools have been found at Tuxford, about 12 miles north of Newark. The earliest traces of human activity in the immediate vicinity of Newark are some tools from the New Stone (Neolithic, 4000 to 2500BC) Age, and a few spear- and axe-heads from the late Bronze Age (2500 to 700BC) have also been found, and there is a burial site (a round barrow) from that period nearby at Cromwell and a henge at East Stoke. The area was later occupied by the Celtic Coritani tribe, but there is no evidence that the site of Newark became a village at that time.

Newark owed its origin to its position on the Fosse Way and being adjacent to the River Trent. In a document which purports to be a charter of 664 Newark is mentioned as having been granted to the abbey of Peterborough by Wulfhere. A pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery, used from the early 5th to the early 7th centuries, has been found in Millgate, in Newark, close to both the Fosse Way and the River Trent, in which cremated remains were buried in pottery urns.

In the reign of Edward the Confessor it belonged to Godiva and her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, who granted it to the monastery of Stow in 1055, who retained its incomes even after the Norman Conquest as came under the control of the Norman Bishop Remigius. After his death it changed to, and remained in the hands of, the Bishops of Lincoln from 1092 until the reign of Edward VI.

The castle was erected by Bishop Alexander of Lincoln in 1123, and the bridge about the same time under charter from Henry I, also St. Leonard's Hospital. He also gained from the king a charter to hold a five-day fair at the castle each year. He gained a charter under Stephen to establish a mint in the town.

The town became a local centre for the wool and cloth trade; certainly by the time of Henry II a major market was established. King John of England died of dysentery in Newark in 1216. Following his death as Henry III tried to bring order to the country the mercenary Robert de Gaugy refused to yield Newark Castle to the Bishop of Lincoln, its rightful owner, leading to the Dauphin of France laying an eight day siege on behalf of the king, ended by an agreement to pay the mercenary to leave.

Around the time of Edward III's death (1377) records of the poll tax show that at that time the adult (over 14) population of Newark was 1,178, excluding beggars and clergy, making it one of the larger towns in the country at that time.

In 1457 a flood swept away the bridge over the Trent and - although there was no legal requirement for anyone to replace it - Bishop of Lincoln John Chaworth financed the building of a new bridge built of oak with stone defensive towers at each end.

Following the break with Rome, the subsequent establishment of the independent Church of England, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII had the Vicar of Newark, Henry Lytherland executed when he refused to acknowledge the king as head of the church. The dissolution affected Newark's political landscape heavily, and even more radical changes came in 1547 when the Bishop of Lincoln exchanged ownership of the town with the Crown. Newark was incorporated under an alderman and twelve assistants in 1549, and the charter was confirmed and extended by Elizabeth I.

Charles I, owing to the increasing commercial prosperity of the town, reincorporated it under a mayor and aldermen, and this charter, except for a temporary surrender under James II, continued to be the governing charter of the corporation until the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

During the English Civil War, Newark was a mainstay of the royalist cause, the King having raised the standard in nearby Nottingham. It was attacked in February 1643 by two troops of horsemen, but beat them back. At the end of 1644 it was besieged by forces from Nottingham, Lincoln and Derby, the siege was only relieved in March by Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Parliament commenced a new siege towards the end of January 1645 following more raiding, but this was relieved by Sir Marmaduke Langdale after about a month. Newark cavalry fought with the King's forces which were decisively defeated in the battle of Naseby, near Leicester in June 1645.

The final siege began in November 1645, by which time the town's defences had been greatly strengthened. Two major forts had been constructed just outside the town, one, called the Queen's Sconce, to the south-west and another, the King's Sconce to the north-east, both close to the river, together with defensive walls and water filled ditch 2¼ miles in length, around the town. In May 1646 the town was ordered to surrender by Charles I, which was still only accepted under protest by the town's garrison. After the surrender most of the defences were destroyed, including the castle which was left in essentially the state it can be seen today.

Around 1770 the Great North Road around Newark (now the A1) was raised on a long series of arches to ensure it remained clear of the regular floods it experienced. A special Act of Parliament in 1773 allowed the creation of a Town Hall next to the Market Place. The Duke of Newcastle, now Lord of the Manor and major landowner of the area, built a new brick bridge with stone facing replaced the dilapidated one next the castle in 1775, and this is still one of the major thoroughfares in the town today.

The clothing, malting, bearings, pumps, agricultural machinery, and sugar refining were the main industries in Newark in the last 100 years or so. Like many industrial towns in the midlands, Newark's industry has declined since the 1970's with only a fraction remaining today. However, with its historic market centre, attractive surrounding villages, location adjacent the river and its good transport links it is becoming a popular commuter market town and visitor destination.