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A history of Newark Castle and gardens

The site of Newark Castle had been occupied for many centuries before the current structure was built.

Archaeological finds have dated from the Bronze Age, Romans and Anglo-Saxon times. An Anglo Saxon grave containing 50 graves wawa discovered in a dig in the early 1990s.

During the reign of Edward the Confessor Newark belonged to Countess Godiva of Coventry and her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, but was eventually turned over to the church.

The present structure was built on the site of a motte and bailey castle by the Bishop of Lincoln, the aptly named Alexander the Magnificent.

He was granted a charter from King Henry I in 1135 giving him permission to:  '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'. 

Built by the side of the Trent, near an established crossing point, and at the location of the crossroads of the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, it was in a strategically important position and became known as the ‘key to the north’.

This castle did not have a keep, but a magnificent gatehouse.

Over the next several hundred years, it under went many changes, including the replacement of the curtain wall and undercroft in the 13th Century.

King John was a regular visitor to Newark Castle and died in the gatehouse during the night of October 18/19 1612. Rumours persist that he was poisoned, but the most likely cause is dysentery.

The castle had a series of changes of ownership and building work over the next few centuries.

It next came to prominence during the Civil War of 1642-46 when it was a Royalist stronghold.

The castle withstood three sieges - the damage caused by cannon balls can still be seen on the curtain wall today - and only fell when Charles I ordered its surrender after his capture just outside Newark.

 After the surrender, Parliament ordered the castle to be destroyed.

Fortunately for us, the plague struck Newark and those tasked with its demolition left with part of the structure still intact. That is what is left today.

The castle has been derelict and unoccupied ever since, except for squatters, who occupied the north-west tower in the 18th Century.

Since then it has been used as a bowling green and cattle market.

In 1887 Newark Corporation announced plans to landscape the castle grounds to create a public park  to mark Queen Victoria’s jubilee. The project was completed two years later.

Today, the castle and its grounds are owned and maintained by Newark and Sherwood District Council and the grounds remain public open space.

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