The Norman gatehouse at Newark Castle (A Nicholson, 2005).
The Norman gatehouse at Newark Castle (A Nicholson, 2005).


WE have now reached that stage in the history of the castle when it had become, for the time being, a royal castle. Let us consider its probable appearance at this period.

We have primarily a large quadrangular enclosure, surrounded by a deep ditch and its corresponding rampart, this in turn surmounted by a palisade. The entrance was probably where it is to-day, only, instead

of the great stone gatehouse there was possibly only a timber tower, approached by a wooden bridge across the ditch from near the town bridge-head. Within the enclosure, probably on the river bank, would be the ornate timber hall of Alexander, loftily roofed and probably aisled on all sides. There would also be outbuildings, kitchens, stabling and the like, scattered within the area of the castle. There is no sign at all at this day of any stonework which may be earlier than the second half of the 12th century, so that probably the whole castle was of timber.

There is, however, definite evidence that at some time before the close of the century the whole castle was rebuilt in stone in more than usual magnificence. It is this, the first stone castle, which merits our close investigation at this stage.

The most striking feature of this rebuilding is the fine stone curtain-wall with which the original palisades of Alexander were replaced, the earthen ramparts on which they stood having probably been spread over the area within the castle so as to provide the great walls with a better foundation. These walls, more than torty feet high from the level of the castle to the wall-walk at their summit, must have been some of the finest to have been erected at any period in this country. It is a great pity that such scanty fragments are all that remain where they have been prevented from falling by the tall west tower and the gatehouse, a rebuilding of the river wall having entirely removed all but the smallest traces on this, the chief remaining side of the castle.

These great walls are clearly of the period when fear of the deadly new siege-weapon, the trebuchet, had, by reason of its much higher power and trajectory than its predecessor, the mangonel, forced castle-builders to abandon their practice of building low stone ring-walls in favour of high curtains. The low walls built round the royal baileys of Berkhamsted and Eye by Thomas a Becket about 1163 had become out of date almost as soon as they were built, that of Berkhamsted having proved so ineffectual during the siege of 1217 that the garrison had given in after a few hours of bombardment.

The actual date of the invention of the trebuchet is not certain, but it would seem possible that its use was attempted for the first time in this country in the summer of 1174, when Henry II, newly returned from the Continent, was advancing with an army to effect the long-overdue subjection of rebellious East Anglia. Summoning Huntingdon on his way, he set his engineer, Ivo, to hire carpenters and prepare engines, causing the town and castle to surrender within twenty-four hours. Three days later, the King was encamped at Syleham on the Waveney with 500 carpenters, presumably also engaged in making engines. The rebel Earl Bigod, against whose immensely strong castle of Bungay the engines were being prepared, had covered the ten miles between his castle and Sileham within a few hours to offer his submission. As he had successfully defied the King for many years, it would seem possible that it was the dread of the new engines, presumably trebuchets, which caused this hurried debacle.

The earliest datable "anti-trebuchet" curtain walls in this country would appear to be those commenced about 1171 by Richard de Lucy, the Chief Justiciar, round the upper bailey of Windsor. In view of the great importance of this castle, we may suppose the rebuilding of Newark Castle to have been executed later than this date.

Another interesting feature of the Newark walls is the fact that included in the design is the curious lofty square tower at their western angle. This is not a proper wall-tower, which should project considerably in front of its curtain so as to enfilade adjacent walling from its flanks, but is merely a rather clumsy raising of the curtain at the angle, with practically no external projection, rather like the angle turrets of a Norman keep.

The high curtains of Windsor mentioned above and completed in 1174 are, however, plentifully supplied with properly-designed wall-towers at intervals, each tower having a good projection to the field. The same is true of the curtain wall commenced in 1178 round the keep of Dover and the fine castle of Framlingham, entirely rebuilt in 1189, shows a fine series of similar wall-towers. Although one might expect the walls of Newark Castle to be perhaps a little behind, in fashion, those of Windsor or even Dover there seems to be no reason why they should have been less advanced than the less important private castle of Framlingham. We may thus arrive at the quite reasonable supposition that the Castle of Newark was not rebuilt later than 1189.

Let us consider the state ot affairs at Newark during this period, 1171-89. In 1167, Bishop Robert de Chesney had died and King Henry had taken possession of the castle. The castle was not, however, rebuilt while it was in the hands of the Crown, or corresponding entries would be met with in the Pipe Rolls. In 1173, about the time of the suggested "trebuchet scare," the see had been given by Henry to a layman, his natural son, Geoffrey Plantagenet, popularly supposed to have been the son of "fair Rosamund"

Clifford, but more probably of the daughter of a knight called Roger de Hackney. Geoffrey was only twenty at his "election" and it might be supposed that he would be more willing to spend the revenues of the see on castle-building than on ecclesiastical matters, especially as he had before him the example of his father, the greatest castle-building king England has ever had, builder of many great keeps throughout the land. All the Plantagenets were builders of castles, Henry's half-brother, Hameline, having contributed the great keep of Conisborough about this time. The new high-curtain arrangement, of course, had caused the abandoning of the keep in the plan of castles, but we may suppose that Geoffrey may have made a gesture to the old order by building the magnificent entrance tower, the finest gatehouse-keep in this country, if not in existence. Incidentally, by so doing, he made a far better business of defending the entrance than ever his father had done.

Geoffrey resigned his bishopric in 1181, which suggests that the castle was finished by that date, and confirmation of this supposition may be found in that the Treasury was at Newark in 1180.

We thus get the search for the probable period at which the first stone castle was built at Newark narrowed down to between 1173-80, which conforms reasonably well to the general supposition above of 1174-89. The castle may well have taken the whole seven years to build, so we might easily assume that the accession of Geoffrey Plantagenet in 1173 represents the building of the stone castle at Newark.

Let us now consider how architectural features might bear out this supposition. The west tower and the remains of the curtain are alike featureless. There is, therefore, only the gatehouse by which we may work. In plan it is the usual square, with the thick walls generally associated with the reign of Henry II rather than earlier. A unique feature is the very fine newel stair attached to the south-east face, providing access both to the upper part of the tower and to the wall-walk on the curtain-top. Stairs away from the angles of keeps do not occur until about 1157; Scarborough, started in that year, being the first. The stair does not begin to project as a turret until 1165, when it is found in the keep at Orford. Indeed, of all the large Norman structures remaining in this country, it is this keep which appears to show the most affinity with Newark gatehouse. The Ortord turrets, although square on plan for their whole height, are very similar to the stair turret at Newark, which has also the same square-headed loops, heralds of the Transitional period. The fine chapel over the entrance passage of the Newark tower would seem to suggest the influence of that over the forebuilding at Orford. The windows of both have square internal heads under a semi-circular outer arch, and the same feature may be observed in the original windows of the "forebuilding" to the Newark gatehouse and on the river front of the West Tower. The Newark "forebuilding" seems to have been raised very shortly after its completion, as, although there is no apparent change in architectural style between the two floors above the entrance, there are clear traces of the original roof of the first floor within the second.

At the time of its commencement in 1165, Orford was apparently the "pet" castle of Henry II, on which he lavished much money and attention, and it may be supposed that it represents absolutely the latest fashion lor that year. Allowing a time-lag of eight years, therefore, for the style to spread to the private castle of Newark, it seems quite reasonable to suppose that the work there is that of Henry's natural son, Geoffrey Plantagenet, following on his receiving the castle in 1173, the latter, however, following the new system of lofty "anti-trebuchet" curtain-walls and relegating the then useless keep to its only possible alternative position as gatehouse.

The chapel in the gatehouse is a remarkable feature with its fine wheel window in the west wall and its two lateral windows with their shafted and moulded reveals. The adjacent room with its fireplace may have been the priest's chamber, access to his necessary garderobe accommodation being by a very small timber balcony joining the two doors in the angle between gatehouse and curtain, and thus providing access to the upper garderobe in the adjoining curtain-wall.

It would appear that the stone gatehouse was erected on the site of the original entrance, possibly so as to retain the entrance bridge. At the time when Alexander built his castle, he would have probably made its entrance, for better protection, as near as possible to the river bank. It would seem possible, therefore, that his river front was not on the line of that at present standing, but on one parallel to the corresponding land front, which would have made the plan a trapezium, almost a rectangle. (Medieval architects were capable of measuring lengths, but the setting-out of right-angles was often too much lor them.) This would bring the present entrance into its proper position close to the river, as it then may have run.

If the supposition as to the position of the river front of Alexander's castle is correct, and also the quite reasonable one that his timber-hall was on this front, it follows that this hall must have somewhat obstructed the entrance. It may be tor this reason, therefore, that we find the present river front to be at a distinctly awkward angle with the line of the gatehouse, this being perhaps due to the throwing forward of the new river wall to enable the new hall to clear the gatehouse. There can be no doubt as to the position of the late 12th-century Norman hall on this front, as part of its crypt still remains, this having presumably been built against the river scarp of Alexander's castle, in the angle between the old line and the new.

The plan of the castle seems to have been considerably altered when the stone castle was built, as the landward portion of the north-east curtain is seen to have been built out askew with the entrance so as to form an acute angle with the long land front of the castle, possibly so that a tower at this angle, now completely disappeared, might serve to command the approach across the entrance bridge. The junction between this raking curtain and the gatehouse is cleverly effected through the octagonal stair turret.

The little "Porter's Lodge" constructed in the north-west wall of the entrance passage within the gate, is very interesting, and traces of its original barrel vault may be seen. The arrangement of the chambers attached to the outer side of the gatehouse at this point is now somewhat obscure, as the structure has been seriously damaged hereabouts. There was clearly a small square tower balancing the stair turret and having its barrel-vaulted floors approached from the curtain. At the end of the curtain itself is the remains of another square tower, having a broad newel stair in its upper part, and a garderobe chamber with two openings below.

Another garderobe seems to have been contrived on the floor above this, adjoining the stair, but later rebuilding has considerably obscured its arrangement.

The access to the double garderobe is interesting. The present entrance is modern and is simply due to the removal of the whole of the inner wall of the chamber. The original entrance was nearer the gatehouse and was through a small door and along a narrow passage in the thickness of the wall, and then into the garderobe chamber.

The entrances to the lower storeys of the west tower were similarly contrived. Both on the ground floor and in the basement the interior of the tower was reached through doors in the south-west curtain and thence along passages in the thickness of the wall to the rooms themselves. This arrangement suggests a laudable consideration for comfort and dislike of draughts. And to increase the effect of luxury, the passage to the ground floor room boasts a private garderobe leading from it and discharging in the angle between tower and curtain. The first floor of the tower has also had a garderobe contrived in the south-west curtain, but this has now disappeared. The access to the first floor room is interesting, having been by a long, straight staircase built in the thickness of the river wall and entered by a door still to be seen, which, however, was only retained by the 13th-century builders to provide access to a new garderobe. The top floor of the tower was, as usual, approached only from the wall-walk.

In 1181, Geoffrey Plantagenet resigned the bishopric of Lincoln, and after a lapse of five years, during which the castle remained in the King's hands, the see was given to Hugh of Avalon, later to be canonised as St. Hugh of Lincoln. From his accession onwards, the bishops seem to have retained the castle, although the distrustful John seems to have been afraid of leaving such a formidable stronghold in private hands, and thus is found alternately giving it into the charge of the bishop to take it back again immediately. In 1215, John visited Newark and ordered brattices to be made for the castle. This possibly refers to a stockade at the outer end of the entrance bridge over the castle ditch. The same year he gave the castle into the charge of one of his freebooter captains, Philip Mark, but next year, after war had broken out in the country between John and the Magna Charta barons assisted by their ally, Louis the Dauphin, the bishops, encouraged by the Pope, were on the side of the King. In the summer ot 1216, John was in flight westwards and, anxious not to lose episcopal support, ordered Philip Mark to give Newark Castle back to the bishop. Indeed, he even pressed the bishop to take the castle back, warning him that it he would not take the castle back and harm came to him in consequence, the King would take no responsibility tor it. The bishop, however, refused the offer and the ever-vacillating John thereupon ordered Philip Mark to destroy the castle, which, however, he did not do, as a few days later John devised other plans for it, handing it over to another of his freebooter captains, Robert de Gaugy, to hold for him against the barons. Less than two months later, John himself came to the castle on his last visit. He arrived there a ruined man and, as it turned out, dying. Three days after his entry through its great gatehouse he died, deserted by his attendants and his death chamber looted by his servants. As might have been expected, Robert de Gaugy was in no mood for giving up such a fine castle, which he had, moreover, carefully provisioned against any possible siege. Even the accession of his late master's young son, Henry III, made no difference to his determination to continue in residence. In the summer of 1218, therefore, the young king wrote to Robert de Gaugy, commanding him to hand over the castle forthwith to the bishop "putting aside all delay and excuse as you love us and our honour and the peace of the kingdom, lest on account of the bad example of detaining that castle, which was entrusted to the lord our father in good faith, others should rightly fear to entrust their castles to us when it should be necessary."

This, however, had not the slightest effect on Robert de Gaugy, who continued to sit tight behind his high walls. The bishop then appealed to Robert's predecessor, Philip Mark, who had been created Sheriff of Notts, and Derby, to assist him to recover the castle, and this doubtless not unwilling officer was soon gathering troops for the siege. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, the young king's Regent, came in person to superintend the operations and, with humane forethought, hastened to blockade the gatehouse so as to prevent the garrison sallying out to fire the town, a common precaution in cases of this sort. Great engines, probably trebuchets, were brought, but the high walls resisted their onslaughts. It is interesting to note that during the same year, the low ring walls of Berkhamsted and Hertford had succumbed after a few hours, whereas the great curtains of Dover and Windsor had been able to hold out indefinitely. After eight days of bombardment, during which the town was practically destroyed, Robert was still holding out and it was found necessary to make terms with him. He explained that he had been put to considerable cost in provisioning the castle and that he would only surrender the place provided he were paid for the food remaining uneaten. Finally he compacted for the sum of £100 (about £2,500 to-day), and marched with his men from the castle whose invulnerability he had so clearly demonstrated.

Thus had the bishop of Lincoln once more regained his castle of Newark. The town, however, having been almost completely destroyed during the siege, the bishop had to straightway set about its rebuilding, the king ordering Philip Mark to see that the restoration was put in hand immediately, and allowing the bishop timber from the royal woods nearby for the work.