Newark Castle, c.1905.
Newark Castle, c.1905.

NOTHING appears to be known about the history of the Castle for over a century following the siege of 1218. Such documents as may exist in the library at Lincoln to give some details of this period in its history, do not appear to have been investigated. I must not fail to express my gratitude to Cornelius Brown's magnificent History of Newark-on-Trent, from the pages of which work I have taken much of my historical data. This is a very great pity, as it is during this silent century that very important alterations were made to the Castle, an architectural survey of which leaves it uncertain as to the exact period at which the work was undertaken.

Newark Castle had been exceptionally fortunate in having been provided with its high curtain-walls considerably in advance of the times, so that no important military improvements were subsequently found necessary, as the siege of 1218 had clearly demonstrated the efficiency of the defences.

It appears, however, that a century or so after these high walls had been erected they were beginning to show signs of collapse through defect in their foundations possibly through their having been built on Alexander's earthwork without having been carried down sufficiently deeply. The "forebuilding" to the gatehouse had sunk away from the main tower, causing a crack which may be seen to-day. The river front, also, seems to have started to collapse into the river, which may have been undermining its foundations.

It was therefore found necessary to rebuild the whole of this front and, in addition, to underpin the whole run of the 12th-century curtain with a fine battering plinth, covering the original earthen scarp on which the walls had been originally erected. The "forebuilding" to the gatehouse was also underpinned at its outer end, and the huge buttresses, which form such a prominent feature of the entrance, constructed as additional supports. The ingenuity with which this underpinning was effected may be easily appreciated on inspection of the walling within the entrance passage at this point. The whole of the river front was pulled down and rebuilt from the west tower to the small staircase next the gatehouse, and a fine hexagonal angle tower built at the northern angle. It was apparently intended to rebuild the west tower in a similar fashion, and underpinning was effected in the form of a base for this new tower, which was, however, never carried out.

The Norman crypt, removed except for its southeast and south-west walls, was rebuilt on the same plan, but with its entrance moved to the other end, where a passage was constructed leading from the castle court to a water gate in the river front. Above this crypt, the great hall of the castle was magnificently rebuilt, with three large traceried windows looking out over the river, and, probably, similar windows looking inwards towards the courtyard also. In the centre of the new river front was constructed a curious half-hexagon wall-tower, the better to enfilade, as was the fashion of the 13th century, the long run of the lofty curtain.

It is very difficult to state with any degree of certainty the exact date of these important alterations. History, as has been mentioned, is quite silent upon the point, and a study of the architecture, both from its military and aesthetic aspects, produces no definitely datable features.

The general style of the work suggests that period which is known as the Geometrical and which, in large ecclesiastical buildings, is generally supposed to have been popular between the years 1250 and 1300. There are no remarkable features, except the frequent use of what students of military architecture call the "Caernarvon arch," which is supposed to have been first employed at that castle when it was commenced in 1285, although the feature has not been thoroughly investigated, and may possibly be found earlier than this. The vaults to the garderobes in the river front, however, are exactly similar to those of the wall-passages at Caernarvon Castle.

The most striking military feature of the alterations is the splendid North Tower, built on a hexagonal plan, in beautiful ashlar work with several set-offs and rising from a fine stepped plinth. This tower very much resembles the Bell Tower in the Tower of London, which is said, without any documentary confirmation, to have been built in the reign of Richard I, but which may, however, be as late as 1264, when a tower was added to the Castle. The Bell Tower is of the same plan as the north Tower at Newark, and rises from a similar stepped plinth, now buried in the later Tower Wharf. The London Tower is, however, in much poorer masonry than the Newark example. Hexagonal towers are uncommon in 13th-century castles. There is a small, semi-hexagonal wall-tower, open at the gorge and presenting an angle, not a face, to the field, at Bungay in Suffolk, which was erected in 1294. There are two curious semi-hexagonal turrets projecting from the octagonal South Tower at Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, which was built in 1291. The towers of Caernarvon Castle itself are octagonal, as are those of the fine Castle of Denbigh, commenced two years earlier, in 1283. This castle has several half-octagon towers somewhat reminiscent of the Middle Tower at Newark.

It would seem, therefore, that the architectural evidence tends to suggest the end of the 13th century as the date for the alterations to Newark Castle. The fact that the improvements were for structural and not military reasons makes it impossible to make any more definite suggestions based on historical grounds. It is interesting to note, however, that the Bishop of Lincoln during this period was Oliver Sutton, who held the see from 1280 to 1300, and during his episcopate fortified the cathedral close, and so, it would appear, was a military-minded ecclesiastic. Moreover, he is known to have been busy at Newark, investigating the title deeds of some of the townsfolk, and where these were found to be defective, claiming for the see the land to which they referred. It is also perhaps of passing interest to note that Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, built for himself the fine castle of Somerton in Lincolnshire, not very far distant, in 1280.

To appreciate the arrangement of the new Great Hall and its adjoining structures, it is best to study the appended plans. The new river curtain was built about ten feet thick and to the same height as its 12th-century predecessor, the wall-walk being about forty feet above the level of the castle courtyard and seventy above the river level, possibly the finest curtain-wall in the country. The Norman crypt, which had been built on the lower ground between the river scarp of Alexander's castle and the river, was rebuilt on its old plan, forty-five feet long and twenty-three feet wide, in two aisles of four bays each. The three columns are octagonal and the vaulting is of simple quadripartite form with plain, chamfered ribs meeting the columns with continuous impost and with no diagonal ribs. The ribs meet the two original walls of the crypt where the original square Norman responds remain, and on the outer and north-eastern walls, they are supported by simple corbels. The original entrance may be seen at the end farthest away from the gatehouse, and at the other end is a 13th-century doorway leading to a curious sloping passage, descending outwards to the water gate and rising by steps to the castle courtyard near the gatehouse. The passage is lit by a loop at the end of a small narrow chamber between the main passage and the crypt. Above the inner arch of the water gate is a meutriere or "murderer," a slot through which the back of the door could be commanded if ingress were effected by besiegers. (This slot is sometimes called a "portcullis slot," but it is, of course, nothing of the sort, as its ends taper and a door could not slide in them.)

Above the crypt is the site of the Great Hall, the floor of which was a little below the present level of the asphalte. This fine structure was apparently originally about 110 feet in length and had a width of about 24 feet. Its original roof trace may be seen by the holes cut for its purlins in the earlier wall of the west tower. It was lit on its outer face, and, presumably also its inner, by three lofty traceried windows, shown complete but unintelligible in Buck's view, and probably Geometrical in design. At the gatehouse end of the Hall was a building of two floors, each lit on its outer face by a pair of probably two-light windows, traces of which remain. At the other end, the range was also divided into two floors, of which only the upper was lit on the outer face by a single two-light window. In the lower half of this range was a garderobe in the thickness of the curtain—approached by the retained Norman door which had once given access to the stair to the first floor of the west tower—with another garderobe on the first floor above.

The half-hexagon Middle Tower has had basement and three upper floors, the ground and first floors being lit by two-light windows, and the latter floor having a garderobe contrived in the angle between tower and curtain. The top floor was lit only by a narrow slit externally, but, as it probably rose above the roof of the Hall, may have had a larger window on its internal wall. A newel stair in the angle opposite to that occupied by the garderobe gave access to all floors and the wall-walk above. The internal wall of this tower and all its floors above the ground have been destroyed.

The imposing appearance of the North Tower has already been mentioned. This structure was apparently originally about ninety feet high, and with its line stepped base and beautiful ashlar work, is a feature of which any castle could be proud. The basement floor is occupied by a bottle dungeon twelve feet in diameter, approached not in the usual manner through its apex, but by a ladder descending from the springing of its vault at the end of a sloping passage descending from the Norman double garderobe described earlier. Adjoining this dungeon is another, rectangular and barrel-vaulted, also approached down an almost vertical shaft from the same passage.

The next stage of the tower is a polygonal room once lit by a pair of two-light windows, one of which is blocked and the other has been enlarged in the 15th century. The remaining external wall is occupied by a 15th-century fireplace, which may have replaced an original predecessor. Access to this stage is through a mutilated door from the Hall range, the arch of the door having been cut away, owing to the raised level outside, to give adequate headroom. Between the tower and the double garderobe, the structure has been much ruinated and is now in a shocking condition and full of rubbish. Leaving the tower, the first room is a narrow slit of a chamber which may have been a garderobe, as there is a corresponding vent to be seen at the base of the wall outside. The next chamber is larger and should also show a drain in its floor if the rubbish within it were removed, as again there is a vent to be seen below. One might suppose that this may have been the "scullery" and if so, that the kitchens were at this end of the Hall, possibly on the lower floor of the two-storeyed structure mentioned above. The drain in this larger chamber is larger than the adjoining one, and the room itself has a much-damaged barrel vault.

The first floor of the tower is similar to that below. The river wall has had its original two-light window replaced in the 15th century. The adjacent walls were originally pierced by narrow slit windows, the northern of which has been replaced by a fine 15th-century fireplace. Access to this floor was obtained originally through a passage in the thickness of the curtain coming from the Norman tower, but at some time in the 15th century, a door was cut over the one below leading to the upper floor of the two-storied building in the Hall range. Later, possibly at the time of the alterations at the end of the same century this door was closed. From the end of the wall-passage referred to above, a narrow newel-stair rises to the upper floors of the tower. At this point, the masonry is very ruinous and lamentably fouled by pigeons.

The second floor of the tower is a complete hexagon, the form having been achieved by means of a squinch arch. The floor itself has gone and pigeons are much in evidence. The chamber is lit by three original slit windows in the outer walls. Access was obtained by means of the narrow newel stair referred to above, the scanty remains of which will soon collapse entirely unless they are strengthened in some way.1 This stair also gives access to the wall-walks above and to the roof of the tower. It was probably originally capped by a hexagonal turret similar to those at Caernarvon.

The summit of the great river curtain was crowned by a fine crenellated parapet, some remains of which may be seen adjoining the west tower. The merlons were pierced with loops similar to those at Caernarvon, and at the east corner of the west tower a rebuilt "Caernarvon arch" may be seen. Access to the first floor of this tower having been lost through the removal of the Norman river wall with its interior stair, the upper part of this was retained and turned to lead from the upper floor of the Hall range.

It is a great pity that only the river wall remains to give us some idea of the ancient glories of the Edwardian castle of Newark, but such details as are visible demonstrate that it was a magnificent structure and must at the time have been one of the finest private castles in the land.

In 1322, when the rebellious barons were threatening the peace of mind of Edward II, the castle was in the hands of Bishop Henry Burghersh, Treasurer and Chancellor of England. Burghersh was inclined towards the cause of the rebels, so Edward took the castle from him and gave it into the charge of Donald, Earl of Mar, nephew of Robert Bruce, who at nine years of age had been captured at the battle of Methven in 1314, offered in exchange for the Earl of Hereford after Bannockburn, but had preferred to stay in England. Edward had shown favour to him and had given him posts of responsibility both before and during the rebellion. Edward himself came to Newark in 1323 and its dungeons seem to have been occupied by some of his prisoners of war, as the following year he orders Donald to guard them and the castle carefully. During his sojourn in Newark Castle as constable, the Earl seems to have repaired it, and in 1325 there is a note that his rent to the Crown is to be remitted for this reason. The same year, the rebellion being over, the Earl handed the castle back to Edward, who returned it to Bishop Burghersh.

There is a lapse of a century before any other documentary history is available, and then, in 1435, we get the scanty mention that the retaining wall which had been built about 1290 to underpin the high curtain walls was in need of repair and that this was therefore effected. The same year we get a note that the herbage of the castle ditch was let, which suggests that at this time the counterscarpe of the ditches were still turf slopes.

In 1461, the town bridge was rebuilt, an agreement being made with a carpenter of Worksop to build a new bridge "of good and sufficient oke, of twelve arches, and with rails on both sides of the bridge, and to make at each end of the bridge myghty stonewerke for the defence of the same." This suggests that there was a stone gatehouse, similar to that at Monmouth, at each end of the bridge.

(1) If this stair could be repaired and brought into use and the summit of the magnificent tower brought into use as a view-point, the prospect thus rendered attainable should well repay the cost of such repairs, and the tower itself well deserves to have its battlements restored on the model of those remaining at the further end of the river-front.