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Remains of Newark Castle

A Grade I Listed Building in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

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Latitude: 53.0779 / 53°4'40"N

Longitude: -0.8127 / 0°48'45"W

OS Eastings: 479635

OS Northings: 354068

OS Grid: SK796540

Mapcode National: GBR CLM.5B2

Mapcode Global: WHFHH.HW7S

Plus Code: 9C5X35HP+5W

Entry Name: Remains of Newark Castle

Listing Date: 29 September 1950

Last Amended: 11 August 2016

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1196278

English Heritage Legacy ID: 384971

Location: Newark, Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, NG24

County: Nottinghamshire

Civil Parish: Newark

Built-Up Area: Newark-on-Trent

Traditional County: Nottinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Nottinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Newark-upon-Trent with Coddington

Church of England Diocese: Southwell and Nottingham

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Newark upon Trent


The ruined remains of an episcopal castle of the Bishops' of Lincoln, built c 1135-39 by Bishop Alexander on the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle which itself stands on a site occupied from the prehistoric period. The castle was rebuilt in the late C13/early-C14, with the final episcopal alterations undertaken c 1471-80. It was restored as an aristocratic residence in c 1587-88 but following the third siege of Newark in 1646 was left as a roofless ruin. Newark was again restored in 1845-48, 1899 and 1979-90.


The ruined remains of the episcopal castle of the Bishops' of Lincoln, built circa 1135-39 by Bishop Alexander. It was rebuilt in the late C13/early-C14, with the work initiated by Bishop Oliver Sutton and competed by his successor, Bishop John Dalderby. The final episcopal alterations were undertaken by Bishop Thomas Rotherham, circa 1471-80. It was restored as an aristocratic residence by Sir William Cecil, circa 1587-88. In 1646, following the third siege of Newark, it was slighted and left as a roofless ruin. The ruins were restored and consolidated by Anthony Salvin, 1845-48, Newark Corporation, 1899, and the Department of the Environment, 1979-90.

MATERIALS: the early-C12 work is of lias limestone rubble, or rag-stone, with quoins, facings, and ashlar work of limestone. The late-C13/early-C14 work, while using or re-using limestone, also utilised skerry sandstone, quarried locally from Winkburn or Maplebeck.

PLAN: the castle is quadrangular on plan, aligned north-east to south-west. An early-C12 gatehouse stands on the north-east side, with short sections of contemporary curtain wall attached to each side. Abutting the north-west end of the north-west section of wall is a section of late-C13/early-C14 curtain wall which stretches across to a contemporary angle tower in the north-west corner. A late-C13/early-C14 curtain wall, with central tower, flanks the north-west side, ending at the early-C12 angle tower in the south-west corner. Attached to the south-east side of the tower is a short section of contemporary curtain wall. The south-east side has been demolished.

EXTERIOR: the early-C12 gatehouse is of three storeys and roofless, with semi-circular archways at its outer and inner ends. In the centre is a third arch which originally contained massive gates. Behind the central arch, in the north-west wall, is a small recess for a warder. Its north-east entrance front is ashlar faced with corner pilasters, below which are massive, late-C13/early-C14 buttresses flanking the archway. The archway is of two square orders with an hoodmould enriched by dog tooth ornamentation. To the first floor, there are two, late-C15, two-light windows with four-centered arched lights and flat heads. They replaced three, early-C12, round-headed windows, of which the openings are still traceable. Above, the second floor has a late-C15, two-light cross mullioned window, which replaced two early-C12 windows, of which the shafted jambs are still evident.

The south-west (inner) face has a round-headed gateway and above it a doorway to the right-hand side and above again, a plain, round-headed window opening. Most of the ashlar face has been lost to stone robbers, replaced with late-C19 York stone in places.

To the centre of the south-east side there is a projecting staircase tower, square in its lower stages, but recessing into an octagonal turret above, with a heavy roll mould or string course above the hip of the junction of the two orders. At the bottom there is a restored, round-headed doorway with two loopholes above. Its south-west face has three loopholes and a doorway at the top. On the north-east face of the gatehouse, to the left-hand side of the staircase tower, there is a blocked, early-C12, round-headed window opening with cushion capitals supporting a roll mould with pellet ornamentation. The windows shafted jambs were removed when a three-light window with four-centred arched lights and flat head was inserted in the late-C15. Above is an identical, late-C15 window. To the right-hand side of the staircase tower, there is a late-C15, four-light mullion with four-centred arched light and flat head to the first floor, restored in the late C19. Above is a late-C15, two-light cross mullioned window.

On the north-east side of the stair turret is the abutment, at an obtuse angle, of a short section of early-C12 curtain wall, with a round-headed doorway leading to the former wall walk at the top. It stands to almost its original height of 20m and has some late-C19 brickwork at the base. A larger section of early-C12 curtain wall adjoins the north-west side of the gatehouse, again standing to almost its original height of 27m. The loss of the ashlar outer face has revealed two doorways, one above the other, set high up in the wall, with a fireplace to the right-hand side of the lower doorway. They were inserted here in the late-C15 when a timber-framed extension was jettied out from the wall; the joist-holes are also evident. At the base there are three garderobe chutes. An almost vertical line of ashlar masonry at the right-hand side marks the end of the early-C12 castle, abutted by the ashlar work of the late-C13/early-C14 curtain wall. It terminates against the late-C13/early-C14 north-west tower, which is polygonal with a battered plinth. It is of four storeys, with the second floor of the north-west face having a cross mullioned window with panel tracery, with a two-light mullioned window above it, both late-C15, but heavily restored in the late-C19.

To the right of the north-west tower, and running the entire length of the north-west river front, is a late-C13/early-C14 curtain wall, with its battered plinth covering the early-C12 scarp to the original curtain wall. It is of three storeys with a double rebated, round-headed watergate of two square orders at the left-hand end and a double garderobe chute at the right. At the left-hand side of the basement there are five loopholes to the undercroft behind. Above, to the left-hand side of the ground floor, there is a four-light cross mullioned window with panel tracery and, above, a larger traceried six-light window, both late-C15 with late-C19 restorations. To their right is a late-C15, two-storeyed oriel window, with three traceried lights to the lower section and a broken segmental-headed opening above. Its apron has a shield bearing three stags trippant, the arms of Bishop Thomas Rotherham. To the right again, there are two, late-C13/early-C14 pointed windows to the ground floor, with their lights and tracery now missing. Above, there are five-light and two-light cross mullioned windows, both late-C16. Standing at the centre of the curtain wall is a polygonal tower of four storeys, with a single broken window opening just below the level of the ground floor, with a restored, three-light cross mullion above it. To the right of the tower, is a late-C13/early-C14 pointed window to the ground floor, again with its lights and tracery missing, with a two-light mullion with cusped lights, restored in the late-C19, set higher up in the wall to the right of it. At the right-hand end, a small section of crenellated parapet adjoins the south-west tower. One of the merlons is loop-holed, while the others that remain are solid.

The curtain wall terminates against the early-C12 south-west tower which is rectangular, being of four storeys with a battered plinth. On the north-west front there are single rectangular openings arranged one above the other, that to the top with C20 glazing. On the south-west side there is a two-light mullioned window to the second floor with a square opening below and a rectangular window above. On the inner north-east face, the artificial raising of the ground level between the C18 and C19, means that the tower is now entered at first floor level through a C19 round-headed doorway with roll mould, shafted jambs and scalloped capitals. The original ground floor doorway is now reached by descending a flight of stone steps. Above, the south-west and north-east faces have round-headed doorways to the wall walk, with the north-east side also with a four-centred, arched, double lancet with hoodmould. Abutting on the north-east base of the tower is a fragment of the contemporary curtain wall with brick relieving arches.

INTERIOR: the upper floors of the gatehouse are reached by a wide, anti-clockwise, spiral staircase and are divided into two sections by the wall above the centre arch. The outer or northern part was originally of two storeys, but the wooden floor is now missing. The lower room to the first floor retains it early-C12 chimney, while the north wall still retains shafted jambs from the original window openings, now blocked and altered. Above, the second floor room has a Tudor fireplace. The southern chamber was originally of one tall storey, being floored in the late-C13/early-C14. Original windows on its eastern and western sides are round-headed, each with shafted jambs and cushion capitals supporting broad roll moulds; the western window with a moulding with pellet ornamentation.

The basement of the four-storey north-tower is occupied by a stone-lined bottle dungeon. Adjoining it is a second dungeon in the base of the north-west curtain wall, which is square, brick-lined and barrel vaulted. Above, there are single rooms to each floor, with the floor levels altered in the C18. The ground floor and first floor rooms both have late-C15 stone fireplaces, with the ground-floor room also having early-C12 carved stonework with chevron ornamentation placed within the walling during the late-C19 restoration. These stones were part of a large number of carved stones that were found in the castle grounds in the 1880s, with the majority now reassembled in an archway which is on display in the Newark Register Office in the castle grounds. The second floor room is a complete hexagon, the form having been achieved by means of a squinch arch, but the floor is missing.

The four-storey south-west tower has barrel vaults to the three lower rooms. From the doorway in the north-east wall, reached by descending a flight of stone steps from the now artificially raised ground level, there is a passageway leading to a basement dungeon with a sheer drop into it and a thick barrel vault over. Above there are single rooms to each floor, with traces of a garderobe in the first-floor room. The second-floor room is now reached by a C19 staircase.

Lying beneath the former site of the great hall is a late-C13/early-C14 rebuilding of the Norman vaulted undercroft. It is four bays in length and two in width, with quadripartite vaulting with plain, chamfered ribs, supported by a central arcade of four round-headed arches on three octagonal piers. The ends of the arcade and the eastern side of the vaulting are carried on pilaster responds of Norman date, while on the west wall the responds rest on simple corbels, one of which terminates in a single knot or twist, another in a double knot or twist. The west wall is pierced by four loopholes, widely splayed, while a fifth lights a cell-like chamber on the north side, in which probably sat the warder in charge of the watergate. The steps forming the present entrance at the south end of the crypt are late-C15, while the original entrance at the north-east corner has a late-C13 doorway leading to a sloping passage that divides in two, descending to the watergate and rising by steps to the courtyard near the gatehouse. The staircase leading up to the courtyard has an early-C12 barrel vault and possibly represents an earlier watergate.

The oriel window in the curtain wall has a traceried vault while to the basement of the middle-tower there is a stone-line dungeon, beneath which is a second dungeon, accessed by a trap door in the dungeon floor.


In the reign of Edward the Confessor Newark belonged to Countess Godiva of Coventry and her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia. In 1055 they granted the town to the monastery of St Mary at Stow, who retained its incomes after the Norman Conquest, when it came under control of Bishop Remigius de Fécamp. After his death in 1092, and following an exchange of lands, it passed into the possession of the Bishops of Lincoln. Newark's first castle was probably a motte and bailey, built in the wake of William the Conqueror's push northwards during the winter of 1068-69, with Newark targeted as one of the key positions needed to establish control in the East Midlands.

In 1123 the bishopric passed to Bishop Alexander, who held the see until 1148. Nicknamed 'the Magnificent' by the papal court for his opulence, style and building, Alexander obtained a charter from King Henry I in 1135 which gave him permission to 'make a ditch and rampart of his fishpond of Niwerc upon the Fosseway and that he may divert the Fosseway through the same town as he shall wish'. This has been interpreted as permission to build a castle. Although Alexander had purchased land next to Lincoln Cathedral on which to build a new bishop's palace, for a man prominent in national politics, Newark's strategic location at the cross roads of the Fosse Way and the Great North Road made it a better residential centre. Alexander developed the existing Norman castle as an episcopal castle with two rectangular wards, a defendable stone inner court holding the principal apartments, and an outer court housing ancillary buildings with earth and timber defences. It was described in 1139 by the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon as 'a magnificent castle of very ornate construction'.

Alexander died in 1148, and was succeeded by Robert de Chesney, who held the see for 19 years. In 1205 King John visited Newark Castle for the first time. The following year, as part of his power struggle with the Pope, John took control of the castle, later entrusting it to one of his mercenaries, Robert de Gaughy. In September 1216, after relieving the siege of Lincoln by the rebel earl of the county, John travelled to Lynn where he contracted dysentery. Leaving on 11th October, he went to Wisbech and then Swineshead Abbey, losing his baggage during the journey. He struggled on to Sleaford and eventually Newark Castle, where he died on 18th October. The following year de Gaughy was ordered by the new king, Henry III, to give up the castle to the Bishop of Lincoln. Despite several forceful reminders, de Gaughy refused and in 1218 the castle was besieged by a strong force, but after a week they had failed to take the castle. Instead, de Gaughy agreed to leave for £100 of silver to compensate for the provisions he would leave behind.

Nothing is known about the history of the castle for over a century following the siege of 1218. However, a century or so after it had been built, the castle walls were beginning to show signs of collapse. The whole of the river front was pulled down and rebuilt in polychrome masonry, with polygonal towers at the centre and north-west corner. Huge buttresses were added to the north side of the gatehouse and the whole run of the C12 curtain wall was underpinned with a battered plinth. The Norman crypt, except for its south-east and south-west walls, was rebuilt on the same plan. Above the crypt, the great hall was rebuilt, with three large traceried windows looking out over the river. Although no documentary evidence exists to state which bishop started the work, the architectural evidence points to a date towards the end of the C13. 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 at Lincoln, and so, it would appear, was a military-minded ecclesiastic. The work was therefore probably set in train by Sutton and completed by his successor John Dalderby, who held the see from 1300 to 1320. Sutton was active in Newark at this time, reclaiming land from people whose title deeds he found defective.

In 1322, when the rebellious barons were threatening Edward II, the castle was in the hands of Bishop Henry Burghersh, Lord Treasurer and Lord Chancellor of England. Burghersh was inclined towards the cause of the rebels, so Edward took the castle from him and handed it to Donald, Earl of Mar, nephew of Robert Bruce; Edward himself came to Newark in 1323. While at Newark, the Earl seems to have repaired the castle, as in 1325 there is a note that his rent to the Crown is to be remitted for this reason. In the same year, the rebellion being over, the Earl handed the castle back to Edward, who returned it to Bishop Burghersh.

No documented history of the castle is known to exist for a century, until 1435 when it is mentioned that the late-C13/early-C14 retaining wall built to underpin the C12 curtain walls was repaired.

In the late-C15 considerable alterations were made by Bishop Thomas Rotherham, who held the see from 1471 to 1480. The gatehouse chapel was divided into two storeys with the insertion of a floor, while the five Norman windows on the entrance front were blocked and altered with three new windows cut in place of them. The main alterations were to the Great Hall, which was also cut horizontally into two floors, with new windows inserted at the higher level. New windows were also cut in the north-west and middle towers. The curtain wall on the west side of the gatehouse was re-modelled, with the existing C12 timber gallery being removed and replaced by a two-storeyed, timber-framed extension jettied out from the wall.

Bishop Thomas Rotherham was the last cleric to leave his mark on the castle, with it reverting to the Crown at the Reformation. Falling slowly into decay, it was brought into service in 1536 when the Pilgrimage of Grace threatened civil unrest in the East Midlands. From 1560 the castle was leased to Sir Francis Leeke, who apparently did little to it. In 1581 the Earl of Rutland took over the lease at a peppercorn rent on condition that he undertake improvements. Although the Crown gave permission to pull down and to demolish one of the castle towers, so that the material could be used for repairs, the castle still remained dilapidated when the Earl died in 1587. His widow succeeded him as owner, but it was the efforts of one of the trustees of the Earl's will, Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who eventually put in hand the long-delayed repairs, including the large, square-headed windows in the river curtain wall. It is believed that Cecil undertook the work for the benefit of his nephew who married the Countess's daughter, Lady Elizabeth Manners, in 1588. Cecil's efforts created a comfortable country house, with King James I staying here in 1603, while repeated visits by his son, Charles I, show that the building remained in good repair throughout the early C17.

During the Civil War (1642-46), Newark held out for the Royalist cause and endured three sieges until ordered to surrender by Charles I in May 1646. Although the castle would have had a significant role, it is not known what measures were taken to re-fortify it, except for the re-cutting of the north ditch. After the surrender, Parliament ordered the town’s folk and local villagers to assist in the dismantling of the siege works and the castle. Although the castle buildings were put out of action, being blown up with gunpowder, it is likely that the bulk of the castle still stood, becoming fair game for stone robbers.

By the late-C18, the north-west tower was occupied by squatters, who put in new floors at different levels than the originals, while the southern half of the castle grounds was in use as a bowling green. By the early C19 cottages had been built against the inside of the river curtain wall and a coal wharf had been established beside the north-west tower. In 1839 the tenements which had grown up beside the gatehouse were cleared and this area of the castle became a cattle market. Despite its distressed state, interest in the castle as an historic building was beginning to be kindled. The Crown had acquired the manor of Newark in 1547 but sold off its Newark holdings in 1836. However, it retained the castle and between 1845 and 1848 it became the first historic monument to be consolidated at government expense, with £650 spent on restoration work, supervised by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881).

In 1881 Sir William Gilstrap bought the cattle market site, and on part of it erected and partially endowed the Gilstrap Free Library (now Newark Registry Office; listed Grade II), which opened in 1885. In 1887 Newark Corporation initiated a plan to landscape the castle grounds as a public park, which opened in 1889 as a Jubilee Memorial to Queen Victoria. As part of the works, the ruins were consolidated, with the wall tops capped with concrete and tarmac, while the walls were refaced in York stone, much of which is still in place.

From 1979 to 1990 the castle was consolidated again, with a new roof added to the north-west tower, while the wall tops were covered in lias limestone.

Reasons for Listing

Newark Castle, an episcopal castle built c 1135-39 by Bishop Alexander of Lincoln, with later alterations and additions, including a Parliamentary slighting in 1646, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: as a significant example of how castle architecture was used as a visual expression of wealth and power. The gatehouse is the most complete example of a Romanesque gatehouse in England, while the late-C13 river curtain wall is an impressive set piece in polychromatic masonry;

* Craftsmanship: all the standing structures exhibit a high-level of medieval craftsmanship;

* Innovation: it is one of the few exceptional sites which show systemisation in the planning of domestic buildings, while the deployment of corner towers illustrates an early appreciation of the science of fortification;

* Survival: well-preserved structures survive from all the major phases of construction, illustrating its transformation from an episcopal castle to a fashionable Tudor residence;

* Rarity: it is one of only 150 episcopal residences to have been identified in England;

* Historical associations: it was the residence of leading magnates under the King from the C11 to the C17, including its founder, Bishop Alexander of Lincoln, and was the death place of King John in 1216;
* Historic interest: as the first historic building to be consolidated at government expense in 1845-48;

* Group value: it has a strong functional and spatial relationship with the town of Newark, along with Newark Register Office and Trent Bridge (both listed Grade II), and the listed buildings standing on Castle Gate and Beast Market Hill.

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