Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hometown castle and church.

The Biographical notes on my novels say that I live in Nottingham. Actually I live near Nottingham, but I do have another town on my doorstep and it's the one I visit most often because I do my grocery shop there. It's Newark On Trent, and it's still a fairly unspoiled, bustling market town with much of its history intact. In the Medieval period, it's famous as being the place where King John died. I'm always saying to my husband that I'll bring my camera on our next outing, and finally I remembered it! I'm not the world's best photographer, but I'm enclosing a few shots of the castle and the magnificent church of Saint Mary Magdalene.
Newark Castle stands on the banks of the River Trent. The first building there was a Saxon palace dating to the reign of Edward the Elder 870 -924. In 1073, Robert Bloet, bishop of Lincoln built a timber motte and bailey castle on the site. Fifty years later, bishop Alexander began work on a substantial stone fortress and this was again enhanced in the reign of Henry III.
In the 15th and 16th centuries the castle became more of a palace, but during the English Civil War in the 17thC, once more returned to military status. Following Oliver Cromwell's triumph, the castle was slighted i.e. reduced to a state where it could neve be a defensive fortress again. Today all that remains is the gatehouse, curtain wall and North West tower. There is a very pleasant riverside walk and a small attractive park attached to the castle. Whenever we drive into Newark intent on replenishing the store cupboards, I always take a glance at the castle as we drive past and wonder if one of those window remaining was once part of the chambere where King John died. He had arrived in Newark in a state of great physical distress. Earlier he had been borne on a litter because he was no longer able to ride a horse. The litter itself was made from willows cut from the side of the road by the swords of his knights, and with a horse cloth thrown over. For the entry into Newark, he forced himself back onto a horse, an 'ambling nag' (Kate Norgate, John Lackland) Here, at the castle, he lingered, dying, for three days, attended by the abbot of Croxton, who, despite his medical skills was unable to do anything. As John died at midnight on October 18th, apparently a whirlwind swept through the town with such violence that peope feared for their houses, and with the storm departed the soul of King John.
On the first picture, the two small arches in the middle of the wall at the base are latrine chutes. At one time the river would have come right up to the base of the castle wall.

A romanesque window from the time of King John

Taz investigates a mysterious dark hole in case there are rabbits!

The Church of St Mary Magdalene stands almost on the town square and is the third on the site. A previous Saxon church would have seen Leofric of Mercia and his famous wife Lady Godiva (presumably with clothes on!) amid the congregation. There was a late 12th century church, but very little of this remains. The existing church dates from the 1230's onwards. In 1227, Henry III gave permission for six oaks from Sherwood Forest to be felled for repairs to the church.
In 1310, another building programme was embarked upon and was to last 200 years.
Although not a cathedral, it is the size of one. The spire rises 236 feet and was built in several stages, beginning in the thirteenth century and continuing into the fourteenth. The trade guilds in the town each had a chapel dedicated in the church and at one point there were sixteen altars in additon to the High Altar. Each chapel would have been highly decorated and adorned with riches.
One of the remaining treasures of the church is an early sixteenth century pair of painted panels depicting the Dance of Death. One panel shows a young man in the prime of life, the other a skeleton holding out a carnation to him, the message being 'As I am, so shall you be.'

I will need to revisit for a more thorough look. My time was limited as I had to get my frozen stuff home and I had other appointments, but I'll be back. There's a medieval chest I didn't get a chance to look at, and I didn't have time for the misericords either (bum supports during long services, often with ornate carving beneath them). I also want a closer look at the chancel floor tiles.

Two ceilings in the church of St. Mary Magdalene Newark.

Newark is a great place to spend a few hours - historic, but modern enough so that you can buy most things. The history is right there with you every step of the way and there are plenty of good eateries and refreshment places too.

I apologise for the formatting. Blogger is having an idiosyncratic moment and the layout I see when editing is not the same as what appears on the finished blog!


Anonymous said...

EC, thanks for sharing. You just don't drive to town and find stuff like this in your back yard in the US.

cindyash said...

Your comment about misericords brought back memories of my husband and I searching for them on one trip to Britain. I had just finished reading The Good Husband by Gail Godwin, the husband in question researches misericords while his professor wife is off on her travels. We were hooked on the first ones we found - they were amazing works of art, little seen, that depicted day to day life, and mythology of the time. To see the actual chisel marks on the wood felt like time traveling. That first tast turned into a great treasure hunt, with my camera and David's back bending down into strange positions to the the pictures. Our humble requests to view them were mostly met with surprise and delight, the pastors were so thrilled to show off! One guy in Oxford even turned lights on for us to get a better look!

Anyway, thanks for that little virtual trip! I so want to go back!

Linda said...

I recently visited newark, and couldn't believe how nice it was and less than an hour from home. Definately will be going back soon.

Anne Gilbert said...

What's interesting to me is, in much of the UK, of all the buildings in many towns, the churches seem to be the oldest and most historic. Castles seem to have a way of getting themselves torn down or otherwise destroyed. BTW, I liked your pictures of Newark on Trent. It seems to me to be a lovely town.

Taminator said...

I love seeing the photos. Was one of these perhaps where you and Tamara committed trespassing? I've forgotten.

As a "side" note (groan), I enjoyed looking at the new covers for your reissues. I'm enjoying the revisiting the characters through them.

Satima Flavell said...

Lovely pics, Elizabeth, I had ancestors in Newark in the C18 and they did their hatching, matching and dispatching at St Mary's, so it's nice to see some detailed pics of the church.

Like cindyash, I bemoan the lack of history in my part of the world. Our oldest church here in Oz is under 200 years.

Daphne said...

It looks like such a quaint little town. I wish we had had time during our trip to England to go looking for places like this. Maybe next time...

Annis said...

I've just recently read Nerys Jones' "Godiva" and re-read your "Marsh King's Daughter", EC, so it's particularly interesting to see pictures of a town associated with both Godiva and King John. I hadn't come across that detail about the death of King John before. Was that sudden terrifying storm a result of the devil calling home his own, maybe?

BurtonReview said...

Love the post and all the information, thanks so much!

Carla said...

"Was that sudden terrifying storm a result of the devil calling home his own, maybe?"

I believe it's become so in legend, at least :-)

The church is magnificent - I've driven past Newark on the A1 many times but never stopped, and I had no idea the church was so splendid. Was there an element of the trade guilds trying to outdo each other in the magnificence of their chapels, do you suppose?

Jules Frusher said...

On my recent 'northern tour' of castles and cathedrals I had planned to visit Newark on the way home (to Gloucester). Unfortunately by that time I was too tired and so bypassed it. After seeing your pictures I really wish that I'd stopped off now. Oh well, next northern tour perhaps!