Newark Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Castle Gate, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1AZ


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Statutory Address:
Castle Gate, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1AZ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Newark and Sherwood (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The ruined and buried 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.

Reasons for Designation

The buried and ruined remains of 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 scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Archaeological interest: for its importance in the study of medieval England and the development of the feudal system;

* Architectural interest: as a significant example of the use of castle architecture 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 of polychromatic masonry;

* Survival: it survives as a well-preserved group of buildings and archaeological remains which represent the growth and development of the site from a Norman motte and bailey caste to a fashionable Tudor residence;

* Innovation: as one of the few exceptional sites which show systemisation in the planning of domestic buildings, while its use of corner towers displays an early appreciation of the science of fortification;

* Period: although one of a considerable number of monuments characteristic of the medieval period, it contains evidence of, and relates to, an important sector of society;

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

* Potential: limited excavation has revealed that the site has significant potential to reveal evidence of structures and occupation along with valuable environmental information;

* Documentation: the existence of archaeological documentation and documentary sources further contributes to our understanding of the castle and its significance;

* 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: it was the first historic monument 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 (listed Grade II), and the listed buildings standing on Castle Gate and Beast Market Hill;

* Amenity value: the adaptation of the castle as a visitor attraction illustrates its continuing value to the community and adds to its importance.


Newark Castle, which stands on a river cliff on the east bank of the River Trent, was built by the lord of the manor, Bishop Alexander of Lincoln, who held the see from 1123 to 1148. Archaeological excavation has revealed that the site was occupied from an early date, with the discovery of Bronze Age pottery, flint tools and an Iron Age coin. The retrieval of a significant amount of Roman pottery and artefacts also signifies the presence of a Roman settlement, though later activity has destroyed any clear pattern of structures. Evidence of early Saxon occupation has been found in the form of a large ditch containing animal bone and early-mid Saxon pottery, while the foundations of two late Saxon houses have also been recovered. A Saxon cemetery containing 50 individual graves, comprising 20 children and 31 adults, was found near the gatehouse in 1993-94, with the radiocarbon dating of skeletons showing that it was in use for at least a century, from c 950 to c 1070. All the graves were aligned east to west, with no accompanying grave goods burial rites traditionally considered to be of the Christian faith.

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 it to the monastery of St Mary at Stow, who retained its incomes after the Norman Conquest, when it came under control of the Norman Bishop Remigius de Fécamp. After his death in 1092 it passed into the possession of the Bishops of Lincoln following an exchange of lands. 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, the town being targeted as one of the key positions needed to establish control in the East Midlands. In 1123 the bishopric of Lincoln and its possessions came to a new incumbent, 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 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'. This has been interpreted as permission to build a castle. It is not known where Alexander's fishpond was, but it probably belonged to a manor house that he was converting to a castle by adding defences, and that he wanted to divert the Fosse Way to make room for it. 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 than Lincoln. Although Alexander purchased land to build a new bishop's palace beside Lincoln Cathedral, he left this to his successor to build, concentrating his energies on his Newark residence. Alexander developed the existing Norman castle as an episcopal fortress 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'. In the same year King Stephen arrested Alexander, who supported Empress Matilda's claim to the throne, and ordered him to fast until he surrendered his castle. Only the gatehouse with short sections of curtain wall attached to each side, along with the south-west tower remain standing from this period. Excavation has revealed that the Norman castle was levelled to build a new castle with well-ordered buildings surrounding a flagged courtyard.

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 and during his journey he lost his baggage. He struggled on to Sleaford and then 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 with a half-hexagonal tower at the centre. A hexagonal tower built at the north-west corner and huge buttresses were added to the north side of the gatehouse. The whole run of the C12 curtain wall was also underpinned with a battered plinth, covering the original earthen scarp on which the walls had been originally erected. The Norman crypt, except for its south-east and south-west walls, was rebuilt on the same plan, with a new entrance constructed leading from the castle court to a water gate in the river front. Above the crypt, the great hall was rebuilt, with three large traceried windows looking out over the river, and, probably, similar windows looking inwards towards the courtyard. 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, 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 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. The Earl also appears to have undertaken repair work at the castle as a note states that his rent was remitted for this reason in 1325. In the same year, the rebellion being over, the Earl handed the castle back to Edward, who returned it to Bishop Burghersh.

No documentary history is available for a century, until 1435 when it is mentioned that the late-C13 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 of Lincoln 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 to 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 Earl was given permission to pull down and demolish one of the towers, so that the material could be used to repair other buildings, the castle still remained dilapidated when he died in 1587. His widow succeeded him as its 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. It is evident that Cecil created a comfortable country house, as King James I stayed 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 grounds 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 former castle courtyard as the Castle Grounds public park, which opened in 1889 as a Jubilee Memorial to Queen Victoria. As part of the works, the ruins were consolidated, with the walls capped with concrete and tarmac, and the walls refaced in York stone paving, much of which is still in place.

By the mid-C20 around 140 elaborately carved stones dating from the early C12 had been stored in the undercroft for safekeeping, with the precise origins for the discovery being unknown. One theory suggests that they were unearthed by workmen carrying out the landscaping of Castle Grounds in 1886, while the second states that they were dredged from the bed of the River Trent during the first half of the C20. It is believed that the stones come from two or three separate openings at the castle, probably in the chapel. In 2008-09 the carved stones were moved from the undercroft and reassembled as a single arch in Newark Register Office. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the castle was consolidated again, with a new roof added to the north-west tower, while the wall tops were covered in blue lias limestone. In the late 1990s Castle Grounds was refurbished, including new paths, lawns, railings, tree and shrub planting and the erection of a bandstand. A new entrance was also provided to the undercroft.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the ruined and buried 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 work initiated by Bishop Oliver Sutton and competed by his successor, Bishop John Dalderby. The final episcopal alterations were undertaken by Bishop Thomas Rotherham, c 1471-80. It was restored as an aristocratic residence by Sir William Cecil, c 1587-88. In 1646, following the third siege of Newark, it was slighted and left as a roofless ruin. It was restored by Anthony Salvin, 1845-48, Newark Corporation, 1899, and the Department of the Environment, 1979-90.

DESCRIPTION: the castle and remains of the bailey occupy a sub-rectangular plot on a river cliff on the east bank of the River Trent, covering an area of c 1.2ha. The north-east, south-east and south-west sides of the area under assessment are defined by roads; Castle Gate to the east and Beast Market Hill to the north. The River Trent bounds the length of the western side. The whole area forms Castle Grounds Public Park and encompasses Newark Register Office (listed Grade II), formerly the Gilstrap Centre, located adjacent to the eastern boundary.

The earliest features known to survive at the site are a sequence of early Anglo-Saxon ditches found lying beneath a later Anglo-Saxon cemetery during excavations in the 1990s. The discovery of Roman pottery within two of the ditches suggests that some may be of Roman origin while the unearthing of a significant number of Neolithic and Bronze Age worked flints in one of the ditches, along with a small quantity of Bronze Age pottery, provides evidence of prehistoric occupation. Later activity however has removed any associated features, with the building of the cattle market in the early C19 destroying a large section of the burial ground.

The extent of the Norman motte and bailey castle, which was built during the winter of 1068-69, has been established by a series of archaeological excavations and found to have occupied more or less the same area as the current Castle Grounds public park. Its eastern rampart and ditch was found in 1955 while part of the southern ditch was excavated in 1972 and again in 1984, with its associated rampart being discovered in 1995. Excavations in 1993 revealed the line of the northern ditch which was found to have silted up during the medieval period and then re-cut as part of the C17 Civil War refortification of the castle. Traces of the northern rampart were found to survive as a thin spread of clay, with a small section lying beneath the short stub of C12 curtain wall on the east side of the gatehouse. Similar rampart material was also found on the south side. Part of the bailey's stone-flagged courtyard has also been revealed. While the bailey would have accommodated several buildings, the excavations have not investigated any of these, but they are expected to survive as buried features.

The buried and standing remains of Bishop Alexander's episcopal castle of c 1135 illustrate how it retained the perimeter plan of the Norman castle but had a substantially rebuilt interior. A double ward design, in keeping with other contemporary bishops' castles, has been put forward as the most probable interpretation for the buried remains of the foundations of a Lias limestone wall at the northern side of the site; the rest of the wall being robbed in the C19. The standing remains of Alexander's early-C12 castle comprise the northern gatehouse, with short stretches of curtain wall on each side, and the tower in the south-west corner. The 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. Its north-east entrance front is ashlar faced with corner pilasters, below which are massive, late-C13/early-C14 buttresses flanking the archway which is of two square orders with a dogtooth ornamented hoodmould. Above, there are two, two-light windows to the first floor and a single cross mullion to the second floor, all inserted into original openings in the late-C15. The inner (south-west) 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. On the south-east side 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. Projecting at an obtuse angle from the north-east side of the stair turret, and following the line of defence laid out for the Norman castle, is a short section of early-C12 curtain wall. It stands to almost its original height of 20m and utilises the reduced clay rampart of the Norman castle as its foundation. 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 its 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. To the right, an almost vertical line of ashlar masonry marks the end of the curtain wall, abutted by the ashlar work of the late-C13/early-C14 curtain wall. It terminates against the late-C13/early-C14, four-storey tower at the north-west corner, which is polygonal with a battered plinth. Running the entire length of the north-west river front is a late-C13/early-C14 curtain wall of sandstone and limestone ashlar construction, with a with a battered plinth covering the early-C12 scarp to the original curtain wall. It is of three storeys with a double rebated, round-headed watergate at the left-hand side and a double garderobe chute at the right-hand end. A two-storeyed oriel window of the late-C15 is the principal feature, 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. A four-storey polygonal tower stands at the mid-point and at the right-hand end there is a small section of crenellated parapet adjoining the south-west tower; one of the merlons is loop-holed, while the others that remain are solid. The early-C12 south-west tower is rectangular, being of four storeys with a battered plinth. The C18-C19 artificial raising of the ground level now means that the tower is entered at first floor level on the north-east from through a C19 round-headed doorway, while the early-C12 doorway is now reached by descending a flight of stone steps. Abutting on the north-east base of the tower is a fragment of the contemporary curtain wall with brick relieving arches.

The north-west tower has a single room on each floor with the floor levels being altered in the C18. Both ground floor and first floor rooms have late-C15 stone fireplaces while the second floor room is a complete hexagon, achieved by a squinch arch, but its floor is missing. In the basement there is a bottle dungeon. It adjoins a square, brick-lined dungeon lying beneath the north-west curtain wall. 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 oriel window in the curtain wall has a traceried vault. 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.

Excavations in the castle courtyard, now laid out as a public park, have revealed the eastern line of the hall range which was built against the west curtain wall in the late C13/early-C14. It comprises a stone plinth which would have supported a timber-framed wall above. Other timber-framed buildings of the same date were found in the southern half of the site. Also found were a series of floor surfaces, one of which was cobbled, and traces of three C12 buildings of unknown function.

Lying beneath the site of the hall range 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 arcade ends 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 with knot or twist ornamentation.

Also included in the scheduling is an arch comprised of around 140 early-C12 carved stones which is on display in Newark Register Office (listed Grade II), formerly the Gilstrap Centre. All the stone is heavily ornamented with 12 having a moulded string course with bead ornamentation, 46 with a chevron or zig-zag ornament, 54 with a Greek key ornament, 25 with a circle of pellets surrounding a sunken circle with scallops, and two fragments cut for voussoirs. They were moved from the undercroft and reassembled in the Register Office as a single arch in 2008-09.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: the scheduled area is designed to protect the standing and buried remains of Newark Castle. It is bounded on its east, north and west sides by Castle Gate, Beast Market Hill and the River Trent respectively. Its southern extent utilises the northern building line of properties standing on Riverside Walk along with a boundary wall to the rear of Nos. 14 and 16 Castle Gate.

EXCLUSIONS: a number of features within the protected area are excluded from the scheduling. These include the boundary walls, railings, gates and gate piers to Castle Gate and the Beast Market Hill, along with Newark Register Office (listed Grade II), formerly the Gilstrap Centre, all modern vehicular and footpath surfaces and the brick-built riverside wall to the River Trent. Also excluded are the fixtures and fittings associated with the use of the former castle courtyard as a pleasure garden. These include bins, benches, signs, steps, interpretation boards, lighting, flower beds, modern footpath surfaces and the bandstand. However, the ground beneath all these features is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
NT 3
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Marshall, P, Samuels, J, Guardian of the Trent: The Story of Newark Castle, (1997)
Braun, H, 'Notes on Newark Castle' in Transactions of the Thornton Society of Nottinghamshire, , Vol. 39, (1935), 53-91
Barley, MW, 'Newark Castle Excavations 1953-56' in Transactions of the Thornton Society of Nottinghamshire , , Vol. 60, (1956), 20-33
Courtney, TW, 'Newark Castle Excavation 1972' in Transactions of the Thornton Society of Nottinghamshire , , Vol. 77, (1973), 34-40
Marshall, P, Samuels, J, 'Recent Excavations at Newark Castle' in Transactions of the Thornton Society of Nottinghamshire , , Vol. 98, (1994), 49-57


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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