Archaeological Finds

Archaeology Update: On the 2nd of January 2017, The Nottingham Post published an article written by Jon Pritchard detailing our recent discovery of a Civil War defence trench. Please follow this link to our 'In The Press' page to view the article.

Archaeologists find evidence for English civil war defences of Newark-on-Trent

Archaeologists from Trent and Peak Archaeology, working for BNM Alliance on behalf of Severn Trent Water, have discovered evidence for the Royalist defences of Newark in the English Civil War. Works being undertaken in Queen's Road as part of Severn Trent’s extensive programme of sewer improvement works throughout Newark have revealed evidence for the defensive ditch dug to protect the northern extents of Newark.

A 3D recreation of Civil War Newark, with the approximate location of Shaft 20, Mount School playing fields, in Queen's Road shown.

Newark was a crucial Royalist fortress in the English Civil War. It lay on an important crossroads between the Fosse Way (linking Leicester and Nottingham with Lincoln) and the Great North Road, and also controlled the crossing point to the River Trent. As such it formed a key point in maintaining the lines of communications between the Royalist strongholds of Newcastle and Yorkshire and the king’s capital in Oxford. In particular it allowed shipments of arms and provisions to be landed in the great ports of the north east from continental Europe to reach the Royalist forces in the south.

The town was first garrisoned late in 1642 by Royalist forces. Whilst the castle was still defensible, the town had expanded beyond its medieval defences, and the garrison set about surrounding the town with a defensive circuit of earthworks, comprising a bank and ditch. The Parliamentarians attacked the town in force in late February 1643, occupied the hospital of St Leonard, and came close to breaching the defences. Some contemporary reports suggest they even entered the town before being driven off. As a result of this, the defences were strengthened considerably in 1643, with ditches and banks being made more substantial, large artillery bastions being added to key locations and large earthwork forts or ‘sconces’ being built outside the defences to the north and south. These defences were severely tested, with two further sieges of the town in 1644 and 1645-6 respectively, the latter accompanied by an outbreak of plague within the town. Despite this, and the absence of any sign of a relief force, the town held out until 8th May 1646, long after it was clear that the Royalist cause was lost. The surviving garrison were allowed to march out of the town unharmed.

The archaeological work, within a shaft being sunk as part of the works, has revealed the line of the ditch dug as part of the ditches dug to the north of the town. Excavation of the fills of this ditch has revealed that the ditch was re-dug at least once, perhaps evidence for the strengthening of the defences in 1643. Finds from the fills of the ditch include contemporary 17th century salt glazed pottery and a single piece of lead shot, probably from a pistol or carbine. It is hoped that the lower fills of the ditch, which is thought to be over 3m deep, will provide further evidence of this crucial period in the town’s history.

Remains of the civil war defences found in the footprint of the Shaft

Nick Cooke of Atkins, who is co-ordinating the archaeological works on behalf of BNM Alliance said “We knew there was a possibility that these works would reveal the line of the civil war defences in this area. There are two contemporary plans of Newark, drawn by the Royalists and Parliamentarians respectively, which show the line of the defences lay along Queen's Road, and a portion of the defences survive as an earthwork in Priory Gardens to the east. The evidence for the re-digging of the ditch sheds light on our understanding of the strengthening of the defences in this area. We know that following the initial attack of 1643 the Royalists levelled a number of buildings to the north of the defences in order to prevent the Parliamentarians using these as cover, and the work at Queen's Road provides evidence that they were strengthening the earthwork defences as well”