History of Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, England

Mediæval Newark

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After the Norman conquest the ownership transferred to the Norman Bishop Remigious, who continued to allow the revenues to the monks of Stowe, who now came under his control. When he later transferred his See from Dorchester in Oxfordshire to Lincoln in 1085 he undertook much work to improve the state of all the monks' lands.

At this time it appears that the parish of Newark included nine neighbouring villages, each of which had its own church functioning as a chapel of ease within the parish. The population amounted to 117 people, of whom eight were priests. Fifty six burgesses and seven freemen lived inside the town, while the remainder (villeins, cotters and bordars) generally lived in the surrounding countryside.

The area under cultivation increased by a factor of five between 991AD, when the first Danegeld was paid, and 1086 when the Domesday Book recorded its new assessment of about 4,560 acres. It also records that there was a mill and a fishery. Nevertheless the taxable value fell by 30 percent in the same period, largely a result of damage done by the invading Norman army.

After the death of Remigious in 1092 the monks of Stowe were removed to Eynsham in Oxfordshire, and the new Bishop of Lincoln took full control of Newark. The new bishop, Robert Bloet, died suddenly in 1133 and was succeeded in turn by Alexander, nephew (or unacknowledged illegitimate son) of the Bishop Roger Poore who built Salisbury Cathedral and Devizes Castle. Following this example, Alexander built castles at Newark, Sleaford and Banbury, founded four monasteries and extended Lincoln Cathedral. He also later obtained a charter from King Henry I permitting him to build a bridge over the river beside the castle, providing a new means of communication to the north.

This was not the end of Alexander's contributions to the development of Newark. In those days the population, as in almost every other town in the country, was not nearly enough to support shops. Trade hardly existed, and when it did happen it was confined to fairs and markets, which required a royal charter in order to operate. Fairs were of major national importance, so that, for example, the Hustings Court in London was suspended during the fairs at Boston and Winchester. Alexander obtained from Henry I a charter to hold a five-day fair at the castle each year. Of lesser long-term importance for the town, but nevertheless significant at the time, he also obtained the right to establish a mint, and it was he who established a hospital for the treatment of the poor (St. Leonard's Hospital).

By the time of Henry II Newark had an established trade in wool and cloth. When the market began in Newark I do not know, but in about 1214 the townsfolk petitioned the king (John) for the right to change the market day from the traditional Sunday to Wednesday, thought to be the first such suggestion anywhere for such an innovation.

King John visited Newark a number of times, staying at the castle, and eventually died there in 1216 after being taken ill while marching his army from Lincoln to Dover.

The following year his successor, Henry III, trying to restore order to the country, ordered various royal wartime mercenery appointees to surrender their temporary holding of castles (assigned to them by John as part of his war with his barons) in various parts of the country. Robert de Gaugy refused to yield Newark Castle to the Bishop of Lincoln, its rightful owner, leading to the Dauphin of France(!) laying a siege on behalf of the king which only ended after eight days when a "compromise" solution was agreed - the mercenery was paid to leave!

The bishop found that the depredations of de Gaugy and his men meant that much of the town needed rebuilding. The king came to his assistance by allowing him to take timber from the royal forests in the area for the purpose. The houses at the time were basically timber frameworks, filled with a mixture of lime, mud and straw laid on laths. The steep roofs were made of shingles (a type of wooden tile), usually covered with thatch.

The earliest local documents still in existence date from about 1170, and show that many of the present town centre streets were already in existence at that time. References are made to land and buildings in Marketsted (Market Place), Kastelgate (Castlegate), Barnebygate or Barnebigate (Barnbygate), Cartergate and Baldretongate (Baldertongate). Shops are also mentioned at this time, showing that the population must have increased considerably to be able to support such institutions.

Newark's prosperity in this period was based as always on agriculture, together with tanning of leather, cloth manufacture and trade in wool. As a result the population continued to grow, and was further boosted by an influx of Flemish weavers, invited into the country by Edward III to teach the skill. Newark was one of the recipient towns because of its importance by then as a centre of the wool trade. The population continued to grow until the time of the Black Death, which entered England in May 1349 and reduced the number of people in the country by more than half. Nevertheless, records of the poll tax of 1377 show that at that time the adult (over 14) population of Newark was 1,178, excluding beggars and clergy, making it one of the biggest two dozen or so towns in the country. The total population of England (excluding Cheshire and Durham) at that time was only 1,376,442.


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This page last updated 1st September 2003