Monday 8 July 2013

The Sieges of Newark

Newark is today a charming market town in Nottinghamshire perched on the River Trent and nestled between the ancient ruined castle and the equally ancient but entirely intact Church of St Mary Magdalene with its soaring spire. There are shops and markets, banks and estate agents - exactly what you would expect in this sort of bustling but somehow quiet country town.
But it was not always like this. There was a time when the fate of kingdoms was decided here. The three sieges of Newark were fought during the English Civil War between the Royalist Cavaliers and the Parliamentarian Roundheads. The town had declared for the king early in the war, but its strategic position meant that Parliament coveted it. The first attack by the Roundheads came within weeks of the outbreak of the war. It was resisted with some ease, but Parliament was not to be frustrated so easily. They came back a few months later with a larger army, larger guns and a good deal more determination. That second siege was more serious than the first and culminated in a pitched battle fought outside the walls.
For Newark worse was to come with the third assault, or Great Siege, which began in 1645 and dragged on to 1646. That offensive saw the town endure enormous hardships as hunger and disease stalked the streets claiming victims as surely as did the mortar shells and cannon balls that pounded the town.
These were hard times for the town, which sustained massive damage to its fabric, inhabitants and prosperity. And yet Newark somehow survived it all. Despite the carnage, bloodshed and violence the town kept going. It keeps going still and if it is apparently unaltered by the sieges, appearances can be deceptive. Tucked away in back gardens are entrenchments and bastions that date back to the sieges. The castle itself was ruined during the Civil War and now stands as a gaunt and sombre reminder of the damage that war can do to even the most peaceful of towns.

from "The Sieges of Newark" by Rupert Matthews

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