Exploring the English Civil War in Newark

Newark Civil English war project illustration 785

At the click of a mouse, the residents of Newark could soon be able to discover whether relics and remnants of one of the most bitter and protracted sieges of the English Civil War might lie buried beneath their gardens, patios and lawns.

Using the latest geophysical and remote sensing techniques, archaeologists and historians from the University of Sheffield are planning to work closely with the newly opened National Civil War Centre in Newark and the local community to identify and map the exact location of a complex network of defences, fortresses and redoubts constructed during the sieges of Newark, more than three and a half centuries ago.

“One of the impacts from our collaboration will be a searchable digital reconstruction of what Newark was like during the siege,” says University of Sheffield Archaeologist Dr Rachel Askew. “So, if you are living in one of the suburbs of Newark and want to know what might be under your house, you will be able to click on the resource and find out.”

With the support of Arts Enterprise funding, Dr Askew has spent the last eight months engaging with the National Civil War Centre and a diverse group of local stakeholders to plot a four-year community Heritage Lottery Funded project that will combine the talents and skills of the University, the museum, and the wider population of Newark.

“By working with the university we get an academic rigour that adds value to our work, it will help shape and inform our exhibitions, and will enhance our reputation and standing as a Centre with historical integrity,” said Michael Constantine the Centre’s manager.

For Bryony Robins, the centre’s project officer, the collaboration with the university will enable the Centre to “connect with new audiences” by “bringing new ideas and exciting projects into the museum to reach out further than we have done before.”

There are benefits, too, for the university. Dr Hugh Willmott, senior lecturer in archaeology, says the partnership with the museum will “enhance the learning experience of our students” by giving them direct access to monuments and artefacts of the period.

One of the impacts from our collaboration will be a searchable digital reconstruction of what Newark was like during the siege. So, if you are living in one of the suburbs of Newark and want to know what might be under your house, you will be able to click on the resource and find out.

Dr Rachel Askew, University of Sheffield Archaeologist

But it is the community engagement side of the proposed project that most excites both the academics and the museum. “We want to reach out to groups that might not normally think about getting involved with a museum,” says Dr Askew.

Already she has established links with schools, scouting associations, metal detector enthusiasts, local historical societies and archaeology groups, through to English Heritage and the County Archaeologist.

While the most impressive surviving earthwork in the region is the star-shaped Queen’s Sconce, which once provided a platform for Royalist cannons to fire on the Parliamentary forces, Dr Askew believes there are many more ‘redoubts’ lying hidden beneath the earth.

“We know there are even more sites lurking in the landscape – half of the siege works identified in documentary evidence have been ‘lost’, including a major fort. Newark was also partly surrounded by trenches, a so-called line of circumvallation, shown on surviving Royalist and Parliamentary siege maps. Six feet deep and twelve feet wide, only a small fraction of this trench network has been discovered,” she said.

“If we secure funding, skilled archaeologists and historians from the university will work with the museum and the wider community to locate, investigate, record and reconstruct what the siege looked and felt like for the three armies battling for supremacy, and for the people trapped inside Newark. The last time the siege works were scrutinised was in the early 1960s when a Royal Commission published a report. Back then, lasers and satellite imagery were science fiction. With new technology and the support of the community, there is lots more to be discovered.”

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