Delve into the stories of some of the fascinating objects from our collections with fun facts, films and podcasts about some of our most extraordinary exhibits! More coming soon!
This object from our Civil War gallery is a favourite with many visitors . Take a moment to look at it closely. What materials is it made of? What might that tell you about who owned it? What do you think this object is for? Can you see some metal hinges and adjustors? Why do you think they are there? How about the holes on the object’s legs?
Click here to hear an extract from a story that will give you a clue about the object’s purpose.
Finally, click here to find out the truth about this object!
To prevent the further spread of infection...
Emergency council meetings, families confined to their homes, special arrangements to take food to the most vulnerable, a daily check on symptoms... you may assume that this is a description of spring 2020 and our new world of social distancing, food banks and symptom-checking mobile apps but these measures were part of an emergency plan recorded at a Newark council meeting in March 1645. The people of Newark had been under siege for months when warmer weather brought them an even greater challenge than the Roundhead attacks: The Plague.
Click to hear Newark's emergency plan from 1645 and see the transcription here: Newark's 1645 Plague Plan Transcription (PDF File, 477kb)
This is an expensive cavalry officer's sword. It has Andria Farara and a maker's mark on both sides of the blade. Some of the finest swords of the 16th and 17th centuries bear this name, though who Farara/Ferrara/Ferrars really was is a bit of a mystery. The sword has the design of a head on its handguard. The name 'Mortuary' dates back to the 19th century, when it was thought that swords like this carried the head of the executed King Charles I. However, this type of sword was in use before the Civil War.
A well-equipped cavalry soldier would carry a carbine (short gun), a pair of pistols and a "good stiff sword, sharp pointed" (according to George Monk, a Parliamentarian officer). Their swords were heavy, two-edged slashing weapons. Cavalry armour was designed to protect the soldier from sword blows as well as gun fire. Click here to see the damage that could be inflicted by a weapon of this sort (warning: the video is a little graphic).
There were far more sieges and skirmishes than pitched battles during the Civil Wars.
Heavy artillery was often used during sieges. Cannon, Demi-cannon, Culverin and Demi-culverin were the siege artillery of choice. Cannon were the heaviest, shooting up to 42lb balls, whereas the smaller culverin had a longer range. Mortars were used to throw exploding shells and incendiary devices, such as grenadoes, over walls and other fortifications.
Besieging “sappers” would build trenches to move artillery closer to their targets and dig tunnels or mine to lay explosive charges under defences.
Mobility was not as necessary for either attackers or defenders at sieges, as it was for soldiers in field armies. It was possible and desirable, to wear heavier armour such as this helmet when getting close to defences.
Note the shoulder pieces, which helped to disperse the shock from a blow to the head.
Discover some of the Civil War's siege stories online here and experience the story of Hercules Clay, mayor of under-siege Newark, here.
This torc might have belonged to someone from the Iceni tribe, which was led for a while by Boudicca. Did she wear a necklace like this?
The Newark Torc dates from 200-50 B.C. (Iron Age). Rivers were significant for the people of the Iron Age and a lot of Iron Age metal work has been found by rivers. The Newark Torc was found near the River Trent. According to experts at the British Museum, it is likely to have been deliberately buried. The torc is both very beautiful and very significant. Generally, these torcs are only found in North Norfolk, so the Newark Torc is a rare find indeed. There have only been around 200 torcs found in Britain and there are only 5 or 6 really good quality ones.
The Newark Torc is made from gold, silver and copper. During the Iron Age, gold came from Wales, Ireland, Spain and Turkey. The torc is made from rolled gold wires while the terminals (the 2 ends of the torc) were cast. There are several metres of gold wire in the Newark torc. Each of the 8 twisted pieces is made up of 8 wires, so there are 64 strands of wire making up the main section of this torc. It is hollow inside those twists. The terminals are very ornate, making this one of the best torcs ever discovered.
The Newark Torc was found by a local metal detectorist in 2005 near Newark. Click here to find out about his remarkable discovery. Plus, click here to bake your very own golden brown Pretzel Torc!
The first attack on Newark during the Civil Wars came in autumn 1642, when two troops of Parliamentarian horse (cavalry) from Lincoln were beaten off by the ordinary people of the town with pitchforks and whatever weapons they could lay their hands on. This signalled a need to strengthen the town’s defences. Over a 10 week period a new earthen rampart and ditch was constructed around the most strategic parts of the town, replacing the broken down medieval town walls.
The defences passed their first test during the first siege of Newark in February 1643.
Following the first siege the defences were strengthened and extended further. Some buildings on North Gate were largely demolished, so that they could not be used as firing positions by attacking troops and some dwellings inside the town were destroyed to make way for defences. The Corporation minutes record 19 individuals who lent a total of 75 pounds and 5 shillings to the authorities for strengthening Newark’s defences. Many of them would never be repaid.
The second siege of Newark was much longer than the first, and for a while it looked like the town would have to surrender. However, Prince Rupert came to the town’s rescue, routing the siege and sending Parliamentarians packing. Read the exciting story of Rupert's Relief of Newark below.
Following Rupert’s departure from the town, the governor of Newark ordered the defences to be strengthened further. Earthwork defences were extended south beyond the corn and gunpowder mills on Millgate and it is probable that the Queen’s Sconce was built around this time to defend the approaches to the town. The Queen’s Sconce can still be seen today and is probably the best-preserved 17th Century earthwork in the country. Find out more about the Sconce and the man who designed it in this short film, see the Sconce as it is today here and find out more about this amazing earthwork below.
A Sconce is a fort made of earth in the shape of a diamond. A moat is dug around the outside in order to make it difficult for the enemy to get close. An earth Sconce is well-defended against cannons. Instead of knocking the fortification down, the Sconce absorbed the cannonball with minimal damage.
The word ‘Sconce’ comes from the Dutch word ‘schans’ which means fort. The Queens Sconce is one of two earthwork forts that protected Newark during its third and final siege. The model of a Sconce in our Civil War Gallery shows how the fortification would have looked during the Civil War.
The Queen's Sconce still exists today, at Sconce and Devon Park in Newark. It used to protect the Fosse Way as it crossed over the River Devon but now it is an important part of Newark’s living history.
Rupert's Relief of Newark
During the Civil War, Newark was besieged by the parliamentarian army three times. This tract relates to the 2nd Siege of Newark that took place in 1644.
Newark was of strategic importance in the Civil War because two major roads, the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, crossed here. Newark connected the Royalist headquarters in Oxford with other Royalist strongholds in the North of England.
In late February 1644 the parliamentarian commanders Sir John Meldrum and Lord Willoughby advanced towards Newark with 6000 men from the local area. Meldrum stormed Muskham bridge and seized control of the marshland opposite the castle, known as The Island. He built a boat bridge across the river and set up his headquarters in a fortified burned out mansion called The Spittal. On the 8th March he made an unsuccessful attempt to storm Newark. He decided to besiege the town and starve it into submission.
Richard Byron, the governor of Newark, sent a request to Charles I for assistance. The king ordered Prince Rupert to come to Newark’s rescue.
This tract describes Prince Rupert’s approach to the town, the battle for the Island, the surrender of the Roundhead forces and their march away from Newark.
Hear an extract from the diary of Newark pub landlord John Twentyman, describing the siege, here and read a full transcription of the tract here: Rupert's Relief of Newark (PDF File, 797kb)
Thomas Fairfax's Wheelchair
Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671) was the Commander of Parliaments’ New Model Army. Black Tom was one of his many nicknames. He led from the front, putting himself in great danger. During 1644 he was wounded three times and was shot through the wrist at Selby. He later wrote:
‘I received a shot in the wrist of my arm, which made the bridle fall out of my hand, which being among the nerves and veins, suddenly let out such a quantity of blood, that I was ready to fall from my horse.’
Fairfax had his face slashed open with a broadsword at Marston Moor, and was shot in the shoulder during the siege of Helmsley Castle.
Following his victories of 1645 he wrote to his father:
‘I am exceedingly troubled with rheumatism and a benumbing coldness in my head, legs and arms, especially on that side I had my hurts.’
After Fairfax took his seat in Parliament in 1659, Sir Arthur Hesilrige declared:
‘This noble Lord that sits by me, Lord Fairfax; I bless God that he, having received so many wounds, now sits by my right hand.’
From 1664, Sir Thomas Fairfax used this wheelchair, one of the earliest ever invented and kindly lent to us by descendant Tom Fairfax. Sir Thomas Fairfax's cousin Brian wrote:
‘He sat like an old Roman, his manly countenance striking awe and reverence into all that beheld him.’
To learn more about Fairfax, watch this short film and read Professor Andrew Hopper's Top 10 Fairfax Facts (PDF File, 485kb)
Gold and Enamel Poesy Ring inscribed “Let No Calamatie Separat Amitie” (17th Century)
The Civil Wars were unlike any war which had previously been fought in Britain and Ireland, consuming every corner of the land. People were forced to choose a side. Men and women fought against family and friends. Families and relationships were ripped apart.
The inscription suggests that this ring may have been exchanged between individuals on opposing sides during the Civil Wars. This was in the hope that nothing came between them and that their friendship would survive. This film tells a possible version of the story. The ring is very small by modern standards. Who did it belong to?
Bullet Extractor (1)
At the beginning of the British Civil Wars, there were 2 musketeers to every pikeman. This became 4 to 1 by the end of the wars. With so many muskets fired on the battlefield, bullet wounds became a very common problem. A gunshot wound could lead to a fatal infection. Enter the battlefield surgeon.
The surgeon had to act quickly:
• Find where the shot is located in the patient.
• Using the long, tube end of the extractor, place it into the wound up to the musket ball.
• Twist the top of the extractor, to turn the small drill bit inside the tube. This should screw into the soft lead of the musket ball.
• Safely remove the shot and begin treating the wound.
The surgeon had to remove the shot as quickly and as carefully as possible to prevent infection. There were some excellent surgeons on the battlefield, but many men died from their wounds. Click here to find out about some of them: Battle Scarred Brochure (PDF File, 4,528kb)
Muscle Knife (2)
Infection killed more people than weapons. Surgeons had to be well prepared in order to save as many lives as possible.
For an infected limb, the only answer was amputation.
The surgeon used an amputation knife to cut through flesh and muscle, exposing the bone. He worked quickly and with firm decision. The curved knife ensured a quick and clean cut.
We can only imagine the pain those soldiers felt without anaesthetic.
Bone Saw (3)
When the bone was exposed, the surgeon used a bone saw to cut all the way through whilst his assistants drew back the flesh of the affected limb.
The wound was then sewn up and bandaged to avoid further blood loss. Speed and care were of the essence. Some surgeons kept a spare bone saw on hand in case the first one broke.
A practiced surgeon could complete an amputation in as little as three minutes. However, there was little understanding of infection. Instruments would be used on many patients before they were cleaned. Despite this, it is estimated that the survival rate was as high as 75% for amputees.
Life after injury and amputation could be very difficult though with many being unable to continue with their trades. Some of the affected petitioned their local authorities for subsistence. Read about one of them here.
Siege Pieces (Siege Coins)
If you run out of cash, what do you do? Run to the cashpoint? Pay by contactless?
It wasn’t quite so simple in the 17th century. But there was a solution to the need for emergency cash: set up a temporary mint. Before the British Civil Wars, all money was made in the Royal Mint in London. Find out the history of the Royal Mint here. Once Parliament had taken London, King Charles I had no access to the mint, so he had to make his coins elsewhere. A mint was set up in Oxford – the king’s new capital.
When Royalist strongholds were besieged by Parliamentarian troops, they needed money to pay soldiers and suppliers. Four castles - Newark, Pontefract, Scarborough and Carlisle - produced their own coins made out of silverware gathered from the people of the town.
Newark siege coins were clipped in a diamond shape out of sheet silver and stamped with a simple design. On one side, a crown with the initials CR (for Carolus Rex – King Charles) and the value in Roman numerals. On the other side, OBS Newark with the date 1645 or 1646. OBS is an abbreviation of obsidional, which means relating to a siege.
There were four coins minted at Newark: half-a-crown, one shilling, ninepence and sixpence. Can you work out the value of the coins in this photo?