During the Civil War (1642-51) Newark was besieged three times. It was an important transport hub where two roads (The Great North Road and the Fosse Way), and the River Trent met. Whoever controlled Newark had a great deal of influence in the conduct of the war.
Though the road system has changed a bit over the years, the Great North Road still appears under that name on my satnav, though it is variously known as the A1 or A1(M) these days. It was Ermine Street in the days of the Romans, and the the Fosse Way retains its Roman name to this day, as it makes its way between Exeter and Lincoln. It’s also known as the A46 when it passes Newark. The Trent is still in use as a working waterway with barges conveying sand, gravel and oil. It’s interesting to note that our transport system hasn’t changed that much in 2,000 years.
Anyway, back to the sieges. The siege of 1643 was insignificant, and lasted from 27th to 28th February. It was, to be honest, little more than a visit and the Parliamentarian forces were completely outclassed in terms of leadership and fighting spirit.
The second was February 29th to March 21st 1644 and ended when Prince Rupert’s relief force mounted a surprise attack and trapped the army of Sir John Meldrum. They were eventually allowed to march away, leaving their equipment behind – 3,000 muskets, 11 cannon and 2 mortars.
The final siege lasted from 26th November 1645 – 8th May 1646. THe Royalists were on the ropes by this time but they had spent the years building defences and Newark was one of the few places still capable of resisting. One of the Star Forts is still there – the Queen’s Sconce. In the old days, before we started being more careful of our heritage I marched up and down it re-enacting the siege. It was hard work, even without people actually trying to kill me. The third siege featured17,000 Parliamentarian troops, including Scots, against the town. The people, of Newark suffered cold, hunger and disease (around 1,000 dying of typhus and plague). Eventually the King surrendered to the Scots commanders at The Saracen’s Head in Southwell and the town surrendered two days later. It is still a pub, and still named The Saracen;s Head if you fancy a drink in a place with history.
The coin in the header picture is a Newark Siege Shilling. Siege coins were made for use in besieged towns so that normal life could carry on. They were made from silver, such as plates and spoons, and cut to weight to equal the weight of silver in coin of the realm (which were made of sterling silver in those days). Newark coins are dated 1645 or 1646 and are available as halfcrowns (XXX), shillings (XII), ninepences (IX) and sixpences (VI). They are almost always slightly untidy in the striking – hardly surprising when you consider they were made from flattening household silver and then cutting it into lozenges before hammering between home-made dies. Sometimes they even have remnants of decoration on them from the original donor item. They are often found pierced as loyal Royalists used to wear them as pendants in remembrance of the King.
There are other siege coins (also known as obsidional coins) from towns in the UK, though many of them have been challenged as “fantasy pieces”. Pontefract, Scarborough, Carlisle and Cork all seem to have struck coins, some of which were of far worse quality than the Newark coins.
Obsidional comes from the Latin obsidionalis, meaning “of a siege”, hence the “OBS” stamped on the Newark coin.
Newark Siege Shilling 1645