Category Archives: History

Newark Castle

Newark, a market town in Nottinghamshire, grew up during the early 10th century as a strategic gateway to Northern England, sitting as it did on the intersection of the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, a Roman road built in the 1st century AD. Its castle has featured in some of the most tumultous times in English history and was besieged five times during the Baronial Wars and English Civil War. It is mostly ruined, but its prominent position as you enter the town means that it’s still very much a tourist attraction and despite the drizzle definitely worth a look around!

Entering the Castle gardens

Entering the Castle gardens

Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, had a stone castle constructed on the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle next to the river Trent in the early 12th century. King John died in the castle in October 1216 and after his death it was kept by one of his men against the orders of the new king, Henry III. That defiance resulted in the first siege of the castle – for eight days – until the castle was surrendered to the king.

Newark Castle 2

The castle was rebuilt towards the end of the 13th century with a new curtain wall. In the 15th and 16th centuries fireplaces were added and windows enlarged and glazed as it became more of a place of residence than a defensive stronghold. It had been owned by the Church but in 1547 it passed into private ownership under Henry VIII’s Reformation.

Newark Castle 3

Newark was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and the castle was besieged three times, finally surrendering in 1646 on the orders of Charles I. Parliamentarian forces had been ordered to destroy the castle, but the plague had broken out in Newark and the order was not fully carried out.

Newark Castle 4

The public gardens within the walls were laid out for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, opening in 1889.

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Tantallon Castle

Tantallon 1

The first time I ever visited Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, Scotland, I was the first and only visitor of the day at 3pm, although this may have had something to do with the gale-force winds and torrential rain that made climbing the towers a distinctly exciting experience!

Luckily, the second time I visited the weather was a lot more conducive to looking around and taking in more than sea spray, and I’m glad I went back because Tantallon is truly stunning. Built by the Douglas family in the 14th century, the huge 50 foot curtain wall and towering cliffs provided a formidable fortress.

Tantallon 2

Tantallon was eventually destroyed in 1651 by Oliver Cromwell’s army but a surprising amount of the castle still remains, including some of the living quarters. The climb to the top of the curtain wall is hard-going (and can be treacherous in wet or icy weather) but it’s worth it for the incredible views.

Tantallon 3

Tantallon is signposted from the A19 and there is a car park, although the castle itself is reached via a footpath that can be very muddy in wet weather. Good footwear and a warm coat are essential!  The visitor centre sells souvenirs and a guidebook.

Tantallon 4

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Lifeboat 2

Another Whitby-related post (if you couldn’t tell, it’s one of my favourite places!), this time about a local man, Henry Freeman, and a famous rescue.

Henry Freeman was born in Bridlington in 1835, the son of a brickmaker. In his teens he worked as a farm labourer in Flamborough before moving to Whitby when he was 20. By 1861, Henry was working as a fisherman. During a huge storm on 9th February 1861, Henry joined the Whitby lifeboat crew as they carried out 5 launches to save the crews from stricken ships, despite having no previous experience. On the final launch, in heavy seas, the lifeboat overturned and Henry was the sole survivor.


[Attribution: Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and The Sutcliffe Gallery]

Undeterred by his brush with death, Henry continued to work as a fisherman throughout the 1860s as well as participating in the occasional lifeboat rescue. In 1877 he was appointed Coxswain of the Whitby lifeboat, the Robert Whitworth.

On 28th October October 1880 the Robert Whitworth launched 4 times to rescue the crews of ships caught in another severe storm off the North Yorkshire coast. Henry Freeman was awarded a silver clasp to add to the RNLI medal he had received for the 1861 rescues.

But Henry’s most famous rescue came in January 1881, when the brig Visitor was wrecked off Robin Hood’s Bay during a severe storm. Jermyn Cooper, vicar of Fylingdales, sent an urgent telegram to the Whitby Harbourmaster asking for assistance, but the lifeboat could not leave Whitby harbour because of the appalling weather conditions. Onlookers at Robin Hood’s Bay could only watch helplessly as Visitor slowly broke up and her crew took to its single, small boat.

With a launch from Whitby impossible, the decision was made to take the Robert Whitworth to Robin Hood’s Bay overland instead – dragged by horses six miles across country while hundreds of men, women, and children dug through snowdrifts with shovels and cleared walls and hedgerows to create a path for the lifeboat.

Appeal for memorabilia of historic Whitby lifeboat rescue

Their heroic efforts paid off: the Robert Whitworth was carried from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay in 3 hours, and successfully launched to save the crew of the Visitor.

Henry Freeman retired as coxswain in 1899, after 22 years service, and died in 1904. His memorial can be seen on the seaward wall of Whitby Lifeboat Station, where you can also see the current Whitby lifeboat, George and Mary Webb – very different from the open rowing boats used in Henry’s day!

Lifeboat 3

The RNLI do an amazing job – the volunteers who risk their own lives to save others are the sort of people who really restore my faith in human nature.

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