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The River Trent, Newark Island

January 17th, 2018 in News by emily

Newark Island today. (Ordnance Survey)

The River Trent, Newark Island: Drainage and Weather, their Role in the Defence of Newark on Trent during the Third Siege of 1645 – 1646.

Sean Jackson*, Stephen Joynes** and Harvey Wood***

*    Sean Jackson BA, Archaeologist. SDUC, Lampeter

**   Stephen Joynes Gentleman of Newark

*** Dr Harvey Wood Dip AD, MA, FRSA, FRGS, FGS, FLS. Director of Clean Rivers Trust


The area of land, the Island, surrounded by the two branches of the River Trent between Averham and Crankley Point and bordering the town of Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire, UK on its north western side was a significant and little understood landscape feature that greatly aided, during the Civil War the Royalist defences of the town, particularly during the third and final siege of 1645 – 1646. The River Trent and its island being used as a defensive double moat with marsh and seasonal water meadow set between the two armies. On the southern bank a more traditional form of siege warfare developed with defences being put under pressure by sapping and other counter defensive strategies.

The importance of Newark on Trent set on the last bridging point of the River Trent before it entered the Humber Estuary and astride the Great North Road made it a vital link in the lines of communication between the Royalist Armies of the North and South and after the defeat of the Royalist forces in the north it became the key to the kingdom and the focus of both the Parliamentarian and Scottish armies. The surrounding forces numbering around 16,000, the Scottish numbering around 10,000 soldiers took the role of curtaining off the northern portion facing the town from across this twin river defence system made up of fortifications and natural ground.

The setting of the Island and its surrounding waters allows for an understanding of this almost primeval landscape’s role in the siege and its remarkable influences on later defensive constructions in Europe after the end of the civil war (Saunders, A. 2004 generally).

The apparent conditions of the Siege of Newark and the plans outlining the fortifications appear today to be clean cut with dry diches, stakes driven into earthen banks and the use of hidden traps to deter cavalry and foot soldier alike. The reality of the Siege of Newark was far worse and for the attackers far more difficult than could be understood today. The natural environment being clearly on the Royalist side.

The Island in the flood of 2000 showing the Kelham Road (snaking to the right) and the modern bypass (left). At the time of the siege such conditions would have made life let alone carrying forward a siege very difficult. (Guardian)


The Third Siege of Newark was a remarkable standoff between a major Scottish/Parliamentarian combination of forces that outmanned the defenders eight to one, the forbearance and pluck of the garrison and townspeople, the preparation of fortifications and a good supply of food and munitions, did much to save the town of Newark on Trent from being put to the sword. Much has been written of these: archaeological evidence and extant field works also bear witness to these truths. The other element in the saving of the Town till the order to surrender came from the Monarch himself: Charles I having surrendered his person up to the Scottish army at Southwell with whom he hoped to treat and bring an end to the hostilities of the English Civil War, being the weather, the hydrogeological setting and the River Trent itself.

The investigation has come about during studies carried out in the last 25 years into the flow, flood and pollution of the River Trent and particularly around the Newark area. The landscape has similarly been an area of study with regard to its function and the location of much that has been thought lost within it.  Such research has involved attempting to understand the rivers complexities both natural and manmade over the last 2,500 years. The use of the river as a transport corridor, food source: both fish and wildfowl being important resources and the ‘accepted’ boundary between the North and South of England.


Introducing the Island.

The Island is a large area of low lying ground (about 8,522 metre long by 5,348 metres wide at its broadest part and comprises 7.42 square kilometres. The elevation of the land is all between 12 metres and 7 metres above datum) set between the two branches of the River Trent that flow to the northern side of the town of Newark on Trent. The two rivers separate after passing Farndon village set on the right bank. The more southerly branch of this network flows close by the town and up alongside the towns castle wall. On route it collects the water from the River Devon a notable tributary and at the time of the Civil War a major addition to both volume and velocity of the river’s flow. This branch of the River Trent being crossed by one bridge set below the castle gate taking the Great North Road from the town onto the Island  The other arm of the river flows further to the north and passes the villages of Averham and Kelham. It was crossed by two bridges, one at Kelham and the other taking the Great North Road across the river to South Muskham. The two arms of the River Trent reconverge at Crankley Point below the village of Winthorpe set on the right bank.

It is a fortunate accident of history that the Island has been a subject of surveys; not just during the Civil War itself when the two well known plans by Clampe (Pariamentarian) and Royalist possibly with the input of de Gomme the Dutch siege engineer, but also over a hundred years before in 1532 and less than 100 years afterwards in 1740. These two maps demonstrate the nature of the land, the river conditions and works on, by and alongside both arms of the River Trent and further demonstrate the longterm effects of the Civil War on some activities long after the combat had ceased.

The Island, being set between the two arms of the River Trent, a tidal river that at spring tides such events were noted as far up stream as Nottingham. The Island was wet, in part a marsh,  often  times under water. At the best of times wet with groundwater levels never far below the surface of the land. Old Trent river channels are notable landscape features: being either seasonally filled with water or as in the case of the Old Trent Dyke a permanent water feature within the landscape.

The North Eastern section of the Trent Dyke, palaeochannel demonstrating the modern land surface in conjuction to early spring water level.The water appears low down the bank, but as closer inspection demonstrates the post civil war embankments on either side which are even today further hightened every few years by the drainage board. The actual ground level above the water being between 8 and 18 inches bemonstrating the gentle roll of the surface created over many centuries of continuous flooding. (©SJ)

The simple geological makeup of the Island is of importance, as it is the nature of the ground fought over by the opposing armies. The rise of ground that makes up the structure of the island is a major bank of river gravels that built up in the river channel during the  era after the last Ice Age, this series of gravels being found along the majority of the rivers length from Nottingham towards the Humber. The island is known to have been cut through at various times during prehistoric period by palaeochannels that demonstrated the rapid rise and fall of river levels and their erosive nature. The clay rich alluvium that covers much of the islands surface today, as at the time of the Civil War was deposited over several thousands of years in which time the land was regularly inundated by floods. This view is underscored by the papers of the Newark Corporation and demonstrate the Town‘s need to commission John Smeaton, regarded as the first consulting civil engineer, to design and construct a causeway across the Island from Newark Bridge over the southern branch of the River Trent to Muskham Bridge in 1766 and completion of the causeway in 1770.  This included a series of arches that constitute a bridge over 1.7 kilometres in length that carried the Great North Road above the normal winter flood levels of the island. This section of the causeway is in the north eastern central area of the island. Prior to its construction the Great North Road was impassable to traffic for several weeks and even months of each year due to floods. The location of most of these perennial inundations being close to the Scottish fortification known as the Edinburgh which lies to the west of the road (the area around Crankley Point seems to be somewhat lower).

Smeaton’s design allowed for 300 milimetre of clearance between the regular highest flood levels and the top of the camber or crown of the road surface. The arches being  1.8 metres in height from foundation to the springer course of the bridge arch. The crown of the road being aproximatly 0.4 metres in hight: this meaning that flood levels were often in the region of 1.9 metres deep across much of the Island as witnessed by Smeaton in 1766.

The Trent Dyke flowing across the Island with Smeaton’s Cawsway in the background. The differences in land and water levels are less in parts than the previous illustration. (©SJ)

The landscape of the Island at first glance today is that of a flat fen with little but the hedges and associated trees to break up the flat topography. This was even more starkly visual in 1645 due to the knowledge that the land had not been partitioned by enclosure and was an open site with only channels of past river courses scattered across the area giving some minor variations in level, the variance was also discernable in the contoured overlay of the ground by river gravels and attendent alluvium silts.

The vegetation of the island would appear to have been that of wet meadow or moor with few if any trees. In the 16th century map and the siegeworks plans none are marked and only an occasional one is marked on the Trent Survey of 1740, most notably a line edging the Great North Road. These trees being near the location of of the future causeway build by John Smeaton in 1770 to possibly denote the roads location in time of inundation.

The British Geological Record demonstrates that the make up of the ground to the west of the Great North Road has changed little since the 1640s and the composition of the ground across the Island being, as already stated, alluvium, sand and gravel deposit across the area overlying the kieper marls which act as the country rock of the region. The thickest point of gravel and alluvial deposits being at the leading edges of the island with thinner deposits to the eastern end. This being due to the post glacial deposition in flood conditiond dropping substantial quantities at this point with lesser deposition the further east the flood progressed.

The Geology.

The geology of the Island is reasonably simple though the layering of the drift deposits is more complex than might be expected. A flood plain gravel island set between two arms of the same river is not a easy to characterise without understanding something of its geomorphology.

The island is set on a north east, south west line between the drawn lines. The map shows the dark blue curving lines as past river chanels (paleaochanels), the blue shading denotes exposed post Ice Age gravel terraces and the cream demonstrates alluvium overlaying post Ice Age gravels.

In pre civil war times little had been done to the landscape of the island beyond the establishment of the road systems that accounted for the route of the Great North Road and its spur that led to Kelham Bridge and thence to Southwell.

Before the Islands winter inundations during the siege the ground water levels flowing through the river terace gravels would have provided moated defences around the several fortifications adding to their functional defences. After the flooding the defensive ditches would have been left flooded for many weeks after the exadus of the excess surfacewater. Further the Island  would have been coated with a thick layer of clay like alluviam that would have made both defensive and attacking actions near imposible for sometime, neither artillery, nor cavalry or infantry could have moved with any ease for some protracted time.

Today the Island is ringed by flood banks and embankments that both carried the Great North Road and  Kelham Road across the marshy ground. The Island throughout the many developments of navigation from the 17th and 18th Centuries has given the originally near flat topography many false contours. The 19th and 20th century spreading of river dredging, the building of the Newark Bypass and the excavation of gravel for building needs and the creation of ponds, both for fishing lakes and filtration lagoons (the sugar beat factory) has further exacerbated the missleading nature that the landscape displays today.

The Flora.

Flora across the island is something of an idicator of how much improvement has been undertaken to different fields since enclosure of the land in the 18th/19th centuries, it also bears witness to the drainage and other activities carried out to allow the land to be farmed through drainage schemes or maintanence

The flora of the island has, since the Civil War, changed markedly though in the spring on the few remaining wet meadow areas that survive one can witness a vission of what it may once have looked like before the conflagration took place and to some degree during it. The landscape being largely open with few if any hedges or other field demarkations would have, in May and early June been a carpet of yellow Flag iris and Marsh marigold the  flowers of the  the lower lying palaeochannels of the river marked out by swiftly growing reeds, rush and oher marginal plants still appear in profusion in the spring.

A watermeadow close to the sugar factory on the northeastern portion of the island. (©SJ)

Today one can observe on the partially improved lands the residual flora breaking through, reed and rush being the most prevalent species. Such appearances are to be seen to the northeastern end of the island which is the highest part of the island. This hight differential being coursed by the velocity of river flow dropping its main loading of gravel at the leading edge of the island.

The probable site of Sandy Fort lies now on improved water meadow with rushes emerging towards the higher level of the island. The Spring House public house on the corner or Farndon Road and Mill Gate is seen from across the River Trent’s Town Channel. Such a close proximity of the two armies underscores both the close quarter nature of the siege in its latter stages and also the fluidity of movement not just of troops but also fortifications. See Appendix I for map showing location. (©SJ)

Weather Conditions.

The period was noted to be colder than it had been in the previous century: the records are sparse but in several accounts of the Civil War period as is noted.

There were greater snow precipitations in the Peak District and greater ice events on the river itself, in January 1646 the bridge across the Trent from the island to Muskam was damaged and made useless to traffic and  which culminated in 1683 with both the Trent bridges (both noted in the records as being of masonary construction) at Nottingham and Newark being destroyed by ice flows. It is recorded that ice flowed along the river during the winter months of the third and final siege. These ice melts would have given rise to spring flooding of the island with feet of water in some parts whilst the rest would have only  have been inundated by a few inches of floodwater.

The fortifications on the Island, the Edinburgh and Sandhills fortifications along with the several redoubts would have been surrounded by the fluctuating river levels as the tides changed and volumes of water flowing down the River Trent varied. As the waters finally left the island the ditches around each fortification would have been left with defensive moats for sometime after the floods.

The above plan demonstrates anomilies in weather patterns in England during a 400 year timeframe with the 1600s suffering from exceptionally decreased sunshine, temperatures, high rainfall, snow and ice. (Wikipedia)

Post Civil War Drainage Works, Navigation Channel Dredging and Flood Defences.

The River Trent received its first of several navigation acts at the end of the Severnteenth Century and by them the river developed its navigable course that it follows today with the northerly arm via Kelham and Muskham bridges ostensibly a broad backwater. The main river passing through the town of Newark beneath the castle walls. The town itself intially putting locks in place in the century after the Civil War and later the navigation works being completed by the navigation company that took over from the town (Hadfield 1970 pp43-45). These locks have altered the natural run of water through the floodplain and it requires some imagination to remove the post era infrastructure but once this has been achieved much becomes clearer. The same needs to be achieved with the removal of flood embankments and spread dredgings across the land adjacent to the river. The use of soil sampling spikes driven into the ground around the  river boundary gives some indication of the structure of the alluvial layers and demonstrate the thickness of artificially deposited layers of soils.

The Siegeworks.

Newark on Trent was garrisoned by Royalist forces from the end of 1642 and was only to surrendered after being ordered to by Charles I in 1646 after the King himself had ridden out over the Town Bridge, across the island and via the Kelham Bridge across the far arm of the River Trent to Southwell and surendered to the Scottish commanders at Southwell. Only a King of both England and of the Scots could have passed sofar without incident.

The Royalist had had over four years to laydown defensive lines and improve there scale having been in need of them twice before during the first two sieges of 1643 and 1644 (both failed to oust the Royalist loyalist garrison). Early in the Civil War the defences had been described by John Twentyman, a local who was to become a member of the Yeomen as ‘most pitiful works, they were low and thin and with a dry ditch that most men might easily leap on the east and south’ (RCHME 1964 p29). By the end of hostilities a manuscript source cited by Brown stated that the town had ‘strong bastions, earthworks, half moons, counterscarps, redoubts, pitfalls and an entire line of earth and turf, palisaded and stockaded and every part so furnished with great guns and cannon and this bulky bulwark of Newark reppresented to the besiegers one entire sconce; (Brown 1907 p 95) The two sieges were carried out by less adventurous Parliamentarian attacks than the third set of combatants in the third siege the Scots.

Newark has a wealth of largly untapped documentation (these once read and understood will give far better detail to the actual survival of the Corporation and townspeople and hopefully more besides), as well as a large volume of already studied documentation and two known contemporary maps. The preservation of the siegeworks in the area is remarkable: so much so that the Royal Commission deemed them to have been of national importance and led to their production of a volume in 1964 in which is described the remains as identified and understood at the time and largely based on the extant siege plans produced by both the Parliamentarian and Royalist engineers. This hugly important document has provided the basis for much of the research carried out since its publication. Much of this subsequent research was based on the illustrations of the plans produced by the Parliamentary siege engineer Richard Clampe and the other  by an unknown Royalist engineer who had been part of the Newark garrison which was unfinished. The maps, particularly that by Clampe has allowed a narrative to the third siege to be developed based on the locations of siege works illustrated in the documents. This had allowed for an understanding of the local conflict that might be only a fraction of the reality. Such dogged following of the two dimensional representation of what could only be a picture of a moment in time and an engineers form of communication of the stategic situation for the information of the commanding officers of the forces facing each other and not for the publics’ general consumption. Though the two extant versions of the Clampe map have been tidied up for publication, though the drawn detail is the same it varies quite markedly in the annotated detail. The Royal Commision volume suggests that the detail on the Clampe map relating the town is quite sketchy and the Royalist map is as would be expected is more accurate (RCHME 1964p p65- 71). The fact that the detail is somewhat sketchy on the Clampe map should not come a major surprise following a typhus epidemic over the winter months which was replaced by an outbreak of plague as summer aproached and wandering around the town drawing it would have been detrimental to health (Jennings 2003 p58). The polished look of the Clampe map in its extant forms have given the impression that it was a full and accurate representation of the third and final siege of Newark, recent research (Jacksons Joynes and Wood forthcoming) has shown that there is far more surviving in the landscape, this in turn calls into question the way that major sieges throughout Europe have been interpreted, especially if the maps that the interpretation have been depicting a strategic situation at a particular moment in time and not a representation of the full siege. The cartographic depictions of the siege have in effect led to the siege being interpreted through tunnel vision, rather than using them as a framework on which the study of the landscape could fill in the missing detail, research has in effect been limited to finding the features depicted on the Clampe map at the exclusion of the evidence surviving in the wider landscape.  The manuscript source already cited describing the towns defences are not represented by the Clampe plans. There are of course clues when you examine the plan closely: on the island one sees redoubts sited at crossing points of the River Trent, the splitting and reconvergence of the river, the junctions of roads, all are of strategic importance, most other bastions, redoubts and other structures have been on initial inspection lost into the lanscape and of little value to the locating of sites of research. This is also due to the alterations made to the landscape that have developed over the several hundred years since their need ceased to exist.

Clampes Plan of the Newark defences (detail showing the fortificatin at the downstream River Trent opposite the village of Winthorpe protected by Parliamentary siegeworks defences. (© British Museum)

Within he Royal Commission Report (1964 p42-43) there is some degree of confusion with relation to the Sandy fort and the Sandhills Sconce as to whether they are one and the same or two separate features. It is believed by the authors that they are in fact two separate features It is quite possible that the feature that has been photographed is in fact the Sandy fort, this only came into view due to the particularly dry conditions over the winter of 2016- 2017 and into the summer, it sits in an area of water meadow and is therefore not normally visible. The location of which is on the town side of the old Trent dyke with Stoke lodge fortification on the opposite side of the dyke, both fortifications guarded a crossing point over the dyke. If we are correct, when this fell at the beginning of April 1646 (RCHME 1964 p42- 43) have led to the Royalists losing there last secure grazing area external to the town and would have in effect made the fortifications in this area untenable for the towns defenders. The attribution of the sandhills sconce is probably correct insofar as it is sited on a sandy hill and would give greater visibility towards the town and along the river Trent. The maps show this as being in the possesion of the Scots and this would also give a date that the map was produced to at the very earliest early mid April 1646.

The Clampe plan allow much that might be deduced about that that was happening around the town’s defences during the siege. The most obvious being the split in offencive action, the Parliamentarians were using attrition as their choosen method of siege warfare whilst the Scottish Army was taking much action in attack, gaining the island and reaching close to the bank of Town Cut of the RiverTrent.

The Royalist plans are seen in much of their detail to be accurate especially the features closest to the town and its defences to the south of the town branch of the River Trent. As you get further away from this inner core of the Royalist position the detail gets somewhat less accurate and in the words of the Royal commision “conventionalized” (Rchme 1964 p65) The position of the Edinburgh is innacurately plotted, the traditional location does seem to have been a bit of a compromise between the the depiction on the maps drawn by the opposing sides the Clampe map is far more accurate, so much so that it was initally thought to be a different feature, though an inspection of the Royalist map in the collection of the National Civil War Centre/ Newark museum has it labelled as the Earl of Levens quarter and therefore probably is the fortification known as the Edinburgh.The maps would have been drawn and redrawn to illustrate the situation on the ground. The Parliamentarian lines seem to have been static and better developed, this is also the view from inside the Royalist garrison with Sir Henry Slingsby commenting on the poor state of the Scots works in comparison with those the Parliamentarians. This may also hint at a more fluid situation on the Island.  Such documents would have been works continually in progress in a similar manner as those of the Western Front trench plans of the First World War.

The designs of the forts in outline as can be seen from the plans produced for both sides in effect followed the conventions of the day, the Edinburgh was strengthened by arrow  formation gun emplacements and had bastions or bulwarks midlength on three sides, though signs such as the fact that is was built on the ground surface suggests it was thrown up quickly, the need to get a defensive structure up quickly being paramount, when compared with the Queen’s Sconce where the defences floor was raised. The structure though often near inundated with rising ground and flood water from the winter swollen River Trent were constructed to both withstand the swollen river with walls built from the external ditch excavations and possibly added to from a nearby gravel pit close by towards the Kelham Road but they were also designed to the most modern specifications to allow no dead ground in which an assaulting enemy might find cover.

The defences on the other, town, bank are more permanent in their deployment allowing the Parliamentary and Royalist armies to settle to their opposing purposes in relative comfort above the flood plain of the river. The use of the Scots in their role as advancing troops across a flooded plain was indicative of the Parliamentary leadership seeing their Scottish soldiers as little better than mercenaries who came south to pilage the prosperouse shires of England.

The fortifications as already mentioned demonstrated the state of the art in fortress and defensive design in a period of massive change in the weapons of war, artillery, muskets and personal weaponry. The designers and builders had learned the lessons of this the Thirty and Eighty year wars. Many Dutch engineers had become masters of these sciences with particular expertise in the use of water in defence and this is evident in the defences of Newark (Saunders 2004 p1- 79)

The original Royalist map (detail) which appears to show the initial defences prior to the siege. (National Civil War Museum, Newark)

The maps or plans of military disposition of the armies or their structures are facinating but do not allow the full understanding of the activity on the ground, the ground condition, the Parliamentarians being to the most part on rising ground to the southern side of the River Trent whilst the Scottish Army had to fight and live in the River Trent floodplain and the island.

The plans further fail to demonstrate the temporary nature of many of the earthworks as the Scottish Army gained access to the island, and the relocation of bastions and redoubts belonging to both sides in the conflict are only static representations.

The ‘temporary’ fortifications of Newark were influenced by the science and art of war as waged in Europe over the previous century where the Thirty and Eighty years wars had been waged using the developments in engineering of defences to attempt to protect defenders or attackers in this era of ordnance development. The Parliamentary forces outside Newark were led by officers, several of whom had been professional officers on the Continent for various rulers and members of private armies (the curriculem vitie of Comander General Sydenham Poyntz illustrates this).

The Old Dutch School of fortification influenced the defensive works during both the Civil War and its aftermath, mainly through the influence of Bernard de Gomme who was on Prince Ruperts staff during the war and was to become Charles II chief engineer after the restoration and can be seen in more  permanent military structures becomes more understandable when compared to the fortifications on the River Thames such as Tilbury completed in 1685.

Lidar image of Tilbury Fort, Essex takes on the near appearance of a mud encrusted fort on the island. The angles are perfect in this instance due to its design and building were not hurried as those at Newark needed to be.

Tilbury Fort from the air gives some semblance of the fortifications after flood water had dropped on the island. (English Heritage)

Muskham Bridge 1532 (British Library)

Muskham Bridge is of two spans of masonary or brick in 1532 but is likely to have been altered in form on the orders of Henry VIII as part of the outworks in defence of the Great North Road against the advance of the rebels entered in the Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536

Publications after 1700 talk of wooden structures and the Newark Town Bridge being of wood on earlier stone supports. The map shows the bridges being all of stone or brick and of multi arch construction. The written record of the Town Bridge being of wood on older columns is likely as the bridge was severly damaged in a great flood in the winter of 1683 after a sudden thaw upstream caused ice flows to damage the structure. A similar fate befell the Trent Bridge at Nottingham around the same time. The replacement structure would doughtless have needed then to be of wooden construction layed down onto the extant stone or brick peers. The use of timber was due to be caused by the lack of money available to the town authorities at that time after the Civil War: this is noticeable with regard to other buildings that were lost at the time of the conflict and noted in more detail in the section on the 1740 ‘Survey of ye Trent’.

Part of map showing the mills at Newark and Averham. The mill at Newark was used to grind gunpownder as well as corn to feed the beseiged with both ammunition and bread. By the end of the third siege of Nreawrk and the drawing of Clamp’s plan of the siege the mills at Averham had ceased to exist. The landscape of the island shows the Trent Dyke anf little detail of the island except lack of structures. (British Library)

The Newark mill depicted in the 1532 map is shown to have had three mill wheels, a considerable structure for the period, during the Civil War the mill is known to have been used both for the milling of flour and gun powder and a target for Parliamentary artilary and attemps to cut off the water to the town by obstructing and damming the Town arm of the River Trent upstream. The mill is shown to be set across a leat and to a secondary island set on the edge of the millrace that was an old channel of the River Trent. (An island still exists at this site as do the old brick waterwheel encloses, the mill having been burnt down in 1966. Little research has been carried out on the site or the mill’s history. The Island was then known as Parnham Island and the mill, Parnham’s Mill.)

One of the old channels of the river is marked on the map as the Old Trent Dyke: this water feature is still present today. The location of an island with mills spanning from the Island bank demonstrates that this small channel was used as a leet to power the mills. These features are not present in the 1740 map with the leet exit only being drawn as a return bay in the bank.

The Clampe Siege Plan of 1647.

Clampe’s map is remarkable in the non-warlike nature of its periferal detail with farming practices such as ploghingbeing carried out towards Farndon and Balderton. Woodland at the edge of the village of Kelham and the treeless expance of the Island. There  are no civillian activities on the Island, military occupation predominates. Some bushes and the wet grassland are shown but on this landscape the bushes would not have been of any size due to the foraging of soldiers needing warmth and fuel for cooking. (British Library)

The Surveys of the River Trent, 1740 and 1820.

The 1740 map demonstates the nature of the ground that made up the Island, little apart from the the roads had changed at all from the 16th century map. The ground was a featurless flat landscape with few trees, those shown being a row of alders or poplars (these sugest that some Dutch engineers had improved the Great North Road), the trees being usefull to act as a guide for the route of the road in flood condtions. The lines of the road are marked in a way as to suggest their surface may be raised up above the Island’s ground level. The Great North Road had been staightened with the loop towards the Edinburgh having been removed.

The markings show rough ground and generally this area was summer grazing after the extremes of winter floods had left the watermeadows fertilised by silts deposited by the inundation. Some paths might be see but nothing resembling a road.

Both of the maps how the islands towards Averham which had been the sites of mills are now silted up channels linked to the main Island with the mills no longer present.

The Stevens map of 1820 demonstrate the causway carrying the Great North Road and the Kelham main and link roads. It further shows the Toney Lane set of cart tracks. The Old Channel of the River Trent is marked as in the 16th Century map.

1740 Survey of River Trent demonstrates the unenclosed nature of the island landscape. (Newark Library)

Henry Steven’s 1820 Survey of the River Trent is not as detailed as regard to the physical character of the island but demonstrates that cartographic features such as roads were developing and beginning to complicate the landscape form. (Newark Library)

Final Thought.

The conditions on the island might be better understood when in March 1646 when 1000 Royalist infantry and 400 horse sallied out from Newark and attacked the Scots towards Muskham Bridge. This surprise attack found the island nearly devoid of the Scottish Army though the Edinburgh was near completion. The only troops available to repel the Royalists being 200 men and 150 horse. These troops appear to have been headquartered by the ruined bridge to Muskham and reinforcements could only reach them by ferrying six soldiers at a time in boats (Terry 1899 p390- 91). Such a situation could only have happened if the surface conditions of the island had been so intolerable as to see all others of the Scottish Army numbering 6000 men safely on higher ground between Kelham and Muskham on the opposite bank.

In a similar way the Sottish soldiers should have been expelled from the island, which they nearly were but the attackers would have found the attack more taxing than anticipated and were beaten back even though the Scots could only reinforce the beleaguered garrison 6 at a time.

The River Trent and its floodplain saw the most significant actions of the siege with an attritional battle sapping the Royalist manpower if not their moral. The Parliamentary rather than that of the Scottish army on the other side of the Trent carried out a more traditional slow investment of the town. Sapping and developing a series of advancing trench systems in comparatively less hostile environment out of the floodwater and mud of the island.


This map shows the location of the Sandhills Sconce (circled) the oval shows the location of the Spring House public house. The square marks the location of the main source of extra gravel needed for the building of the several defensive structures upon the island. This pit is shallow and easily identifiable using google satellite imagery. (© Ordnance Survey)

The gravel pit ‘earthworks’ displayed in the 1899 OS Map of Newark. (© Ordnance Survey)


Thanks is due to the Staff at the National Civil War Museum, Newark.



Anon, 1532. Map of River Trent between Newark on Trent and Nottingham. British Library, London.

Anon, 1740. A Survey of the Two Branches of ye Trent. Held at Newark Library.

Anon, 1766-70. Papers of Newark upon Trent Corporation (Held by Nottingham Records Office.) Newark on Trent.

John Smeaton, 1812. Reports of the late John Smeaton, F.R.S. made on various occasions, in the course of his employment as a civil engineer.  Vol. I p.217-221, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, London.

Howitt RCL and BM, 1963. A Flora of Nottinghamshire. Published Privately, Derby and Sons, Nottinghamshire.

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