History of the Park

sconce_pp3Stories surrounding the land now know as Sconce and Devon Park date back to the 14th century with the legend of St Catherine’s Well. The Park has grown over its history, to include sports provision, local nature reserves, heritage features, play equipment, riverside walks, with the central feature being the internationally significant Queen’s Sconce (a Scheduled Ancient Monument), a Civil War fortification for the town, constructed in 1644, at a key point on the River Trent and Great North Road. The Park has also been home to some of the area’s most significant industrial activity such as Scales Linen Mill in 1793 (which was then closed over a hundred years later in 1889), and the Hawton Works (gypsum quarry) was also established during the industrial revolution and by 1867 a horse drawn tramway was operating between the quarry and Spring Wharf through the Park. By 1901 the tramway was replaced by a railway, which operated through to 1951.The military was based at the Park during the First and Second World Wars.

The Park itself has been built up over the past hundred years with initial land (including the Queens Sconce and Sconce Hills) being purchased by Newark Urban Council in 1912 with play equipment being erected in 1914. Subsequent purchases were made in 1933 (Boundary Road), 1956 (Devon Pastures) and 1957 (Devon Park). The Park is the largest open space in Newark.

The Park was recently used as the venue for a television archaeology programme, “Two Men in a Trench” which looked for signs of General Poyntz’s parliamentary encampment south of the Queen’s Sconce. “While the English Civil War is famous for set-piece battles such as Edgehill, Marston Moor and Naseby, the eventual victory was decided by the long-running sieges that were waged to gain and keep control of the principal towns and cities of the land. Among the most famous and long-lasting of these sieges is that which beset the Royalist stronghold of Newark, on and off, for four years. The Parliamentary screws were tightened further between October 1645 and May 1646 – through the orders of General Poyntz – and this finally secured the surrender of the town. The legacy of that bloody period is marked today by some of the most impressive and well-preserved field fortifications anywhere in Britain.” Dr Tony Pollard, Glasgow University (visited the site as part of the Two Men in a trench TV series)

The Civil War and The Queen’s Sconce

During the Civil War Newark was under siege three times, and part of the defence system for the town was a series of fortifications. One of these fortifications is ‘fort’ made of earth, called the Queen’s Sconce.

The word ‘sconce’ is derived from the Dutch word ‘schans’ meaning fort, the English noun meaning “a small protective fortification or earthwork; a shelter” and the verb meaning “to entrench; to screen”, meanings that collectively describe the function of the King’s and Queen’s Sconce’s. These were earthworks constructed outside the town, serving as a platform for ordinance that could provide covering fire in all directions over the flat meadows and were thus intended to prevent advance of the enemy and protect the town. The location of the Queen’s Sconce on a prominent knoll (geologically – it’s a sand bar), with commanding views of the crossing point over the River Devon at Markhall bridge and the Fosse Way, suggests that it was primarily designed to cover the southern approach to the town whilst denying control of a tactically important piece of high ground to the attacking Parliamentarians.

The first English treatise to include details of such fortifications was Paul Ive’s “The Practice of Fortification’ printed in 1589 (see Appendix 4). A later treatise, “Animadversions of Warre” of 1639 by Robert Ward included a plan of a sconce beside a river, a location similar to that of the Queen’s Sconce near the River Devon. The caption reads:

“The manner of framing a Quadrangular Skonse This Foure-square Skonse, is of greater strength that your Triangle, and if it be favured with a Scituation, as great Rivers, or upon a Rocke, or where it may be flankered from the Bulworks of a Fort, it will stand in great stead; otherwise it is not to be taken for a strength of any moment. The Bulworkes and Curtines are to be made very high, thicke and strong, that it may endure the battering of the Enemies Ordnance.’

The Queen’s Sconce, named in respect of Charles loyal wife Queen Henrietta who passed through Newark in June 1643, and part of the pair of sconces guarding the town, covered an area a little over 3 acres. It is square with arrow head bastions at each corner, “surrounded by a large ditch up to 30 feet wide and between 12 and 15 feet deep, with a flat bottom and steep sides.’ The whole construction is nearly 300 feet across. The sconce is constructed of local gravel but the steep angle of repose suggests that it was reinforced in some way. The mass of the sconce was designed to absorb the impact of cannon fire and its’ shape deflect cannon balls. It is likely to have had an earthen parapet to protect troops and gun emplacements, and timber storm poles projecting horizontally from the bastions to deter access by foot soldiers. Cannon would have been located in the arrow head bastions to provide flanking lines of fire. A timber drawbridge was the most likely means of access for troops, stores and ammunition. The Sconce was manned in rotation by sections of troops stationed outside the garrison.

Brief History of Industry

1. The Scales Linen Factory

East of the knoll occupied by the Queen’s Sconce was a triangular meadow sloping gently down to the River Devon and extending to Devon Bridge and the Fosse Way, known as Farndon Road. As development began to spread from the town centre one George Scales established a linen factory at the north end of the meadow fronting the Farndon Road around 1793. The attractions of the site were available spring water, good communications and space for processes and development. There was also a ready market for some products such as the blue linen smocks made by Scales and other Newark manufacturers to clothe local agricultural workers. The opening of the Trent and Mersey canal in 1777 meant that there was transport for raw materials direct from Lancashire.

The spring, known as St Catherine’s Well, lay immediately west of the south west bastion of the Queen’s Sconce. It had entered into local mythology with a tale of 14th century knights, murder, visions, redemption and a miraculous cure wrought by the spring waters. The water’s purity and mineral content was thereafter said to have healing properties and were said to aid the washing and bleaching of the linen. The claims were scientifically tested and the analysis confirmed the waters’ mineral content but showed this to be unremarkable.

The development of Scales works comprised George Scales Junior’s house, a linen warehouse, cloth cellar, drying rooms and cottage, and a row of workers cottages known as Scale’s Row, all situated along the road frontage. A yarn warehouse and stabling lay to the rear of the linen warehouse and set back in the meadow the “house and well planned fruit garden” of Mr Scales Senior. There was a cottage beside St Catherine’s Well and a boathouse by the Devon. The meadow area, known as the Croft, was used as a Bleaching Ground, where the cloth was exposed to the sun for three weeks to a month, a process that contributed to Scales reputation of producing some of the finest linen in the country. The Scales Linen Factory was one of four manufacturers listed in a trade directory of 1834, contributing to the manufacture of linen being the chief textile industry in Nottinghamshire in the mid 19th century.

The long lasting quality of Scales’ products contributed to the firm’s demise because of the infrequency with which goods once purchased needed replacement. Having at one time employed 100 weavers, the company was forced to close in 1889. Of the whole linen factory complex only George Scales Junior’s House, now known as Orchard House, on Farndon Road remains with some worn sandstone gateposts on the eastern side.

2. Gypsum Mining and the Tramway

Throughout the period of the Scales Linen Factory’s operation, the field containing the Queen’s Sconce appears to have remained unaltered. By the end of the 19th century the town was beginning to expand with plots north and east of the sconce being laid out as allotments. Between 1897 and 1901 a tramway was constructed crossing north of the Queen’s Sconce dividing the plat on which the sconce lay, shown on the Ordnance Survey of 1901. It was built to serve Cafferata and Company’s gypsum works at Hawton south of Newark, bringing the gypsum to a quay on the Trent north of the Scales Linen Factory site.

Gypsum had long played a part in the economy of Newark, being used from Roman times and counted by John Speed as one of the commodities of Nottinghamshire. “Therein groweth a stone softer than Alabaster, but being burnt maketh a plaster harder than that of Paris; wherewith they flower their upper rooms; for betwixt the joysts they lay only long Bulrushes, and therin spread this plaster, which being thoroughly drie becomes most solide and hard, so that it seemeth rather to be firm stone than mortar, and is troad upon without all danger.” The plaster walls and ceilings of old houses in Nottinghamshire provide evidence of its frequent use.

William Cafferata of Liverpool founded the business in 1858 purchasing works at Beacon Hill in 1862 where one of the world’s highly unadulterated forms of gypsum was to be found. In 1897 the Cafferata Company leased Hawton quarry and 158 acres from John Holden, where the gypsum was of building trade quality. The company became known all over the world for the fine quality of its plaster, supplying plaster for casts in wartime, and now as British Gypsum, exporting the material to all parts of the world.

Other Civil War sites in Newark

To learn more about the Civil War in Newark visit the Gilstrap Heritage Centre, details on www.nsdc.info Or do the Newark Civil War Trail, download the Trail here

Wildlife and Biodiversity

The Park has wildlife areas, and parts of it are a designated Local Nature Reserve. There are rare species of plants, as well as rich habitats for kinds of fauna, such as kingfishers along the riverside area.