Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Queen's Sconce, Newark

The Queen's Sconce is an English Civil War Star Fort constructed in 1644 as part of the Royalist defence works surrounding the town of Newark.

As part of our weekend away at Wargames Foundry and Partizan a group of us decided to head out from Lincoln on Sunday morning to visit the sconce before heading off to the show.

Sconce and Devon Park

The Sunday was a perfect day to head down to the suitably named Devon Park, named after the River Devon that flows close by rather than our home county, as the torrential rain on Saturday had given way to sunshine.

The town of Newark was strategically important for its position astride the crossroads of the Great North Road and the Fosse Way that ran north-south and east-west through the English countryside and was also a key local centre for bread making and the production of gunpowder.

The importance of the town is certainly reflected in the scale of this defence work which catches the eye immediately on entering the park

Named after Queen Henrietta, the sconce was built on high ground south of the town perfectly situated to cover the approaches via the Fosse Way over the crossing of the River Devon and also preventing the ground to be used by attacking Parliamentary forces intent on bombarding the town.

The map shows the layout of the defences surrounding Newark with the Queen's Sconce on the south side and the intersecting roads passing through the town.

The earth ramparts and ditch still present a formidable obstacle despite their gradual erosion over the intervening centuries and are easily visualised steeper and deeper with projecting wooden stakes designed to impede any attempt at assault.

Perfectly designed to soak up or deflect round shot whilst providing vantage points for internal artillery and musket fire able to enfilade any attacking infantry the whole earthwork covers an area of slightly more than three acres with a thirty foot wide ditch up to fifteen feet deep.

The interior of the sconce viewed from the eastern rampart
Constructed from local river gravel and probably strengthened with timber posts, the sconce has an internal area about three-hundred feet across and would possibly have protected internal buildings to house the garrison, anywhere between twenty to one hundred and fifty men as circumstances dictated, and magazines for the ammunition needed to supply the four to five cannon positioned one in each arrow head bastion, with an extra gun positioned to cover the southern approaches.

View from the eastern rampart looking towards the northern bastion
Besieged on three occasions, it was the second attempt that revealed weaknesses in the town's defences leading to the construction of the King's and Queen's Sconces (see the map above of the towns defences).

The eastern bastion with the spire of the church in Newark visible on the centre right horizon 

This view from the top of the rampart gives a good impression of how steep the sides are and were back in 1644
The map used above positioned in the eastern bastion proved a useful reference check as to how the sconce fitted in to the town defences
The defences may have been bolstered after the second siege but Parliamentary determination to take it still persisted leading to the third and final siege in November 1646 when a combined Parliamentary and Scots army of about 16,000 men arrived before the town after reducing the Royalist strongholds in the surrounding countryside.

The northern ditch facing towards the town
The Royalists with less than 2,000 men ran a spirited defence, launching raids on the besiegers through the winter of 1645-46, but into the spring the Parliamentary forces damned local rivers to stop the flour mills production and with that and the complete encirclement of the town gradually reduced the garrison and townsfolk to starvation rations with the forced drawing of water from town wells.

The western ditch from the top of the ramparts possibly where the timber drawbridge allowed access
As the stranglehold tightened the misery only increased with the outbreak of plague and the storming of the town looked imminent. It was then that Charles, forced to flee from Oxford by the approaching New Model Army, entered the Scottish camp on 5th May 1646 to surrender to them rather than Parliament, in a last ditch attempt to divide and conquer his enemies.

The interior area would have originally housed the garrison quarters and magazine
The Scots however were having none of the King's scheming and demanded that he order the immediate surrender of the town which he did and Newark surrendered the following day.

The surrender of Newark is seen as the effective end of the First Civil War.

The southern rampart and ditch here and below face out towards the southern approaches and the Fosse Way crossing of the River Devon

As with most Royalist supporting strongholds that caused Parliament the most problems their defences were very often ordered destroyed so as to prevent any further problems thereafter, and Newark was not exempt with the defences of the town ordered to be destroyed.

However we have the plague to thank for the survival of the Queen's Sconce as, with the Scottish army keen to head back north with their Royal captive and the Parliamentary troops keen to be away from the source of the outbreak, it was the few villagers and townsfolk who were left that had to carry out the dismantling of the defences.

Much reduced themselves in numbers by the losses suffered during the siege and by the subsequent plague there were very few people around to carry out the orders and we have been left the finest example of English Civil War fortifications to survive in the country.

The plaque reads - The Royalist Cannon by Michael Condron commemorating Newark's role in the Civil War 2012 AD 
I have never seen anything quite like the Queen's sconce, and it is a truly impressive piece of military engineering with a fascinating history and the visit really added to our weekend away.

Sources consulted for this post:


  1. What struck me the most was how small the interior was, 150 men could easily man the walls with reserves waiting. We also enjoyed playing the 'would you hit that dog walker from here' game. Its surprising how close we worked out they could get to the Sconce before being in any real danger from muskets. Getting any further of course is a very different matter.

    I look forward to a return visit soon and seeing the Newark ECW Museum.

    1. I really enjoyed the visit and was also surprised at the compactness of the whole thing. I agree that the larger garrison would be a formidable force to try and take on behind those ramparts and ditches.
      I kept the pedestrians in shot deliberately to give the defences a sense of scale and I reckon you would probably struggle to hit any enemy infantry with a period matchlock much beyond those brave souls who clambered over the famines chucked in the ditch, with the cannon pouring on plenty of canister to deal with those further back in the queue.

  2. Very impressive! I've been meaning to see it- perhaps in August.

    1. Thanks Simon. It really is and well worth the time to take a close look. It is only about five minutes away from the show so not too much of a journey.

  3. Thanks a lot for the report and beautiful photos. all tbe best, ciao Carlo

    1. Thank you Carlo, glad you enjoyed the read,

  4. A great aside to the weekend's main event. I was impressed with the fields of fire offered from the position (even nearly 500 years later). Anyone looking to take that, better have been ready to dig a BIG burial pit !

    Nice to see a star fort without leaving these shores.


    1. Absolutely Vince, as with battlefield walking you only get a real feel for the difficulties imposed by terrain once you get your feet on it and I bet the Parliamentary troops detailed to assault that thing were rather pleased when it surrendered beforehand.


  5. Really nice post, been to Newark a few times, always meant to get to it, after this post I'll try harder!
    Best Iain

    1. Cheers Iain, I recommend it, you wont be disappointed.

  6. Great post. The picture with the person assending the slope really added some scale. Those works are steep! I wouldn't want to assault that.

    1. Thanks Adam, yes occasionally it really is handy having the odd dog walker in shot to give a sense of scale.

      As I mentioned to Vince you can just imagine the feeling of relief for the Parliamentary troops detailed to assault it the day before it surrendered, especially as the war was all but over.