Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire – St Mary Magdalene

Various churches have not been written up over the summer (I am typing this on 16 September). Be patient, I’ll get there. On 17 July we spent several hours in the Civil War Centre at Newark – website – which is well worth a visit (it also incorporates the town’s museum). Displays from the Newark Torc, through the Civil War (General Monk’s wheelchair), through to the Suffragettes. It also incorporates the theatre café (and is fully accessible).

Then we went into the church of St Mary Magdalene – SK 799539. It is just off the Market Place, and open most of the time. With the slogan “Your town, your church” and a good website, there is plenty going on. There is a link to an incredible historical resource here.

Newark is a crossing place. The River Trent is crossed by the Old North Road, the Great Northern Railway by the Midland. The first church here was a Saxon one, which stood in the manor of the Earl of Mercia and is wife, Lady Godiva (the other beautiful woman who has set Coventry alight). A new church was built about 1180, when the parish was under the control of the Gilbertine Priory of St Katherine on the south side of Lincoln – the crypt and the four large crossing pillars date to this time. By 1230 the present west tower was began in the Early English style – in 1227 Henry III allowed six oaks from Sherwood Forest for the repair of the church. A 200-year rebuild started in 1310 – can you imagine C21-us having a 200-year vision? – the South Aisle started in 1312. By the time of the Black Death aisle, tower and spire were complete. Nave, north aisle, chancel and choir aisles were finished by the second half of the C15, then the transepts were added. During the Middle Ages there were 16 altars and chapels for the various guilds, most of these were destroyed at the Reformation. The church was also damaged by the Puritans. The places was full of galleries in the C18, then these were cleared during a Victorian restoration. C20 work has maintained the fabric, repainted the ceilings, and cleared some pews for nave worship and coffee. Outside and in – it is a wow church.

The lower part of the font dates from the C15. The bowl from 1660. The monument to the Markham family was placed here from Cotham church – it depicts Anne “daughter of John Warburton of Cheshire, Knight, wife to Robert Markham of Cotham, Esquire” who died on 17 November 1601. She had four daughters and three sons.

There is a lot of Victorian glass in the south aisle, some of it by Kempe, and a lovely selection of memorials to various worthies. The Pieta is by the Newark artist Robert Kiddey.

We continued up the south aisle, passed the Chantry Chapel provided by the will of Robert Markham in 1505. On the outside of the Markham Chapel is the Dance of Death – “as I am today, so you will be tomorrow”.  The Holy Spirit chapel contains C14 and C15 glass, put together properly in 1957. There’s a couple of nice brasses (one is William Phyllypott, who established one of the town’s charities by his will in 1557), and a memorial to Hercules Clay, whose house was destroyed in the Civil War but who escaped with his family as a result of a dream. His story is told in some of the AV in the Civil War Centre, and a sermon is preached annually in his memory.

The Lady Chapel at the east end has thirteen stone seats at its west side, dating from the C15. Above them is a mosaic based on the Van Eyck Altarpiece in Ghent cathedral, depicting Christ as the Sacrificial Lamb. You look down and remember a child, look up an admire the ceiling. Turn around and enjoy the East Window – made by Hardman, in memory of Prince Albert, provided by public subscription in 1864. The crucifixion with Christ in Glory above. Very strong colours.

St George’s chapel was re-furbished as a War Memorial after WW1, and the window shows Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Thomas Mering’s Chantry Chapel – he died 1505.

There are three C17 monuments with busts. Thomas Atkinson (died 1661), Robert Ramsey (“a servant to His Majesty” died 1639), and John Johnson (Alderman and twice Mayor of Newark, died 1659). The Crucifixion is also by Robert Kiddey, 1900-1984 “artist, sculpture, teacher and resident of Newark”. Nice carvings at the top of the pillars.

Another memorial brass on the floor, and a wonderful memorial – I hope the mason was paid by the word. Anne Taylor died 1757. She was the first wife of Dr Robert Taylor, physician to the King – website.

I did not give the chancel the attention it deserved. The parclose screen on the north and south side, and the chancel screen itself, date to 1508. The choir stalls are 152os, and I missed the misericords. The reredos was designed by Ninian Comper, 1937.

We left as the Verger was waiting to lock up – but he gave us all the time we wanted, and then welcomed someone else who wanted to pray. It felt a very special, welcoming church. We then found a second hand bookshop across the road. We like Newark.



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