Tunnel historians dig out highwayman’s story

Scores of history-hunters from Newark and beyond experienced a glimpse of the town’s hidden heritage and an encounter with a notorious highwayman when they grasped a rare opportunity to tour cellars and tunnels underneath shops and former coaching inns.

The free tours, organised by the Newark Town Centre Hidden Heritage Group with support from Newark and Sherwood District Council, captured the public’s imagination and were so popular that they were hugely oversubscribed.

There is already a waiting list for the next tours, likely to be held in late November.

“We had a great response, with a lot more people asking for places than we expected, and the feedback after the tours has been really good,” said Hidden Heritage Group Treasurer Jane Murphy.

Newark Tourist Information Assistant Diane Redmile said: “Demand for the tunnels tours has been terrific. All the underground tours were full for both Wednesday and Saturday(October 23 and 26)and we put on two extra tours, which were also full.”

The Hidden Heritage group was formed earlier this year when tests using ground-penetrating radar were initiated to look for scientific evidence to back up local folklore about extensive secret tunnels under the town, dating back centuries.

For the tour days on Wednesday and Saturday the group was granted access to spaces under Clinton Arms Yard. The Clinton Arms, The Old White Hart and the Saracen’s Head were coaching inns which together provided stabling for 90 horses and had extensive cellars.

“The tours gave us the opportunity to help people become more aware of their local history as well as exploring underground areas that they would never normally see,” said Hidden Heritage Group chair Anne Coyne.

Each group passed through modernised subterranean passages of breeze blocks and strip lighting before delving deeper into a labyrinth of centuries old service tunnels and storage areas. Here volunteer guides such as Derek Joel told them more about the tunnels while passing around aged artefacts. Including clay pipes, an old medicine bottle, scissors, a pewter plate and goblet and even an old drinking vessel fashioned from bone.

Mr Joel also revealed that The Clinton Arms, then known as The Talbot, was the meeting place of a 17th-century gang led by highwayman John Nevison, nicknamed ‘Swift Nick’. He also said that escapades attributed to Dick Turpin were in fact the work of Swift Nick - so-called because he committed a 4am robbery in Kent then rode on horseback the 200 miles to York. Then he put a wager on a game being played by the Lord Mayor.
 
More ground-penetrating radar investigations by Trent and Peak Archaeology are due to take place in November in the Castlegate and Bargate areas when Severn Trent Water will be working on major improvements to town centre sewers.
 
Anne Coyne said the Hidden Heritage group would like to thank Oakgate Group Plc, owners of the St Mark’s Place Shopping Centre for allowing access, Trent and Peak Archaeology and the Newark and  Sherwood District Council Museum Service for the loan of objects. As well as Trent and Peak archaeologist Genevieve Carver for volunteering to lead tours.

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