Friday, 31 October 2014

The Phantom Friar of Newark, Nottinghamshire

The Phantom Friar of Newark, Nottinghamshire

The ancient town of Newark has had more history crammed into its narrow streets than many cities many times the size. Hardly surprisingly, the dramatic events have left their spectral mark on the town.

The  site was inhabited in prehistoric times, but it was the Roman era that established Newark as an important town. The Romans built their mighty road the Fosse Way to link the powerful fortresses of Lincoln and Exeter, using it as a military highway to move troops rapidly around the island and subdue the native Celtic tribes. At Newark, the Fosse Way ran close to the River Trent at one of the few places where the river could be crossed with any ease. The two routes became economic arteries of later Roman Britain, and the town of Newark prospered accordingly.

After the English conquest, Newark declined somewhat, but by the time Lady Godiva, more famous for her naked ride through Coventry, inherited the place it was booming once again. In 1055 Lady Godiva gave the town to the Church. After the Norman conquest the Bishops of Lincoln fortified the hill overlooking the Trent with a wooden castle and in 1125 the present castle was begun. It was this that gave the town its modern name, derived the “New Work”, as opposed to the wooden fortification of the old site.

It is the churchmen of this period who are the oldest phantoms of Newark. Part of the town was given over to the Observant Friars, an order of churchmen noted for being rather more devoted to helping the poor and sick than were many of the more worldly clerics of that age. The Friary stood off Appleton Gate, near the northern end of town.

The end for Newark Friary came in 1531. King Henry VIII was in the midst of his dispute with the Pope, but had not yet declared the English Church to be free of Rome with himself as the new Head of the Church. As part of his dispute, Henry chose to invoke an ancient and obscure law, interpreting it in his own fashion to prove that all the clergymen in England were guilty of colluding with a foreign prince, the Pope. He offered to pardon each of them on payment of cash sums which were fairly small for each cleric, but totalled an impressive £118,840 at the national level.

The friars of Newark discussed the situation and decided that Henry’s interpretation of the law was invalid. They refused to pay. The furious king sent a squad of armed men to Newark who arrested Father John Forest and dragged him off to London. Henry wanted to make an example of somebody and that unfortunate proved to be Father Forest. He was executed after the most peremptory of trials.

Two years later, Henry had broken from Rome and was excommunicated. Two more Newark friars chose this inopportune moment to speak out, and were promptly thrown into prison. The Friary was seized by the king, closed down and its assets sold for cash to swell the royal coffers.

Exactly which of the friars it is that returns to the site of the priory is unclear. By rights, it should be Father Forest, but there is no real proof. The ghost is seen walking slowly with head bowed across the grounds of the old friary. He seems to ignore trees and modern structures as if they do not exist. For him, presumably, they don’t for he is still following the paths and corridors of the medieval buildings.

from "Haunted Places of Nottinghamshire" by Rupert Matthews
Get your copy HERE

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