Newark is a splendid place to spend an afternoon, with a plethora of small eating and drinking establishments, and the “National Civil War Museum”. In the same descriptive vein, NQM is the Nation’s “Most Comprehensive WW2 Wargame”.*
Lest this review sound as if the place is not worth a visit, I should hastily add that it is, but that what you find is an excellent local museum that covers the sieges of Newark, and sets it in the context of the English Civil War.** When we visited, a Lawrence of Arabia exhibition was on, which was fun. Who doesn’t love the film? 28mm Figure fans will enjoy the diorama of a train ambush.
The museum exhibits give a good Royalist, town-centric view of the conflict, which is fine, because where else would you go to find out stuff about the sieges of Newark? There is also a rather nice exhibition regarding battlefield medicine and surgery, including an interactive exhibit that allows you to use a musket ball extractor on a suitably gory arm. The ball probably hit the brachial artery from its location! The claim that advances in medicine would not be equalled until WWI are overstated though, (anaesthesia in 1829, inoculation in 1796 and nursing in the Crimean War all spring to mind. Proper Anoraks can visit the two-room Museum of Anaesthesia at the Royal College of Anaesthetists opposite the BBC to have their senses thoroughly deadened.
As has been commentated on previously, by others; museums nowadays are interactive experiences to keep the kiddies happy, so we were in our element! Kiddies learn that armour is heavy, and the Governor’s mansion can be destroyed with one ranging shot and one shot for effect by a heavy gun that has digital sights. Adults are left wanting a more balanced view, and more stuff to look at. A diorama of one of the sieges shown on the website was not in evidence. Cromwell was the ghost in the building (Visit Huntingdon for the opposite treatment).
One of the interactive displays gave a good flavour of the shifting balance of power through the war(s) without detail such as town names. Chandler did it better with a few maps, without having to swat kids away that squeeze between you, aimlessly press a couple of buttons, then who wander off to the next exhibit that makes cannon-shot noises. This leaves you back at the default menu, trying to recover the events of 1643 on the interactive timeline.
Honestly, curators, having to press a touch screen to bring up pop-up boxes is not a good way to scan information, I do it for a living, so I have an opinion! We went on an uncrowded Sunday, a crowded one would have been worse. Information was there, if you took the time to read a lot of typeface on boards in a relatively dimly lit main room (but I can do that in a book). It seemed to me that there was a disconnect between the hard information and the interactive stuff
My idea for an interactive display, is a set of stocks that lock for a pound a minute. Anyone can add coins when your child is in there. Proceeds to widows and orphans! In the Tudor Hall, Prince Rupert was holding forth in full cosplay; we gave him a miss. So, in summary, the museum is worth a visit if you are passing, but should be titled the “Civil War Sieges of Newark Museum“.
Newark Castle is also worth a visit – the river facade is impressive, I expected it to feature more in the museum though. The river walk is pleasant, with pubs clustered around the town lock (what could possibly go wrong?) There is a nice micro brewery tucked away behind the riverfront, and an excellent teashop by the old post office behind the market square. We scoffed, quaffed, then came home.
** You are firmly corrected and told that they were the British Civil Wars, covering Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The NHS conducts this sort of rebranding exercise for fashionable diseases all the time.