The National Civil War Centre, Newark - re-visited

I'm a bit of a fan of the National Civil War Centre and Newark in general; the centre and Newark having graced the pages of this blog a number of times. Well the Centre has had a revamp.

So much of a revamp that rather than trying to re-write the previous entry it made more sense to write a fresh entry.

On entering the museum the ground floor has stayed pretty much the same - a history of Newark gallery, and then the main gallery. The main gallery boasts an impressive display of arms and armour (mostly on loan from the Royal Armouries), interactive displays, Civil War era 'civilian' artefacts (including Newark siege tokens, and a deserters' hand branding iron). The multimedia theatre presents three short films, three in the morning and a different three in the afternoon. Not forgetting the dressing up for small and no-so-small people.

The World Turned Upside Down is the new exhibition which replaces the excellent arms and armour display, and the medical exhibition. There is a superb guidebook available (free) to this new exhibition.

An automaton at the entrance to the new exhibition

First impressions? It's very, very red. The graphics and the interpretation panels dominate the exhibition. They explain the political upheaval and world upside down-ness very well, they are just a bit too red for my liking. Centre stage in the room is a large display cabinet exhibiting Fairfax's riding gauntlet and a scold's bridle.

Currently on loan from the Cromwell Museum is Cromwell's hat, and his mortuary sword.

And in the interests of political balance there is also a small fragment of Charles's sash which he wore to his execution.

The second room of the exhibition isn't dominated by the colour of the decor. Highlight is a Cromwell life mask, although doubt has been placed on whether he would have undergone the process involved in making such a mask.

I have to confess that I am a bit torn about this new exhibition - it is good, it explains the endemic chaos of the period well. However, I feel that the emphasis is too heavily slanted towards interpretation panels over artefacts. Although, with the title of the exhibition it is probably inevitable that this would be the case.

On the top floor is the other new exhibition 'Fake News', which looks at the role of propaganda, and the telling of untruths to aid one's political cause. The exhibition, rightly, covers 'fake news' from the rise of the printing press and its role in the Civil Wars, through to the modern explosion in communication (the internet) and some of the current exponents of the art.

There are some new items on display, many of which I haven't seen before, some I didn't know existed.

A number of items relating to Charles's execution:

The sewing kit that was used to reattach the King's head to his body (for burial)

A handkerchief soaked in the King's blood

A vial of the King's blood, and his executioner's hood

A number of Boye, Prince Rupert's war poodle, items:

His collar and footprint.

Of the two new exhibitions at the NCWC I think this is the stronger of the two. The balance between interpretation/interaction and artefacts is much better in my opinion.

But what has happened to the excellent arms and armour exhibition artefacts I hear you ask?

Most are still there, albeit tucked away on the landings and passageways of the museum. There is a cabinet on display in the entrance to the museum, which when I visited was obscured by a volunteer who had set up camp in front of it and wasn't for moving.

Black Tom's wheelchair is somewhat disappointingly, for such an important artefact, tucked away in a corner on the ground floor: I feel this would better be displayed where the sizeable collection of horses's heads (on a stick) and dogs are stored.

The majority of the remaining items are crammed onto the landing below The World Turned Upside Down gallery. Sadly Black Tom's boots are no longer on display.

A difficult conundrum for the museum's curators undoubtedly, they now have a collection on display that can truly be described as a national collection and not enough space to display it correctly. In an ideal world, once the Tudor dormitory reopens, that would be an ideal space to display the arms and armour in a manner more befitting. I am sure this could be done sympathetically and still allow the room to still be viewed.

Despite my, relatively minor grumbles, this really is a good day out (if combined with the Civil War Trail and the Queen's Sconce).

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  1. Thanks for posting this. Would love to visit this museum next time in the UK.

  2. Thinks: it's about time I paid my mum a visit.

    1. Of course it is! A detour to NCWC, well it would make sense, if you are in the area...


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