48 Mill Gate

Photo: Illustrative image for the '48 Mill Gate' page
Photo:Painting by K W Burton: Keeping Newark's history alive: Newark Fine Art prints: No 5: Trent Navigation, Newark

Painting by K W Burton: Keeping Newark's history alive: Newark Fine Art prints: No 5: Trent Navigation, Newark

Commissioned by Hampson's Car Hire of Newark, who have authorised the use of the copyright

The background history of one of Newark's heritage buildings near the Trent Navigation riverside


Readers may recognise the illustrated building as that which previously hosted Mill Gate Museum and exhibition gallery. Standing, as it does, in its own courtyard, set back from the street and away from the main town centre, it is not all that easy to locate for the visitor who is unfamilar with the area.

The task of the Museum Service is to preserve and present memorabilia of bygone days (outreach and resources services are still available). But it is often forgotten that this building, which, until October 2012, was open to visitors wishing to see the past in a recreated setting, is itself an interesting artefact, being set in an historic Victorian building.

John Clark’s Oil Mill

This structure began its life in 1870 as John Clark’s oil mill, producing linseed, cotton and rape cakes, used in arable farming, by which Newark gained its market town status, as an alternative to phosphates. Its location alongside the C18th Trent Navigation Canal, or Newark branch of the River Trent, was ideal for waterborne trade, whilst the newly-opened Midland Railway line, linking East Lincolnshire with the industrial Midlands, was also convenient. This was one of the first steam-powered mills. Milling of one product or another is one of the town’s oldest industries, witnessed in the Domesday Book.

Adjoining the oil mill, at a right-angle on the north side (that nearest Castle Gate), and not to be confused with the mill, stands a building which began its life as a malting.  Later, this was to become the Trent Navigation building; that name is still visibly adorned along the riverside wall. Both buildings closed and were left desolate during the middle of the C20th, after a brief spell as a warehouse for ‘Batchelors peas’. Dereliction followed before the Mill Gate restoration project of the 1970s, during which the Mill Gate Folk Museum was established, later to become Newark’s only heritage museum after the 2005 closure of the Appleton Gate Museum. Its partner building later became the Navigation restaurant and bar. Both owned by a common landlord, they bear the single address of 48 Mill Gate.

The buildings are set back in Mill Yard (today opposite Pelham Street). This is now a car park, surrounded by the old mill cottages, still populated following renovations. A carriageway exit links with Mill Lane.

Mill Gate Museum occupied the central and south ranges of the oil mill, the former being four-storey and the latter two-storey. At all levels there are small rectangular windows now with modern glazing, whilst the longer windows on each façade show a greater respect for conservation of the original. Wooden hatchways at the higher levels were once access points reachable only by outdoor stairs or internal ladders. The ground-floor doorway that provided the entrance to the museum from Museum Yard appears to be original; other doorways and some windows are now visibly bricked-in. Round Classical arches mark the upper limits of the original windows, both on the frontages and inside the carriageway return. The building is brick with slated roofs. The south range, originally the powerhouse of the oil mill, bears witness to the chimney, although much lowered. On the riverside façade,1 the second bay of the central range still indexes a previous hoist canopy, once used for loading and unloading cargo vessels on the alongside canal to the upper storey. There was also a ground-floor loading-entrance, modernized in appearance, again on the riverside wall.

The tie-bars penetrating the outside walls bear engravings proclaiming the origin; the chimney also is marked with the name and date of the mason.

All levels of the building were redesigned to correspond with its most recent purpose of museum exhibition areas, storage space, stairways, toilets, and administrative offices, and floors were adapted, A Mezzanine Gallery was created for temporary exhibition work by contributors. The whole bears only little resemblance to the original mill bays. However, the original cruck roof is still visible in the upper areas, as is the base of the chimney stack. There are also original beamed ceilings, and cast-iron piers supporting the structure.

No photographic or artist’s work has yet been found to depict the working-mill, and one can only hazard a guess as to the location of the mill wheel. It seems likeliest that it would have been in the area to the left of the Mill Yard entrance. Here are no intermittent ceilings of any original design, for the wheel, if that was its site, would have occupied most of the four floors. Elsewhere, there is evidence of hatchways in the ground-floor ceiling, and in that of the added gallery; these would have been accessed by ladders by the Victorian mill labourers.

The closure of the mill in the early C20th was no doubt an effect of the decline of waterborne commerce and the evolution of new and heavier industry for Newark. Much of Mill Gate was to meet the same fate, reducing it to dereliction and eyesore status until the restoration project rescued the area for the sake of the tourist industry, which has superseded much of the town’s factory economy. Today, the use of this building as Mill Gate Museum has been decommissioned, and artefacts are being shipped into storage at the Brunel Drive Resource Centre.

Historians, never fear – Newark's Museum Service has not come to an end with the vacation of the Mill Gate building! Currently, there are exciting times ahead for this Service, along with other heritage bodies. As has already been noted, the outreach service continues. Furthermore, thanks to the award of a lottery grant, it is planned to relocate the exhibition facility in the Old Magnus buildings, once the site of the town's grammar school, the gift of Archdeacon Thomas Magnus to Newark in the sixteenth century. This has previously been The Newark Museum after the school moved to Earp Avenue in the early 1900s, but this site has been disused since 2005, when maintenance problems loomed. Now, this new project will not be confined to local history. It is to become a national Civil War Centre, reflecting that time of seventeenth-century conflict between the supporters of King Charles I, which included Newark, and those who fought for the cause of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell. This is scheduled to open in 2014, but further funding must be raised by local organizations and donations in supplement of the awarded lottery grant.

©Roger Peacock: 2008; 2012. Originally published under the title of Mill Gate Museum building

Revised version: 18th November 2012.


This page was added by ROGER PEACOCK on 18/12/2012.

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