Maxwell’s house | The ‘Old Wark’ | The new wark | A nasty piece of work
Newark Castle is a rediscovered treasure. For too long it lurked behind the giant cranes and sheds of the Clyde’s great shipyards. Only recently has it re-emerged to take its rightful place in the townscape of Port Glasgow.
Newark is a Maxwell house. A junior branch of this powerful southern Scottish family acquired the lands through marriage in 1402. They remained lords until 1694. Everything the visitor sees today is their handiwork. The name ‘new wark’ (meaning new building work) came into use in the later 15th century, when the oldest part of the present complex was built!
The ‘Old Wark’
Sir George Maxwell built the first castle on acquiring the barony of Finlaystone from his father in 1478. He was subsequently styled ‘of Newwerk and Finlanstone’. His contribution was the tall tower house at the SE corner, and the gatehouse on the west side of the courtyard. The gunholes shaped like inverted keyholes confirm the construction date.
Despite the subsequent alterations, these two structures remain fine examples of the late-medieval Scottish tower-house residence. An early visitor to the castle was James IV in 1495, who stayed for one night before embarking on the ship Flower
for the Hebrides, to quell disturbances there.
The new wark
The ‘new wark’ was contributed by Sir Patrick Maxwell, who became laird in the 1580s. The date 1597 appears above the front doorway. Patrick appears to have demolished the earlier great hall, along the north side of the courtyard, and built a new self-contained residence in its place. At the same time, he incorporated the old tower into the ensemble, and had the courtyard wall, called a barmkin, rebuilt to its present alignment.
Sir Patrick’s handiwork is an essay in Renaissance architecture. Executed in warm red sandstone, it combines projecting angle-turrets, crow-stepped gables, cable mouldings, pedimented windows and doorways in a masterful and exquisite way. Newark ranks amongst the best secular buildings from that period to survive.
A nasty piece of work
Sir Patrick’s building work may have been refined, but he himself was anything but. He murdered several neighbours – including two members of the Montgomery of Skelmorlie family in one day. He even killed his own kin.
But his most sorry victim was his poor wife, Lady Margaret Crawford. Even Patrick’s own mother took pity on her, lodging a complaint about his conduct with the Privy Council in 1595. Lady Margaret too tried to have her ‘unkind and unnatural husband’ restrained, alleging that he had attacked her with a sword, and kept her locked in her chamber for six months, subsisting only on bread and water. After 44 years of marriage, during which she gave him 16 children, she finally fled across the Clyde to Dumbarton, where she died. Sir Patrick was never called to account.