Places to Visit in Scotland
- Newark Castle, Port Glasgow
Newark Castle was built on the south bank of the river Clyde at Greenock, at a point where in medieval times ships had to berth because the river was too shallow to allow them to travel further up river to Glasgow. It was also strategically located for trade with the Western Isles and - in the 1490s - was used as a base by King James IV of Scotland as he mounted a sea campaign against the Macdonald Lordship of the Isles. In 1462, Lord Macdonald of Finlaggan on Skye had entered into a secret treaty with King Edward IV of England to attack the Scottish monarchy. King James IV found out about the arrangement and eventually decided to curb the power of the Gaelic Lord of the Isles and launched a number of raids from Newark between 1493 and 1495.
The Early Castle
The estate on which the first castle was built had originally belonged to the Dennistoun family (after whom a district of Glasgow is named) but passed to the Maxwells in 1402 when Elizabeth Dennistoun married Sir Robert Maxwell. It was one of their descendants, George Maxwell who was probably the first to build a castle (Newark comes from new and "ark" or work) on the estate. This consisted of a lofty tower house containing the Lord of Newark's main accommodation, a well-defended gate house and a surrounding wall enclosing a large courtyard. Other buildings probably included a banqueting hall, kitchen and stables as well as space for staff and visitors.
Sir Patrick Maxwell
The Maxwells were powerful and influential landowners in Renfrewshire and Newark Castle remained in their ownership until 1694. Perhaps the most infamous of the castle's owners was Sir Patrick Maxwell, who became the laird in the 1580s. In an age where violence and cruelty were commonplace, he earned a reputation for ferocity against his neighbours and members of his family - while at the same time he was cultured and well educated, a pillar of society and friend of King James VI. He quarrelled with his neighbours, particularly the Montgomeries of Skelmorlie, near Largs. He murdered both Montgomery father and son - and then befriended the younger Montgomerie who became laird as a result of the crime.
During all this uncivilised behaviour, Patrick was also adding a splendid Renaissance three-storey mansion to the tower house in the 1590s - inscribing his initials and those of Margaret above the entrance door with the words "The blissing of God be heirin" with the date 1597.
Inside, the stairway to the first floor is thought to be one of the first wide stairs built in a provincial Scottish castle - turnpike stairs had been the norm until then. The extended apartments contained a fine dining room, bedrooms and even a walk-in wardrobe - the wooden doors of the clothes cupboards still survive.
Despite the initials entwined above the door, Patrick's wife Margaret was subjected to a wretched life of violence and mistreatment. Patrick's mother even complained to the authorities in Edinburgh about his cruelty and violence towards her - but got no response. When his son and daughter tried to help her, he threw them out of the house. Eventually, after 44 years of unhappy marriage - during which she bore 16 children - she escaped and crossed the river to Dumbarton, where she lived in poverty.
The Castle Today
Since early attempts to cut a navigable channel up to Glasgow had failed, the city bought 18 acres from the Maxwells to construct "New-port Glasgow" which became Port Glasgow. Over the years shipyards were constructed and as Clyde shipbuilding boomed, more and more shipyards surrounded the castle. As shipbuilding declined, the castle once again became more visible - but even today the castle is located beside the cranes of one of the last remaining shipyards on the Clyde!
The main hall has been partially furnished by the present owners, Historic Scotland, and a nice touch is to play a selection of Scots instrumental music from the middle ages which waft through the corridors of this part of the castle. Visitors can also climb to the top of the tower and look up and across the river.
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