Some famous visitors to The Saracen’s Head

For Ben Jonson there is now further information in Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland: An Annotated Edition of the ‘Foot Voyage’, edited by James Loxley, Anna Groundwater and Julie Sanders (CUP 2015).  This reproduces the account of this journey given by Jonson’s ‘gossip’, his travelling companion.  Jonson spent 4 nights at Newark, from Friday evening until the following Tuesday morning, possibly being delayed by his gossip’s illness (unspecified).  While they had intended to lodge with the postmaster, Mr Atkinson, they were intercepted by Wamble of the Hart and stayed there.  During their stay “Twentyman of the Saracen’s Head and Peet Quint made good sport”.  Loxley’s note confirms that it was this Twentyman who delivered the Latin address to King James in 1603, adding that Twentyman became a great favourite with the King and participated in the King’s frequent hunts in the area.  Loxley puzzles over Peet Quint, provisionally concluding the gossip is referring to Peter Key, the assistant when Twentyman was elected alderman in 1609[1].

Further information can be gleaned from John Nichols, The Progresses of King James the First, London 1828, 4 volumes.  He records that James also visited Newark on 10 August 1612, 9 August 1614, 8 August 1616, 7 April 1617, and 8 August 1624.  I am not sure why most of these visits are in early August, unless it had something to do with James’s hunting calendar.


For the visit in 1603 Nichols provides the following narrative:

“At Newark the King was received by the Corporation, and addressed by the Alderman, Mr John Twentyman (the Town was then governed by an Alderman and twelve Assistants), in a long Latin speech [not printed in Nichols’s text]; his Majesty was so well satisfied, that he conferred upon the Orator the office of Purveyor of Wax for the King’s Household, in the Counties of Nottingham, York, Lincoln and Derby. When the King was about to leave the Town, he commanded the Alderman to repeat his Speech.  Having asked him his name, and being told that it was Twentyman, the King replied, somewhat sharply, ‘Then, by my saule, mon, thou art a Traytor: the Twentymans pulled down Redkirk in Scotland.’  Notwithstanding this, however, the learned Alderman’s Latin Speech had so won upon the KIng, that he became a great favourite, and was always near his Royal person in his numerous hunting excursions to Newsted Abbey, and other places in the forest of Shirewood. (from an autograph of John Twentyman, lately in the possession of his descendant, Samuel Twentyman, one of the Aldermen of Newark).”


Nichols also gives some details of the visit in 1617:

“From Belvoir to Newark was the ride of the 10th of August. At Newark the King slept overnight, probably in the Castle, as he had done in his progress to London in 1603, that ‘being his owne house’.  Hence he departed the following day, probably hunting, as before, ‘all the way he rode’, and having renewed his acquaintance with Mr Alderman Twentyman, to Rufford Abbey near Ollerton, on the borders of the Sherwood Forest.”


In the same year as Ben Jonson, John Taylor (the Water Poet) stopped overnight at Newark on his return from Scotland.  In his Pennilesse Pilgrimage he states that he lodged with Master George Atkinson.  Although he had walked all the way north his return journey was on horseback.

In 1634 3 soldiers from Norwich set out on a 7 week tour of 26 counties.  Early in their tour they lodged at The Saracen’s Head in Newark and found a jovial landlord named Twentyman.  ‘He was a proper fellow like a beef-eating guard-boy, and a very good intelligencer’.  He showed them the church and castle.  ‘A good intelligencer’ is a frequent term of commendation in Lieutenant Hammond’s account of this tour[2].  Many travellers found it difficult to get reliable information about the towns and districts that they visited, so someone like Twentyman who was able to show them the local sights was appreciated all the more.

 In 1697 the feisty lady aristocrat Celia Fiennes passed through Newark en route from Lincoln to Nottingham.  She appreciated the market place and the church, still showing signs of damage from the Civil War, but appears not to have eaten or lodged there.  She was very impressed by the strong ale on the road from Newark to Nottingham, and at Nottingham itself.

 In 1705 Joseph Taylor and friends rode from London to Edinburgh, also enjoying the excellent ale in Nottingham (Taylor and friends knew how to enjoy themselves).  In Newark they lodged at the Saracen’s Head, but make no comment on it.  Like Celia Fiennes they admired the market place and the stone spire of the church, and described the castle as a shattered monument to posterity of the cruel and unnatural civil wars.

 In June 1789 the great eighteenth century tourist John Byng, on a tour with friends, stayed a couple of nights at The Kingston Arms (later named The Clinton Arms, and located next door to the Saracen’s Head). He records that the food was good and cheap, the first night’s supper consisting of roasted chickens, spatch-cocked eels, cold ham, with tarts and custards.  Byng made a day’s circuit of the surrounding countryside, and ate dinner at The Saracen’s Head in Southwell.  On the night of 31 May 1791 he again stayed at The Kingston Arms.  This time he was journeying alone (with a servant) and feeling rather depressed.  His charge for the overnight stay was 5 shillings and 2 pence, made up as follows:

Supper             1/-  6d

Wine                1/-  3d

Brandy             1/-  6d

Rushlight                2d

Tea                         9d

It is quite normal to find no charge for accommodation, but unusual that he records nothing for stabling and fodder. Perhaps his consumption of wine and brandy provided the landlord with an adequate profit on his stay.



Anon [Lt Hammond], A Relation of a Short Survey of 26 Counties, Observed in a seven weeks Journey begun on August 11, 1634; By a Captain, a Lieutenant, and an Ancient, All three of the Military Company in Norwich.  Edited by L.G. Wickham-Legg, London 1904.

Christopher Morris (editor), The Journeys of Celia Fiennes, Cresset Press 1947.

Joseph Taylor, A Journey to Edenborough in Scotland, now first printed from the original manuscript, William Brown, Edinburgh 1903.

C Bruyn Andrews (editor), The Torrington Diaries, containing the Tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng between the Years 1781 and 1794, Methuen Library Reprints 1970 (first published 1934).

[1]  but see below, where Twentyman is described as the Alderman at the time of King James’s visit in 1603.

[2]  According to the OED the primary meaning of ‘intelligencer’ is a secret agent or spy, with a more neutral secondary meaning of a messenger or informant.  With his military background Lt Hammond is probably punning on the two senses of the word.  Curiously the OED does not not include among its citations the splendid description of Richard as ‘hell’s black intelligencer’ in Shakespeare, Richard III, Act 4, Scene 4.


Compiled by Tim Griffiths, April 2017

Tim Griffiths lives in South Shields and is a member of Durham County Local History Society.  In 2015 he published “A Place Quite Northward: Visitors to Northumberland 1500-1850”, and is currently researching a possible companion volume on visitors to County Durham.  In my first book I did not have a great deal to say about the route north but hope to cover it in more detail in the next.