Throughout the centuries, Nottinghamshire has been the scene of some highly significant moments in British history. From rebel writers who widened the boundaries of literature to the emergence of the Luddite movement in the 19th century, our landscape has seen its share of dramatic revolution and revolt.

Newark’s National Civil War Centre tells of the bloody Civil War, which raged throughout the British Isles during the 17th Century. Nottingham’s central position within the UK made it a decisive location during the war. Not only did Charles I raise his royal standard at Nottingham Castle to commence the war, but he also found refuge in the nearby market town of Newark and its robust fortress by the river.

We were recently invited to the launch of the museum’s exciting Summer of Spies, and having been fascinated by the world of espionage when I was a child, I was excited to see what they had in store...

National Civil War Centre | Visit Nottinghamshire

Having never been to the Civil War Centre before, and not too familiar with the ins and outs of the Civil War, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. With a modern facade leading to a 16th century hall and courtyard, the unusual building has a number of curious features to spot including a ‘half door’ on the outside of the building and schoolboy graffiti carved into the wooden beams in the hall. At the same time, there are utterly modern facilities and excellent accessibility throughout the building.

The museum itself tells you all you need to know about the nine-year war between King Charles I's Cavaliers and Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads, and while some of the information may be quite challenging for younger children, there are lots of props, films, pictures and games to keep them engaged. Currently there are two exhibitions showing, Cutting Edge: The Changing Tools of War, and Shaking the Foundations: The Quest for Democracy, both of which run until November.

The quality of their presentation is one of the things I really appreciate about the Civil War Centre, not only within their exhibitions. Throughout their social media and website, you can find photography and films to to draw your interest, and the scenery, props, and acting mirror the quality modern day television. You can tell a good museum when they seamlessly cater for both children and adults within their exhibitions.

Now, down to the Summer of Spies!

Throughout the summer, until Sunday 2 September, the museum is hosting a range of activities exploring secret messages, disguises, codes and espionage during the Civil War. On the opening evening, a nearby school was had been invited, and upon our entrance we were met with bearded children, mini spies brandishing DIY telescopes, and a buzz of excitement from the children.

Out in the wide courtyard children were enjoying locating cypher wheels, firing the (very realistic) toy cannon, and putting on spy disguises. Flower gardens sit beneath the old stone walls, a there’s a big lawn for the children to play on. Inside, workstations packed with crafts were dotted around and I felt a small pang of nostalgia for a sunny school trips and being seven.

National Civil War Centre | Visit Nottinghamshire

During the Summer of Spies, you can take part in numerous activities that have a creative edge and spur a sense of adventure. You can make a 17th Century spy kit, or learn about how to seal letters, create a new identity with a disguise, make the best secret hiding places or learn about invisible ink. The only danger might be if your child gets too adept at these skills!

We also heard from an anonymous spy, who told us about the inventive methods used to smuggle secret messages to Newark during the war. You can catch his story everyday throughout the Summer of Spies, along with performances from Aphra Behn, a playwright, poet, translator and spy who paved the way for women in literature for centuries after her death.

National Civil War Centre | Visit Nottinghamshire

All in all, I think the Summer of Spies is going to be fantastic. The activities are creative yet educational, the exhibitions reveal a fascinating portrait of the turbulent Civil War, and the building is pleasant and well equipped. It is well worth exploring Newark further if you haven’t yet been. Within the town you can also see the ruins of Newark Castle, visit the bustling market place, and there are some great places to eat and drink.

The Summer of Spies runs until Sunday 2 September at the National Civil War Centre in Newark. You can also receive a 20% discount for families of any size when there is at least one paying child! To find out more, please click here.

This blog was written by Sophie Gargett, Marketing Assistant at Visit Nottinghamshire.


National Civil War Centre Newark
National Civil War Centre Newark

Explore the richly dramatic English Civil War, seeing stories of gunpowder, plague and plot as you walk through the fantastic galleries of Newark's National Civil War Centre.

Summer of Spies at National Civil War Centre
Family Fun
Newark Civil War Centre | Visit Nottinghamshire

Visit Newark's National Civil War Centre for some extra-special espionage themed actvities this holiday with Summer of Spies!

Shaking the Foundations: The Quest for Democracy
Shaking the Foundations: The Quest for Democracy at National Civil War Centre, Nottinghamshire

The issue of suffrage has occupied the minds of politicians and scholars for nearly 400 years. Charting back to the Putney Debates of the 1640s, the National Civil War Centre's new exhibition, Shaking the Foundations: The Quest For Democracy, will travel through the Levellers, the Chartists and the Suffragettes to bring us right up to the modern day, looking at how the debate has raged through the past four centuries and considering the evolution of what democracy has meant to all of those fighting for its cause.

Cutting Edge: The Changing Tools of War
Cutting Edge: The Changing Tools of War at National Civil War Centre

The period between 1618 and 1651 saw transformations both in the roles of soldiers and in how they armed themselves. No longer did they want to be weighed down by heavy armour; instead the focus shifted to new, more sophisticated weaponry that was fit to equip the New Model Army, the country's first professional standing force.



  1. Zoe Dixon
    My experience of watching Summer of Spies at the National Civil War Centre was fantastic. The building itself is beautiful, and I enjoyed exploring the different areas of the building. The film was very well put together, and it gave a great insight into what life was like during the war. In the interval, I read article to understand the significance of literature of that era. The film was very detailed and I felt like we got to know each character quite well. We saw their struggles, their emotions, and their feelings toward the war. It was easy to connect with them because they were portrayed as real people with real lives who were just trying to survive and find happiness in this terrible time.

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