At first glance, Southwell may seem like an ordinary English market town, but on closer inspection, historical sites of national importance reveal themselves. The city tells entertaining stories about the kings who once walked through their lanes, and is home to the Bramley apple.
This small town on the River Greet, on the edge of the Sherwood Forest, is characterized by a strong individual personality and its proud inhabitants. Although countless historic buildings vie for their favor here, the cathedral is the undisputed highlight. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the country today. The Archbishop of York began the work around 1110 and King James I admired it on his way to his coronation in London and compared it to the cathedrals of York and Durham. The unique pyramidal roofs of the square twin towers indicate from a distance why Jacob was so fascinated.
Enjoy the view from the West Gate with the unique zigzag decoration on the carved lancet from 1330, surrounded by the four huge arches that support the central tower above the crossing. Perched high above is the Madonna, one of 289 figures on the – according to architectural critic John Ruskin – “jewel of English architecture”. Although the mighty round pillars along the nave carry a 19th-century vaulted roof, the aisles are still covered by Norman vaults.
In the sanctuary, the craftsmanship of the medieval stonemasons becomes clear. 75 tiny human figures can be found here between foliage, which meanders around the pillars separating five covered seats. The choir stool dates from the 19th century and is also a masterpiece. Watch out for the finely carved nuts, berries, mistletoes, honeysuckles and lilies. A bird sings at its nest, two pigs eat acorns and mice play among ears of wheat. Bring a small flashlight and you can see the details even better.
Fascinating scenes and perhaps the best stoneworks in the whole of England can also be found at the Chapter House from 1290: a berry picking blackbird, a wondrous monkey-like creature and a leprosy priest pulling a normal priest by the hair! The craftsmanship of the stonemasons who show up at the entrance to the Chapter House will take your breath away. From a single block of stone, they created the three pillared capitals to your right, with buttercups, oak and mulberry leaves, and the garland of maple leaves that extends over the entrance.
Inside, you will be fascinated by the unique details around the 36 seats – as all visitors have been for 600 years. All scenes are from nature. First, you will be greeted by a smiling man and his dog, then you will discover a bird that frees its young from the ivy, followed by wondrous animals and monks with the caps of jesters.
The archbishop had his own house where he lived during stays in Southwell. It dates back to 1360 and is open to the public if there is no closed event. Visit Southwell during the Music Festival, which takes place over 6 days before the last Monday in August, and hear up-and-coming talents in the historic State Chamber and the majestic Minster with unparalleled acoustics.
Around the cathedral stand magnificent houses from the 18th century. You will wish to live in one of these dream homes! In the poorhouse on the outskirts, no one wanted to live. Today, the National Trust looks after the building, which is a significant example of a new architectural style in these types of accommodations. It is one of the best preserved of its kind. The sober house was built in 1824 and built so that men, women and even children were separated. It illustrates in a fascinating, though oppressive, way how society in the 19th century Britain dealt with poor, unfortunate people.
Another historic building in Southwell witnessed a nationally significant event. Charles, son of James I, took his last meal as a free man at King’s Arms, now a hotel called Saracen’s Head. On the afternoon of May 5, 1646, Charles I confronted the Scottish army besieging Newark; the beginning of 9 months of negotiations with the English Parliament, which ended with a trial and his execution. In the wood-paneled dining room of this ancient black-and-white inn, other historic celebrities were also entertained: the poet Lord Byron and Charles Dickens. Today you can dine in the time-honored building.
As expected from Byron, he fell in love with a young lady from Southwell, a daughter of the family who lived in Burgage House (on King Street). The affair was such a scandal that it almost ended in a duel between Byron and the girl’s brother. Byron’s mother lived at Burgage Manor, so during his visits he was certainly on the picturesque paths of the city. At the tourist information office on Church Street, you will receive an information brochure for a themed walk along these paths. Southwell owes its beauty to the archbishops of York, who – for their own enjoyment – put up four parks in the city.
The city is also of national importance, as the British Watch Institute is at home in Upton Hall. On Fridays, it opens its doors and presents u. a. an early 17th century timepiece and the pocket watch worn by Captain Scott on his unlucky Antarctic expedition in 1922. A younger attraction is the racecourse, one of only six all-weather tracks in the entire country. In the middle is a golf course with nine holes!
On Saturdays there is a hustle and bustle in the marketplace and Southwell lives up to its role as a market town. At the stands, you’re sure to find Britain’s favorite cooking apple: the Bramley, which was first bred here more than 200 years ago. Every October, this delicious apple is celebrated with its own festival. In the city, many independent shops and great cafes provide an interesting shopping experience. Indulge in the many temptations in the traditional sweetshop: odd-looking candies in a variety of colorful color combinations that stand in huge glass jars on the shelves. Then explore the second-hand bookstores and art galleries. Almost all visitors to this city would like to spend more time planning their departure. Remember, when planning your trip …