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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

Penny Loaf Day, Nottinghamshire

The town of Newark-on-Trent was a wealthy and significant one in days past, and during the English Civil War it was a vital Royalist stronghold from which the King's forces would venture on raids throughout the region - the town motto 'Trust in God and sally forth' is derived from this. In March 1643 the Roundheads were besieging the place, but it was able to hold out against them as it in fact did three times during the war, only surrendering eventually at Charles I 's orders after he had been taken prisoner.
The splendidly named Hercules Clay, a rich merchant and an Alderman of the town, lived in a rather grand house on Stodman Street (now a bank, with a plaque commemorating Mr Clay high on the wall), opposite the Governor's House so-called, the Royalist HQ during the Civil War. On the night of March 11 1643 Clay dreamt three times that his residence was aflame, and taking this as a sign from Providence he rushed his family out of the building. Just after they left a bomb fired from Beacon Hill, intended for the Royalist HQ, crashed through the Clay house.
In recognition of his miraculous cheating of death Clay left two bequests to the town: 100 to yield interest to pay for an annual sermon to be preached in St Mary Magdalene's church , with the corporation in attendance; and 100 to provide interest to purchase penny loaves for Newark's poor.
The traditional service continues to this day, but the penny loaf custom has been amended, partly because it got out of hand in terms of the demand - huge numbers from all around the district would turn up on March 11 - and partly perhaps because of riotous behaviour associated with the custom, including ochre being smudged on people's faces by rough boys in the town. Moving the ceremony from the church to the Town Hall failed to cure the problems, and these days it has reverted to the church, but only for the choristers present on the day of the service remembering Hercules Clay and his remarkable escape.
Hercules Clay has his plaque on the bank on Stodman Street, and is also recalled by a memorial in the ancient and very impressive parish church, near the east end of the south wall.

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