Newark's thinnest house : Origins continue to puzzle historians
An investigation is under way to solve the mystery of how one of Newark’s most curious buildings came into existence.
Mrs Patty Temple, the curator of Newark Town Hall Museum and Art Gallery, is appealing to anyone who might know more about the history of Newark’s thinnest house to come forward.
Visitors to the Market Place could be forgiven for not noticing the unassuming building — because it is only 6ft 9ins wide.
Sandwiched between Newark Town Hall and the NatWest branch, at first glance it looks like an annexe of the bank.
Many people who spot the building ask Mrs Temple or one of her volunteer guides about its origin.
Unfortunately, the answers are limited because little is known about the history of the three-storey building.
The thinnest house, which is also known as the little house, was at some point incorporated into the town hall.
But when that happened, and the reason why, has remained a mystery, despite extensive efforts to find out.
While it is not known when the house was built, it is believed to pre-date the town hall.
The house is thought to have been part of a group of Georgian buildings, probably shops, that gradually made way for the expansion of the bank and town hall.
The central part of the town hall, including its balcony and columns, was built in 1776 by John Carr, of York.
The north wing, which is on the right side of the town hall as viewed from the Market Place, was built at the same time and was originally a townhouse.
A pen and ink drawing by Edward Eyre in 1776, which can be seen in the town hall, shows the buildings at that stage.
The south wing, on the left of the town hall, was built later but it is not known when. It was also used as a townhouse.
Wings were private houses
Mrs Temple said: “I don’t know the date of when that townhouse was added.
“The two wings were two private houses, probably to get rent to pay for the expense of building a very posh town hall.”
At some point, Newark Borough Council incorporated the townhouses into the town hall, but when that happened also remains a mystery.
The building that would become the thinnest house was incorporated into the left townhouse and was probably home for many years to the keeper of the town hall.
It is not possible to walk from the ground floor of the thinnest house to the first floor without using the staircase in the adjacent townhouse.
It is not known whether a staircase once existed or whether the keeper of the town hall would have had to use the townhouse.
The thinnest house is accessed from the Market Place by a staircase next to what would have been the front door of the left townhouse, or south wing.
Inside, immediately on the left, is a short flight of stairs leading to a lockable door with a letter box.
The archway underneath the house would have led to stables for the private house and town hall.
Today, it leads to the town council’s markets and carparks office.
A photograph taken before 1902, which was unearthed by museum volunteer Mr Godfrey Cozens, shows the thinnest house was once adjacent to a printing firm owned by the Perfect family.
At first glance, it looks like they were both part of the same building, but the thinnest house was separate.
Mrs Temple said descendants of the Perfect family visited the town hall last year.
“They were interested in everything we had to tell them,” she said.
The family told Mrs Temple their ancestors learned the printing trade from John Ridge, who printed the works of poet Lord Byron.
“Every so often people will come in and give me a nugget of information, and that is brilliant,” said Mrs Temple.
She said the shape and roofline of the thinnest house were different to the adjacent townhouse and it was not known why the two were incorporated.
“There is still a great mystery about the town hall and its development,” she said.
In the 1970s the thinnest house had perhaps its most famous visitor.
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal was in the town to open Southfield House, on Millgate, which provided sheltered accommodation for the elderly.
She visited the thinnest house to collect money raised for Save The Children, of which she was president.
A toilet was fitted in the thinnest house for her visit.
In the last 30 years, the sitting room of the first floor, adjacent to the Mayor’s Parlour, has been used as a robing room.
It is used by the Mayor of Newark, deputy mayor, mace bearers and town crier before and after civic functions.
The downstairs room is used as a laundry room and the top floor for storage.
Mrs Temple said her volunteer guides loved to show visitors the house because it was unique.
“We pretend the tiny room where the mayor is robing is the main bedroom,” she said.
She said volunteers also pretended the room downstairs would have been the living room and the small room occupied by the toilet would have been a bathroom.
Children who recently visited the town hall were encouraged to draw the house and some of their work is on display in the museum.
Mrs Temple said: “We are trying to show children that Newark has got such an amazing heritage.
“People are fascinated by the house.
“All this history and heritage is something I am trying to promote.”
The Mayor of Newark, Mrs Rita Crowe, encouraged people to visit the thinnest house and the town hall.
She said: “There is so much history that Newark has got and so much history in this building.”
If anyone has answers to some of the mysteries behind Newark’s thinnest house, they should contact the town council on 01636 680333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org