Nottingham

Exhibition marks custodian's death at Newark Castle

John Mountney in the castle grounds
Image caption Mr Mountney spent several years collecting Newark artefacts

The death of a Newark Castle custodian who swallowed weedkiller after his collection of artefacts was removed is being marked by an exhibition.

John Mountney who died in 1912, was the second custodian of the Nottinghamshire castle and spent years collecting items to illustrate the history of Newark.

In a dispute with the council, the castle's owners, Mr Mountney lost the collection and was left "heartbroken".

The exhibition of photographs is open from 13 to 17 February.

Mr Mountney became the castle's second custodian in 1901 and worked enthusiastically to promote the castle as a tourist attraction.

He turned a room in the south-west tower into a museum, displaying artefacts and curiosities which had been given to him by various people in the town.

The tragic story of Mr Mountney's death unfolded after King Edward VII paid an impromptu visit to Newark Castle in September 1909.

In the absence of civic dignitaries to welcome the King, it was left to Mr Mountney to show him around the castle. On leaving, the King signed the visitors' book.

Mr Mountney then set about producing a commemorative postcard to mark the visit but the borough council deemed it distasteful and ordered Mr Mountney to surrender the page with the signature so it could be displayed at Newark Town Hall.

Relations between Mr Mountney and the council deteriorated and on 12 February 1912, as the council was planning a new museum for the town, council workmen arrived at the castle and removed the exhibits.

The following day, Mr Mountney went to work as usual but when he did not return home for lunch, his wife Elizabeth went to look for him.

She found her husband lying dead in the south-west tower having taken some arsenic-based weedkiller.

'Tragic consequences'

At his inquest, it was revealed Mr Mountney had been offered £2 for his entire collection and left a note which read: "Might is not always right. Broken hearted."

Allan Towler, chairman of the Friends of Newark Castle and Gardens, said: "We couldn't just let the centenary of such a story pass by, a story of unforeseen tragic consequences.

"John held the visitors' book while the King signed it. He was happy and glorious afterwards, quite understandably.

"Perhaps after the council took ownership of the book, the matter should have ended there but it didn't and the rest is history."

Due to present-day conditions in the castle, the actual exhibits cannot be displayed but photos of them all have been taken.

Images include paintings, photographs, models, sculptures as well as fossils, clothes, weaponry and ancient maps.

Mr Mountney is buried in Newark Cemetery.

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