Saturday, 22 June 2013

Newstead Abbey - The House

Newstead Abbey is only opened at the weekend, so I went to take a look at the place where the poet Lord Byron lived for six years.

Newstead Abbey is best known as the home of the British Romantic poet George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron (1788-1824), who lived here from 1808 until 1814.
Originally Newstead was a monastic house founded by Henry II in about 1163 as an Augustinian priory. A small religious community existed here for nearly 400 years until the priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. In 1540 the king granted Newstead to the poet's ancestor Sir John Byron of Cowick (1487-1567). Sir John converted the priory into a house for his family. He demolished most of the church but, otherwise, he and his successors kept much of Newstead's monastic structure and layout. For this reason, the house still retains its essentially medieval character. For almost three centuries Newstead remained in Byron family ownership as their prinicipal country seat. However, when William, 5th Lord Byron (1722-1798) encountered money problems the estate went into decline and the contents of the house were sold, Newstead was therefore virtually empty and almost in ruins when the poet inherited it in 1798. Eventually, circumstances obliged Byron to put Newstead up for sale and in 1818 it was purchased by his friend Thomas Wildman (1787-1859). Wildman had inherited a large fortune from plantations owned by his family in Jamaica. Between 1818 and 1850 he spent much of it on the repair and restoration of Newstead. Like the Byrons before him, Wildman chose to preserve the medieval character of the house. He employed as his architect John Shaw who worked in the Norman and Gothic styles. Shaw's designs for alterations to Newstead blend well with the oldest parts of the building. The present appearance of the house is very much the result of alterations carried out by Wildman. After Wildman's death, Newstead was purchased in 1861 by William Frederick Webb, a wealthy landowner. The African explorer Dr. David Livingstone, a friend of the Webbs, was their guest at Newstead in the 1860s. When Mr. Webb died the estate passed to each of his four surviving children and then, in 1925, to his grandson Charles Ian Fraser. Mr Fraser sold Newstead to the Nottinghamshire philanthropist Sir Julien Cahn, who presented it to Nottingham Corporation in 1931. Furniture and other memorabilia of the poet now on display were given to the Corporation by Mr Fraser at that time.

The poet brought the bed and bed steps with him from his undergraduate rooms at Trinity College when he moved into Newstead Abbey in 1808. The bed has a domed canopy and a gilded tester with four carved gilt wood baron's coronets. The hangings are handsewn reproductions of Byron's original chintz ones, printed with a green and yellow pattern of Chinese pagodas. Fitted carpets were fashionable in the poet's time and the carpet seen here is an exact reproduction of the green leaf-patterned one chosen by him for this room.
The rest of the furniture and pictures displayed here also belonged to Byron, as did the blue and white Staffordshire semi-china toilet service on the washstand. This includes a toothbrush case. Byron is known to have been quite particular about looking after his teeth.



  2. More poems by Lord Byron set to music.