Newstead Abbey

Not too long ago we visited Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey. It was built by King Henry II, apparently in penance for killing Thomas Becket. Later, King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and presented Newstead Abbey to Sir John Byron.

Lord Byron’s mother was a descendent of King James I. His father, on the other hand, did not appear so well-to-do as he took the mother’s money, fled the country, and died when Byron was only 3.

Byron was only meant to be a baron, but then his great-uncle died with no heirs and Byron became a lord at 10 years old. This great-uncle allegedly spent more than he earned, so Byron essentially inherited the estate in ruins. And this was the estate we visited.

The estate

There were some really knowledgeable guides, and there was one super enthusiastic guide who loved telling us all about Byron. This guide informed us that Byron took the bed he had at Cambridge back here (it was a large extravagantly draped four-poster), that he loved dogs, and had a pet bear – though only because he wasn’t allowed a pet dog at university.

New owners

Byron sold the estate to his friend Thomas Wildman to ease his financial troubles. Wildman died with no heirs, so his widow Louisa then sold the estate to the Webbs, whose descendants left it to Nottingham City Council in 1931.

Wildman spent a lot of money trying to restore the Abbey and even turned this corridor into a library – what a great space for a library.

The Webbs were heavily influenced by Japan, Japanese culture, and Japanese art. There were a few rooms with Japanese wallpaper and antiques and there is a Japanese Garden here too.

Lord Byron

We continued walking around the rooms and there was a corridor showing many different images of Byron. Often known to be the first celebrity, Byron became famous very quickly after the publication of his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Apparently the poet cultivated his fame by controlling his image and carefully selected which images and profiles would be included in reprints of his work.

There was a very large and grand drawing room, featuring lovely ornate furniture, lots of Byron family paintings, a harp, and a grand piano. Interestingly, in restoring the estate, Thomas Wildman also kept paintings of the Byron family as a tribute to his friend.

I haven’t read much of the poet, but am aware of his salacious reputation. I enjoyed reading about Byron’s love of animals, and from his study window where he often wrote, Byron could see his beloved dog Boatswain’s tombstone. On the tombstone reads Byron’s Epitaph to a Dog, penned in honour of his Newfoundland dog.

Gardens

The gardens were quite large and when we visited there was a wedding happening so we couldn’t visit the French Garden.

Right by the back of the house was the Spanish Garden, which unfortunately was not in bloom when we visited.

At the back of the estate was the Great Garden, which had lovely views. There is an Eagle Pond, named so as an eagle statue was found in this pond – most likely put there by the monks wishing to hide it from King Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries.

Byron planted an oak tree when he arrived at the estate after inheriting it, hoping that as the tree flourishes, so should he. Years later, the tree did not fare so well, and now only a stump remains. Yards away from Byron’s Oak is an oak tree planted on the 200th anniversary of Byron’s birth.

The Small Walled Garden had busts of Lord Byron and a couple of other writers. The nearby Rose Garden was blooming with such vibrant colours.

The American Garden was blooming too and again there were so many lovely colours.

The Japanese Garden was peaceful, with a few stepping stones that you can use to cross to the other side of some ponds. It was nice visiting this garden, though not the most friendly for wheelchair or pushchair users.

It was a lovely visit, learning lots about the house and Byron’s life and works, and the gardens which were blooming were lovely walking through. A lovely venue – evidently so – as there was a wedding happening here.

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