Newstead Abbey: this image is by Simon Johnston and is copyright free
The Byron family traced its origins back to a noble who came to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. The family seat was at Newstead Abbey, founded by Henry II. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII sold Newstead to John Byron, who left some of his Abbey as a romantic ruin, and lived in the remainder. This is a very early example of the picturesque ruin, a fashion which would become popular in Victorian England. There is something poignant as well as picturesque about the ruined sections, wonderfully described by the family's poet, the 6th Lord Byron. He wrote in Don Juan:
A mighty window, hollow in the centre,
Shorn of its glass of thousand colourings
Through which the deepen'd glories once would enter,
Streaming from off the sun like seraph's wings
Now yawns all desolate: now loud, now fainter,
The gale sweeps through its fretwork, and oft sings
The owl his anthem where the silenced quire
Lie with their hallelujah's quench'd like fire
(Don Juan 13.62)
Sir John, the first Byron owner of Newstead Abbey, seemed a typical male member of the Byron family. He had an affair with his neighbour's wife resulting in a pregnancy: one scandal amongst many. It was this woman's son who eventually inherited Newstead Abbey, and kept the Byron line continuing on its turbulent journey through the centuries. The poet, George Byron inherited Newstead Abbey in 1798 when the 5th, or "Wicked" Lord died. The 6th Lord Byron loved Newstead Abbey, but finances were always difficult, and without money for proper renovations living conditions were cold and damp. Byron did not live at Newstead for any extended period of time, but he did take up residence there during the summer of 1808, not long after finishing at Cambridge. At this time in his life Byron was alone, except for his servants, and his beloved Newfoundland dog Boatswain. Sadly the dog died of rabies, and his distraught master wrote the following lines about him:
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Whose labours, fights, lives, breathe for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth
Boatswain's memorial at Newstead is actually bigger than Byron's. Boatswain was honoured after all.
Through all the tribulations of his life, Byron struggled to hold onto Newstead, but eventually in 1815 it was sold to Thomas Wildman. Byron was living abroad by this time, and the Abbey's sale cut the poet's last ties with England. After passing through the hands of several owners, Newstead Abbey was presented to the City of Nottingham in 1931. It now houses a museum dedicated to Byron. There is a shop and cafe.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Address: Newstead Abbey House and Garden, Newstead Abbey Park, Nottingham NG15 8NA
Directions: Newstead Abbey is twelve miles north of Nottingham on the A60, close to junction 27 of the M1. Click here for an interactive map cented on Newstead Abbey.
Access: Only part of the ground floor is accessible to people in wheelchairs. A wheelchair can be used on loan. Adapted toilet facilities are available. If you are disabled use the door phone at the entrance on the south side of the house. Before your visit telephone 0115 915 3684 to discuss your needs.
telephone: 01623 455900