On another gloriously sunny day in May I decided to head out to Newstead Abbey, the poet Lord Byron’s ancestral home (although he actually only lived there from 1808-1814). Founded as the Augustinian Priory of St Mary by Henry II in the 12th century, it was converted into a house by the poet’s ancestor Sir John Byron in 1540 after Henry VIII dissolved the monastery. All that remains of the Priory Church is the below section, although much of the original structure and monastic layout remained when the house was designed.
The house is only open at weekends, although the grounds and gardens are open for most of the year throughout the week, and the self-guided tour is a pretty reasonable £5.oo. The first point of interest is the Grand Staircase, which was probably designed by Thomas Wildman (the man who bought Newstead from the poet Byron) and where the plaster bust of Byron in the window bay is particularly well highlighted by the beautiful window design.
Passing through the Great Hall (a room I didn’t particularly like), you head to Byron’s dining room and see this rather impressive overmantle, from around 1556.
Another lovely item of memorabilia which belonged to the poet Byron was his bed, below, which he brought with him from his undergraduate rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge.
From here you enter the library, always a favourite room of mine in any house. In this case, although there are of course books on display, it is mainly dedicated to items which the poet Byron once owned. It is a real treasure trove of interesting items and of course there are a lot more than those I’ve picked out for special attention, below. One of my favourite pieces included in the collection is Byron’s autograph here,
and this silver coin, dented by Byron during the pistol practice he often undertook in the Great Hall.
It is not all about Lord Byron the poet at Newstead though; this sword in one of the other rooms caught my eye because the fifth Lord Byron killed his cousin with it in a duel.
One of my favourite rooms in the house is the Great Drawing Room, below. It was originally the priory’s dining hall but the current design and arrangement of furniture is copied from a watercolour of how it looked in around 1840. When the poet was in residence he used this room to box, fence and play shuttlecock!
Another beautifully detailed room is the Plantagenet Room which has been modelled here as a Victorian sitting-room which is on the site of the original monastic warming room (the only place in the Priory besides the kitchen and infirmary where a fire was allowed). When the poet Byron lived here this was the site of his infamous bachelor parties.
In one of the older parts of the Abbey can be found the Chapel, where services are still held. Access wasn’t allowed while I was there, but the doors were open enough for me get a fairly decent look inside.
The Chapel seemed like a particularly beautiful part of the Abbey and according to legend it was the place where the poet Byron kept his menagerie of animals, including a bear. Next to the Chapel is the area where the poet had installed a plunge bath in 1808, but when Wildman bought the house from him he destroyed it and left it as below, which gives an interesting insight into the transitions the Abbey has gone through in its time.
And from there I proceeded out in to the gardens, which is the subject of the next post. Of course this is only a small taster of the rooms and objects of interest you can see inside Newstead Abbey, particularly if you are a fan of the poet Byron, and it makes for a great day out.
More photos can be found at my Flickr account, though I also highly recommend that you go to see it for yourself.