Newstead Abbey

It would be remiss of me not to write something about how I came to now be a volunteer at Newstead Abbey. Especially since back in October when I was first inspired to write this post, I had visited it twice in as many weekends.

I first came here in 2003 but I hadn’t really got to grips with Lord Byron. He was a sideline to my research back then. Tita was my obsession.

But on 15th October this year I attended one of Abbey’s famous ghost tours and I became completely hooked on the history. And even if you went, like me, purely to get in through the door of that great house after dark, you could not help but ‘get the vibe’. At night Newstead takes on a whole new character. If you believe in ghosts and all things that go bump in the night, then Byron and his cronies are most definitely here.

The Saturday after my ghost walk, I came back for a full tour at my own leisure of both house and gardens. Now I’m ready to move in!

Byron has very much become a part of my life now that I am revising my book, furthering the research on Tita’s life and writing the script that that spawned from it. Looking into the nuts and bolts of Byron’s personality has become intrinsic to what I do because it explains why Tita became who he was in later years. They are interlocked by their journey together.

The thing is, I really like Byron and I know that those who are close to his history and the physical remnants of him do too. Like Tita, they are strangely protective of him. Even all these years on he instills a loyalty that isn’t easily explained.

Lord Byron’s bedroom at Newstead. Most of the items in it are his (authors copyright)

On a wider scale, Newstead is a house oozing with a long and colourful history of which Byron is a relatively small part. And there are many tales of both good and bad that well versed staff are happy to regale you with. For me the connection is all LB but you cannot ignore the incredible past this house has.

Tita, I doubt, ever came to Newstead. It had long been sold before Byron made his last journey past the estate by hearse on his way to the family vault at Hucknall a few miles away. St Mary Magdalene, he was most definitely at, but not the Abbey. But it does contain a number of items which do relate to my ancestor – artefacts from Greece – which if you believe in the paranormal, must contain the imprints of some fairly tumulous events.

St Mary Magdalene church, Hucknall (authors copyright)

I think it is the military helmet that Byron had made for him in Genoa in 1823 to wear ‘in battle’ that I covert the most. It is an impressive piece of regalia – typical of Byron. But Gamba’s military helmet is also there, a piece of Kaksalis house where Byron died and other fascinating military items that really bring the story to life.

Tita would have had his hands on these things. They would have been packed in Greece for the return to England with Byrons’ body in 1824. My mind tries to comprehend those events and what happened and what came after and it is almost impossible to imagine what it means.

Byron’s military helmet designed by him and made in Genoa in 1823 – photograph courtesy of Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

All of the above is partly why I have enroled as a volunteer, to absorb some of that history and use it as inspiration. The house draws you in. And you can’t help but feel its pull.

But it’s also about giving something back. Not only is the connection personal but we are incredibly lucky as a nation to have places like Newstead, preserving our great and good cultural heritage. And to have the opportunity to work there and help safeguard it for generations to come is both an honour and a privilege.

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.


St Mary Magdalene Church, Hucknall

If you are visiting Newstead Abbey because of Lord Byron, you have no excuse for not taking the 5 mile detour to St Mary Magdalene Church at Hucknall to see the final resting place of the poet and the Byron family.

It’s been a few years since I was last there (probably 10 in fact). In the meantime the church has been blessed with a Lottery funded grant and they have transformed their privileged position as the location of the Byron vault into a major pin on the map.

St Mary Magdalene church, Hucknall (authors copyright)

A substantial information point which covers not only Byron’s connection to the church but its wider colourful history is accompanied by a more focused last resting place. When I was last there the spot was covered by the choir stalls. Now, a wooden coffin shaped box stands over the exact place. It includes a cut out so you can see the actual stone slab that covers the tomb and an illuminated case which contains something rather fascinating. …

In December last year a contemporary ceramic wreath, a copy of the one that was at Byron’s funeral, returned from being carefully cleaned and restored. It used to sit high up on the wall in a glass dome and had become black over the years. Now, it’s an impressive centre piece lovingly returned to its home.

The church prides itself on its Byron connection. It is open 6 days a week to visitors and when I was there at the end of November Carol Lear, the Steward, was on hand to answer questions. Of course, I quickly regaled her with my connection to Byron and we had a wonderful two hours discussing the various aspects of his life and times over very welcome cups of tea. She also talked me through the incredible collection of stained glass which the church has. It really is a very picturesque place.

It’s important the people visit St Mary Magdalene. In order to secure future grants and continue to provide the services they do, they need to show that visitors see the value in it. A visitor book is the evidence that we care that this place exists. If you go, please sign it. This is a unique place that deserves your attention and your patronage and I for one am very grateful that it exists.

The ceramic wreath in situ (authors copyright)

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.