Literary Locations: Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, a former Augustinian priory, was part of one of our most renowned poets, Lord Byron’s inheritance. He spent some turbulent youthful years there, though ultimately it would be the setting for some social and personal downfall.

Later, returning from his European travels in 1812 as the newly-famed author of Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage, he tried to make it his home, but the years of his residency were not happy ones. Although newly married to Annabella Milbanke, Byron was in debt and in love with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. In keeping with his reputation, accounts of his time there include tales of him walking  the abbey remains, drinking wine from a skull, and shooting pistols in the long gallery.

Byron’s doomed marriage subsequently broke, and the scandal surrounding it forced him out of the country, to find exile in Italy along with fellow writers Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley.

Byron died far from home and for a foreign cause, in Greece, fighting for their independence from the Turks. His heart was buried at Missolonghi, but his other remains were returned to England in the hope that he would be buried at Westminster Abbey. However, although thousands are said to have turned out to view his coffin in London, his ‘questionable morality’ precluded his internment there. As a result, his final resting place was The Church of St Mary Magdalene at Hucknall, a few miles away from his ancestral home. I have been there many times and I can personally report that there is always a red rose on his grave.

Byron was only 36 when he died and few of those years were spent in Nottinghamshire, yet despite this his name remains a draw for commerce in the area, albeit sometimes rather tenuously, with Byron Plumbing and Byron’s Carpets to name but two examples. My personal favourite is Byron Bingo at Hucknall.

Newstead Abbey is open to the public, so you can walk in Byron’s footsteps and view the most poignant reminder of his days there; the tomb to his beloved dog Boatswain, and the famous Epitaph to a Dog inscribed upon its monument.

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I have been working for Oxford Open Learning since 2010 and love helping my students with their English and History courses. As a teacher and personal tutor, I have taught pupils from all around the world, aged from three to adult. I am often to be found with my head in a book and sometimes I have four or five on the go at the same time. I love learning about History and Art and am passionate about literature.

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