“Thro’ thy battlements, Newstead, the hollow winds whistle;
Thou, the hall of my fathers, art gone to decay.” – Lord Byron
Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, England, was formerly an Augustinian priory. Converted to a domestic home following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it is now best known as the ancestral home of Lord Byron.
Sir John Byron of Colwick in Nottinghamshire was granted Newstead Abbey by Henry VIII of England on 26 May 1540 and started its conversion into a country house. He was succeeded by his son Sir John Byron of Clayton Hall. Many additions were made to the original building. The 13th century ecclesiastical buildings were largely ruined during the dissolution of the monasteries. It then passed to John Byron, an MP and Royalist commander, who was created a baron in 1643. He died childless in France and ownership transferred to his brother Richard Byron. Richard’s son William was a minor poet and was succeeded in 1695 by his son William Byron, 4th Baron Byron.
Early in the 18th century, the 4th Lord Byron landscaped the gardens extensively, to which William Byron, 5th Baron Byron added Gothic follies. It became a stately and glamorous estate. The 5th baron, known as “the Wicked Lord”, was eccentric and violent and ruined the estate. Lord Byron’s son and heir (also named William) eloped with his cousin Juliana Byron, the daughter of William’s brother John Byron. Lord Byron felt that intermarrying would produce children plagued with madness and strongly opposed the union. He also needed his son to marry well to escape the debt that had been incurred in the Byron name. When defied by his son, he became enraged and committed himself to ruining his inheritance so that, in the event of his death, his son would receive nothing but debt and worthless property. He laid waste to Newstead Abbey, allowing the house to fall into disrepair, cutting down the great stands of timber surrounding it, and killing over 2,000 deer on the estate.
His vicious plan, however, was thwarted when his son died in 1776. William also outlived his grandson, a young man who, at the age of twenty-two, was killed by cannon fire in 1794 while fighting in Corsica. The 5th Lord died on 21 May 1798, at the age of seventy-nine and on his death, it is said, great numbers of crickets he kept at Newstead left the estate in swarms. The title and Newstead Abbey was then left to his great-nephew, George Gordon, the famous poet, who became the 6th Baron Byron.
Newstead Abbey’s landscape owes much of its beauty to the River Leen, which feeds the lakes, ponds and cascades that ornament Newstead’s gardens. The grounds provide the perfect place for a relaxing outing all year round, with fabulous wildlife including peacocks, swans and geese.The Japanese Garden was laid out for Ethel Webb in 1899 by a Japanese horticulturist brought to this country for the purpose. Work on its creation continued until 1914, when the Great War began. This garden is intended to reproduce in miniature the main features of a Japanese landscape. Small stone bridges cross tiny streams and stepping stones lead to little islands. Stone paths wind past the remains of a thatched teahouse and a draw-well which was originally fitted with double buckets. The stone lanterns were imported from Japan by Miss Webb, together with much of the original planting. This included shrubs and dwarf trees such as maple, quince and conifers.A cascade overflows from the Garden Lake into the bed of the stream below and herons eat the crayfish that flourish there. At the far end of the garden are the remains of a Japanese door which, according to the 1916 guidebook, was once ‘crowned by a tiny roof of thatch, with an inscription in Japanese underneath’.
The Rose Garden, together with the Small Walled Garden, originally made up the two compartments of the Kitchen Garden built by the Wildmans. They were ornamented with fountains and covered two and a half acres. The Webbs built heated glasshouses here for growing grapes, peaches, melons and winter cucumbers as well as ferns, begonias and many other plants required for decorating the Abbey. Many thousands of bedding plants were also produced here annually for the Webbs. Instead of being grown in pots the seedlings were dibbled into small squares of turf, in which they were later transferred to the gardens.
The Webbs built the Gardener’s Cottage at the southeast corner of this garden in the 1860s. In 1965 the glass houses were demolished in order to make a rose garden which was re-designed in 1998. The door in the west wall of the Rose Garden leads to the Children’s Playground and Picnic Area, which are built on the site of the Kitchen Garden outbuildings.
The Great Garden is a formal garden of terraced walks descending to a rectangular pond and enclosed by stone walls. It is in the Dutch-influenced style favoured during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1702) and was probably created during that period. A painting dating from about 1726 by Peter Tillemans, on display in the Abbey, shows this garden very much as it is. The Eagle Pond, also known as the Mirror Pond, is surrounded by walnut trees and may have medieval origins as a monastic fishpond. It measures 300 feet by 100 feet. Parts of the North Terrace wall (behind the Herbaceous Border) are thought to date from the 14th century. Half way along its length this wall curves downwards to reveal the site of the Forest Pond (called ‘American Lake’ by the Byrons) which was drained in the 20th century.
Originally, the planting in the Great Garden was mainly evergreen, with fruit trees trained against the north wall. Potted orange trees were probably also displayed during the warmer months and taken into the Orangery (located inside the Abbey) during winter. The two lead statues of male and female satyrs are attributed to John Nost and were erected here by the 5th Lord Byron in 1784.
The ivy-covered stump on the lawn between the Garden Lake and the Abbey is all that remains of the oak tree planted by the poet Byron in 1798. He was ten years old at the time and had just inherited the estate and his title. Nearly a decade later Byron found the tree in poor health and wrote his poem To an Oak at Newstead. However, the tree recovered and because of its association with the poet became one of the greatest attractions for Victorian visitors.
By 1915 the tree was dying, attempts to rescue it were unsuccessful and it was cut down a few years later. Next to the stump is a small oak tree planted in 1988 by the Earl of Lytton, the poet’s direct descendant, to mark the 200th anniversary of Byron’s birth.
The poet Byron built Boatswain’s Monument and the tomb beneath during the winter of 1808 to 1809. They stand on the spot that Byron mistakenly believed to have been occupied by the High Altar of the priory church. The tomb was intended for himself and his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, who died of rabies in November 1808. In the event, Byron was buried in the family vault at Hucknall and the dog’s remains have long since disappeared from this tomb. The monument bears an inscription, composed by Byron in tribute to his favourite dog who ‘possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices’.
“One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.”
In response to The Daily Post – Photo Challenge, Pedestrian