Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire
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Probably most famous as the home of Lord Byron, the poet, at the beginning of the 19th century, Newstead Abbey estate was first granted to Sir John Byron following the Dissolution in 1540. Largely Victorian in appearance, this romantic manor house was created around the 12th century Augustinian priory, with most of the building materials being quarried from the demolished church. All that survives is the beautiful 13th century west front that now enhances the house's unusual facade.

Internally, Newstead Abbey offers a real diversity of styles and building periods. There are rooms containing many of the traditional monastic features, such as vaulted ceilings, and elegant lancet windows, and then the magnificent chapel (formerly the Chapter House). Most of the larger rooms have been restored and elaborately decorated in a 'medieval style', but the smaller rooms clearly reflect the more restrained fortunes during Lord Byron's short occupation. However, a more bizarre influence was introduced when William Frederick Webb owned Newstead, and this is one of an African hunting lodge, with his animal trophies and skins scattered throughout the house.

The house remained in the Byron family for ten generations, the first 'Lord' Byron being created for his loyalty to the King during the Civil War. However, these troubled times meant that ownership of the house was temporarily lost and it inevitably fell into a state of neglect. After marrying well, the second Lord Byron had the house returned in 1661 and devoted his time and energy to ensure that it once again stood as a worthy home for his heirs. Throughout the next two generations Newstead Abbey prospered, acquiring many fine paintings and a good collection of books, but its wealth rapidly diminished with the succession of the fifth 'Wicked' Lord Byron. Known for his outrageous extravagance, he was eventually reduced to such dire circumstances that, by 1778, his house had been cleared of furniture, silver, china, and a large proportion of the paintings to pay off debts.

By the time the poet, and 6th Lord, George Byron moved to his ancestral home 10 years after his inheritance, he found it empty and in need of drastic repairs. With limited financial resources, Lord Byron made a comfortable home for himself by furnishing a few of the smaller rooms, and leaving the larger rooms untouched to accommodate his varied sporting activities. He remained at Newstead Abbey for only six years, eventually selling the old house to a childhood school friend, Col. Thomas Wildman. An extremely wealthy man, Wildman was responsible for the Victorian restoration, and the re-introduction of splendid medieval furniture, tapestries and paintings.

On Wildman's death, the estate was again sold on. The new owner, William Frederick Webb, introduced a degree of modernisation to Newstead Abbey, with central heating and gas lighting, as well as the African artefacts. Currently in the care of Nottingham Council, this impressive house retains the splendour of an important ancestral home, the mystique of an ancient monastery, and a vibrant sense of adventure left by its diversity of occupants - not forgetting the legendary 'White Lady', whose spirit still patrols the grounds!

 

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