Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Newstead Abbey I

We're both into Byron at the moment and it was a nice day so we took ourselves off to Newstead Abbey- the house he lived in for six years in his early twenties.

Newstead has a wild history. It was a proper Abbey- gifted to the Byron family by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries- and much of the building is still intact, including the spectacular west front of the church, complete with a rare, undamaged statue of the Virgin and Child. Byron's uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, who was so bad he got called "the Bad Lord Byron"- though probably not to his face- used to stage naval battles (with real cannon and real powder and shot) on the big lake and built a make-believe castle on the hill (now demolished- alas, alack) for holding orgies in. He ran the estate into the ground and when Byron the poet moved in the house was a shell and the grounds were a wilderness- very gothick, very romantick.  The famous Lord Byron fixed a few rooms up for his private use and filled the rest of the building with whores and wild animals- including a bear- and in a fit of angry satire buried his favourite hound, Boatswain, on the site of the Abbey church's high altar.

After moving to Italy, Byron sold the estate to his friend Thomas Wildman- who in spite of his name and in spite of having fought at Waterloo- was a gentle soul who spent millions in today's money turning it into a tasteful Victorian family home. It's his spirit and that of the family that succeeded his- the Webbs- that are dominant at Newstead now. I don't think I've ever been in a house of this sort that felt so welcoming and so tranquil. 

It's a beautiful place. And I'm not just talking architecture, I'm talking genius locii. 

Here are a couple of pictures of  the cloister garth- the heart of the building. It's been planted with herbs and flowers sacred to the Virgin Mary- and has this glorious late medieval fountain set up in the middle.  I've been in churches and cathedrals- and stone circles-  that felt much less spiritual. This is holy ground. 

And here are two images of the famous West Front

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