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Background

Newstead Abbey is best known today as the ancestral home of Lord Byron (1788–1824). The original Newstead Abbey was founded by Henry II as an Augustinian priory in the twelfth century. In 1540, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the property was offered to the Byron family by Henry VIII and converted into a residence. The estate grew over time, but a large portion of the original medieval fabric survived, including the west front, constructed in 1274, and the fifteenth-century cloisters. Later extensions were built out of stone quarried from the main church building.

The main building suffered from neglect and deterioration before being inherited by the Romantic poet, who lamented, “Thou, the hall of my Fathers, art gone to decay” in the poem “On Leaving Newstead Abbey” (1807). Lord Byron sold the property in 1818 to his childhood friend Thomas Wildman, who spent much of his wealth to restore and redecorate it, and opened it to visitors. After subsequent changes in ownership, it was donated to the city of Nottingham in 1831.

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How we helped

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Newstead Abbey’s house and gardens were included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch because of the substantial cost of necessary conservation work, and the burden of providing regular public access with reduced municipal budgets.

WMF, with assistance from the Paul Mellon Estate and in partnership with Nottingham City Council, the owners of Newstead Abbey, organised a seminar to establish a friends group in March 2013, at which interested local parties helped develop support for Newstead.

More than 60 people joined the seminar to hear talks from previous recipients of WMF support including Elaine Griffiths from Gorton Monastery in Manchester and Carole Patey from Strawberry Hill House. The seminar provided a useful opportunity for relationships to form and bridges to be built. The wealth of expertise within the group was encouraging and a host of creative ideas were put forward which could improve the visitor experience of the site. At a follow up meeting a founding committee was created.

Why it matters

Though the surrounding parklands and gardens are well visited, opening hours for the house museum have been limited due to insufficient resources. Newstead Abbey has suffered significant deterioration, and a strategy for its conservation and long-term maintenance is greatly needed.

Restoration and renewed interpretation would benefit the local community and other visitors and could reinforce the historical connections to one of the world’s great poets.

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