Newstead Abbey is a former Augustinian Priory which was taken over by the Crown during the Dissolution of Monasteries. It later became property of the Barons Byron: the best known member of this family is of course the eccentric and highly gifted George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (more often known as Lord Byron), but many other colorful characters trampled the Abbey’s lawns.
The 4th Baron Byron renovated the house and carried out much needed and extensive works in the gardens. The 5th Baron, William Byron, first squandered a fortune rebuilding the house in Gothic style and then laid waste to the estate. He was widely known as an eccentric man, and as he grew older he became increasingly violent, to the point that he was nicknamed ‘The Wicked Lord’.
Insanity must have run in the family because his only son, also named William, started a relationship with his own cousin, Juliana Byron. The Lord considered such a union as an unnatural act and desperately wanted his son to marry well to save the family from debts.
The Wicked Lord grew increasingly eccentric: his bouts of violence became more and more frequent and he started to take his rage on the Abbey itself. He deliberately destroyed many expensive pieces of furniture, had many trees cut down and is rumored to have killed the whole deer population of the Abbey. He outlived both his own son and grandson (who died fighting the French in Corsica) and upon his death the property passed on to the nearest surviving heir, Lord Byron.
Lord Byron was much fascinated by the property, now much dilapidated, but never lived there for long periods of time. His faithful Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, died at the Abbey in 1808 and was buried in a rich and extravagant tomb carrying an epitaph penned by the poet himself. Lord Byron expressely requested to be buried at Newstead next to his beloved dog but his heirs refused to carry out his will and buried him in the family tomb instead.
Lord Byron tried for many years to sell the property to ease his financial troubles and finally his agents found a buyer in 1817: Thomas Wildman, who spared no resources in restoring the Abbey to its pristine glory. The Abbey passed to various owners until it was presented to the Nottingham Corporation in 1931.
Legends and Hauntings
A well known local legend says that the ghost of Lord Byron’s dog Boatswain, has been often seen wandering the Abbey grounds, looking for his master: seeing this apparition is considered a very bad omen indeed.
A strange event is associated with ‘The Wicked Lord’, William Byron’s death: it is said that all the crickets living on property left it in swarms, never to return.