Lord Byron’s influence on the new books

In 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Newstead Abbey, the property that Lord George Byron inherited from his great uncle in 1978, when George became the sixth Baron Byron.  Byron was a colourful man, and led a life full of intrigue. I had read his work and read letters and stories about his life, but I went to his home to seek more inspiration. He is of course the perfect draw for storytellers, when you are seeking ideas for captivating characters. That is why I went to his home, because I wanted to be able to touch on his life and discover what it was really like rather than just read about him in books. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I went there, because I walked into room after room of inspiration.

As most people know, Byron was a lover of the macabre and Newstead oozes that in a way that made me wonder what came first, the house he inherited or his love of gothic style games. Of course, you can tell from the name, that the property was previously a medieval abbey. What Byron inherited was a tumbled down medieval ruin that had been rebuilt into a Tudor manor. This is probably easier for me to imagine than it is for others to see  because Newstead Abbey has had many later amendments to its layout. But Lacock Abbey, which is just up the road from me, was also converted from an abbey into a stately Tudor home, and that is still very much as it was in the Tudor period.

However at Lacock some of the ruins have been kept in place underneath the Tudor house, so you can still walk about the nuns’ cloister in the middle of the property and in and out of great arched rooms that were once kitchens, storage rooms and the chapter house with its wallpainting and medieval tiles still in situ. At Newstead some of the outer ruins have been preserved . Below you can see the magnificent arch of an old abbey window, that was kept as nothing else but a piece of artwork in the gardens. The arch is not even the entrance to the garden; that is through a very small door to the left.

cropped-img_3758.jpgIn Byron’s day, the stairs were at the front here, though, and the steps went up to the first floor, so the door opened in to what was once the Abbey’s great hall, where the monks would have dined with any travelling pilgrims as guests. Lacock does still have it’s steps that lead directly to the great hall.

The other abbey that has stuck in my mind, as another property sold off by Henry VIII to his nobility from them to turn into a house, is the home that belonged to Jane Austen’s family – Stoneleigh Abbey. At Stoneleigh the entrance directly to the first floor has also been removed, but it’s Jacobean wing gives another context to help you imagine how Newstead would have looked in Byron’s day. Byron’s house also had a newer wing, which he used for guests.

Byron did not inherit much money to accompany his title, and so he could not repair and redecorate the house to any great extent. But he did choose a few small rooms to make a bit more luxurious. Today the other rooms have been changed and completed by the owners who have lived in the property since Byron’s day, but the rooms Byron had decorated are still very much as they were.

The dining room.

 

The study. Where he wrote when he was at home.

The library, where the goblet he had made from a skull he had found in the gardens was kept. It is only a replica on the table, though. The wife of the man who bought the property from him had it destroyed.

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A cellar in the undercroft of the Abbey, beneath the great hall, where he had a table and chairs put out to host small parties, for his friends and female guests.

Lastly his bedroom, which contains the bed he had brought to the Abbey from Cambridge.

The room Byron decorated for himself was in the medieval area of the house, on the opposite side of the house from the Jacobean wing that his guests used (and am I guessing where his mother lived as she shared the house with him and looked after it when he was not there).

To reach his rooms the passages are narrow, climbing up spiralling stone medieval staircases with leaded, small windows cut through the stone, that leave passages cold and shadowy.

There is one example of what the rooms that Byron was unable to renovate would have looked like at the time, (and felt and smelt like – which is why I like going places because pictures only let you experience one sense). This room was Byron’s dressing room. Image the large hall below in the same state then…

If you have already read The Thread of Destiny I am sure you can now see whose house this is in the book. The great hall had its roof replaced and the room was redecorated by a later resident, but in Byron’s day it was where he used to fence and shoot.

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Byron used his house as a playground, but he also used the vast grounds that surrounded the Abbey to play in. He kept a pet bear and entertained the bear (without a leash) in the grounds, even playing blind man’s buff. On one side of the grounds is a large lake, where his Great Uncle (who I think was just as eccentric as Byron) used to have mock naval battles with real boats. Byron loved his dogs, and he swam in the lake everyday when he was at home. One game he used to play in the lake with one of his favourite dogs, was to throw himself into the lake instead of a stick to get the dog to drag him out. (My George’s follies are ideas from elsewhere, though, Byron’s uncle was not much of a folly man).

At the back of the house are beautiful formal gardens.

 

Many other inspirations for the stories in The Thread of Destiny and The Lure of a Poet come from Newstead Abbey, because there is a fabulous area there that has been set up as a museum of Byron’s possessions. In the pictures below are just a few of things that made me think of elements of the stories that have become the first books in The Wickedly Romantic Poets series.

The story in the first of my new books, The Thread of Destiny,  begins at the home of my George, Bridge, Lord Bridges, The Duke of Stonemoor, and as his home is very much as Byron’s was, his character is also very Byronesque. – and how wonderful to be such an exceptional character during your lifetime that a word is created to describe the essence of the personality shown by your life and your work. 

There will be lots more reality based behaviours from my poets in the rest of the series that will be out in 2019.  

Perfect Period Drama

The rule of the red thread of destiny says that everything that is unresolved will be resolved.

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The Thread of Destiny

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The Lure of a Poet

Delicious Reading_with poet

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Fascinating Historic Graffiti at Fountains Abbey, Helmsley Castle and Sudeley Castle

People who have read my blogs for a while know I have two slightly eccentric passions for history. One’s old trees – definitely a bit of a mad obsession – and the other is graffiti.

Fountains Abbey Leisure Gardens

I think it’s my imagination which gets me going over these things because when I see trees I am thinking who walked past this, when, or leant against it or – I mean hundreds of people for hundreds of years could have had something happen in their lives near the tree and my head tries to get into their lives and picture what they were thinking, feeling and doing at the time. It’s very odd because of course it’s the same with houses, even more so, but my imagination is more intoxicated by trees and my other passion graffiti, than houses – odd I know.

The Tudor Mansion at Helmsley

But today anyway this little cheeky blog is on my other passion – for graffiti – I mean just think who was it who stood there and carved it out, what was going on in their lives, in their head? Were they laughing? Were they with a partner, or a friend, joking? Had they just had a tryst? Were they serious and thoughtful and seeking solitude? Angry? Contemplative? Afraid?

Sudeley Tudor Castle

I’ve said before the graffiti in The Tower of London is my favourite. Most of it dates from King Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth I’s time when they would shut noblemen and women away for months in the tower rooms rather than in the dungeons. But I discovered loads more on holiday in Yorkshire this year (where some of the scene’s from my debut novel, Illicit Love are set)

Fountains Abbey Medieval Mill

So first there was this which I discovered at Fountains Abbey in the medieval mill – although the graffiti dates to the 1700 and 1800s not medieval times. A lot of 18th and 19th century graffiti is by tourists as it was fashionable for the more wealthy middle classes and the senior classes to idle away a day by riding out and exploring ruins. But on this door in the mill which the National Trust have preserved, are carved names they believe were workers. The fabulous leisure gardens which did bring many visitors at the time are beyond a gate from here so it’s believed it was not tourists.

Fountains Abbey graffiti from the 1800s

Fountains Abbey graffiti from the 1700s

Fountains Abbey graffiti from the 1700s

There is also another area of graffiti in the mill on a window frame.

Helmsley Castle Gatehouse

Then I found this even more exciting graffiti at Helmsley Castle. I love the town of Helmsley. The medieval castle, which was updated with a Tudor mansion in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, is on the edge of the town it’s owned by English Heritage and like many castles is only a ruin thanks to the Civil War. In 1644 Helmsley Castle was besieged by 700 men on foot and 300 men on horseback and the siege lasted for 3 months. However at the end of the siege the Parliamentarian army let the 200 strong Royalist Garrison encamped at Helmsley leave peaceable through the gatehouse in a procession. They had been starved out and their defence of the castle had earned the respect of the Parliamentarians. So interesting then to see this graffiti dating to the 1600’s on the walls of the gatehouse.

Helmsley Castle graffiti from the 1600s

Helmsley Castle Graffiti from the 1600s

Helmsley Castle Graffiti from the 1600s

There are some 19th century tourist’s marks too. They were probably cut by friends of the family from Duncombe Park who owned the land Helmsley Castle was on then and who’d made the castle ruins a folly for them to view in the garden of their fashionable early 18th century mansion, or perhaps they were just people from the nearby town – some land owners allowed locals in their parks and one of the Duncombe family married a lower class woman he saw while out riding, having then spoken to her parents and sent her to school to learn how to be a lady.

Helmsley Castle graffiti from 1800s

Perhaps – perhaps – perhaps – it’s all imagination engendered by a few marks on a wall.

Oh and I might as well slip these in while I’m talking of graffiti – not from Yorkshire but from Sudeley Castle which was also ruined in the Civil War. Sudeley Castle was partly restored though and while half the castle is a ruin the other half is lived in. Actually Sudelely is another place I’ve drawn inspiration from for scenes in my debut novel – Mmm there’s a pattern forming here.

Sudeley Castle Graffiti from the 1800s

Sudeley Castle Graffiti from the 1800s

Sudeley Castle Graffiti from the 1700s

More Historic Graffiti from Sudeley Castle

More Historic Graffiti from Sudeley Castle

More Historic Graffiti from Sudeley Castle

 

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark