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

Discover all of Jane Lark’s books

 

Discover hours of period drama (2)

A bird’s eye view of historical London

I have worked in some wonderful historical venues for my day job as well as visiting places at the weekend for fun and to do research for the historical books.  But sometimes I work in a modern venue that still makes me think about the past.

A while ago now, I went to a meeting that was in a venue at the top of an office block close to the banks of the Thames in London near Vauxhall Bridge. When I looked out through the window it struck me just how small London was in the Regency and Victorian eras when my historical books are set.

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Three years ago I occupied one cold autumn evening that I had stayed over in London for work by walking down to the area where Vauxhall Pleasure grounds had once been. It is that small triangle of green on the far side of the river. You can see there is very little there now, I couldn’t even find any plants or trees that suggested there had been an aristocratic playground there once. But I walked there thinking about all the historical characters’ whose diaries and letters I had read, imaging them climbing into boats to cross the river to reach the excitement at the time when there was no bridge. I had set a scene there in The Passionate Love of a Rake and so I knew a lot about what it was like in its heyday.

The underpass to get from one side of the road to the other near the park is decorated with images to remind people today what people then would have been looking forward to. Men on stilts and tightrope walkers.

 

I was writing The Tainted Love of a Captain at the time I was in this high office building and I had recently researched how to obtain a licence to marry without the banns being read. I had set a scene in the book when a character travels to Lambeth Palace to obtain a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s officials. So when I turned the other way in this office, with my camera, and took another picture, I was probably foolishly surprised to see Lambeth and Westminster Palace within easy walking distance to the boats to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

I thought of Harriett Wilson as I stood there looking out at London. I have shared her story on the blog. I thought particularly about the days she wrote of waiting in a carriage outside Westminster Palace for a lover to come out from a meeting of the House of Lords. Perhaps men left the House of Lords and travelled straight to the boats to ferry them over to the pleasure grounds. I also thought about Frances Bankes letters that talked about visiting her son when he was ill while at the boys’ school in Westminster. The element of her life story inspired an element of The Reckless Love of an Heir, as she sat on an upturned bucket beside his bed, did she dine at the pleasure gardens when they were in their townhouse.

Certainly, lots of the wealthy families owned houses in the area between Westminster and Vauxhall, as all the street names declare.

It was just fascinating for me to stand there and look down and it made my imagination run with ideas on how people lived in the past. That area of London would have been flooded with the best society.