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George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron

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:NTGM009313
:Newstead Abbey
:George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron
:c 1813
:Phillips, T
:Hall, H B
:Knight, Charles and Co
:Nottingham City Council
:
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George Gordon Byron (the poet) was born in a London boarding house on 22 January 1788. He was the only child of Captain John Byron by his second wife, the Scottish heiress Catherine Gordon. At the age of ten he became the 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale, inheriting his title and the Newstead estate from his great-uncle William, the so-called 'Wicked' Lord, whom he had never met. Between 1803 and 1808 Byron spent time with his mother Catherine in the Nottinghamshire town of Southwell where she had rented Burgage Manor. He then took his degree in 1808 and moved into Newstead Abbey that autumn. There he spent much of his time preparing his satire English Bards and Scotch Reviewers for publication in 1809. For economy's sake, they re-decorated and furnished only some of the smaller rooms at Newstead and were obliged to leave the rest semi-derelict. As Byron's friend William Harness later recalled: ...a straggling, gloomy, depressive, partially-inhabited place the Abbey was. Those rooms, however, which had been fitted up for residence were so comfortably appointed, glowing with crimson hangings and cheerful with capacious fires, that one soon lost the melancholy feeling of being domiciled in an extensive ruin. During his brief residence at Newstead Byron established an eccentric household well-suited to his bachelor days. The two largest rooms, the Great Hall and the Great Dining Room, had been cleared out and abandoned since before Byron was born. Lacking the means to restore them to their former glory, the poet used them for sporting activities. There he and his university friends practised fencing, boxing and pistol shooting. From his student rooms at Trinity College he brought his gilded bed and a tame bear. The bear roamed the Abbey in the company of Byron's other pet animals, including several large dogs, tortoises and a wolf. The wine cellar was well-stocked with good claret and the library contained many fine books - for, Byron spent much of his time at Newstead reading and writing. Byron had returned to England in July 1811 and on February 27 1812 made his first speech in the House of Lords. In it he condemned the Frame-Breaking Bill, which made smashing the new mechanical looms a capital offence. Byron defended the many Nottinghamshire workers who had lost their livelihoods to machines and argued for government policies which would help the people and relieve their poverty. He sat on the committee that successfully modified the bill, substituting fines or imprisonment for the death penalty. However, he soon gave up his parliamentary career to concentrate on writing. The poem he wrote during his Mediterranean travels was published in March 1812 under the title Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and created a sensation, selling out in the first three days. Unlike Byron's earlier poems, which had not attracted much notice, Childe Harold made him a celebrity. His readers were fascinated by this first appearance of the 'Byronic hero', which remained an inspiration for European artists, writers and composers throughout the 19th century. The poet's fame increased with the brilliant success of more verse tales about brooding outlaws and distant lands, published soon after. He lived at Newstead, at various times, until the autumn of 1814, shortly before he married. By this time, financial pressures had forced him to put Newstead up for sale, but it proved difficult to find a buyer. Byron left England in 1816, never to return. In 1818, the estate was purchased for £94,500 by Thomas Wildman, a friend from Byron's school days. Wildman spent a further £100,000, an enormous sum at that time, refurbishing Newstead Abbey and its grounds. Byron settled in Geneva with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont, then moved to Italy. After a long creative period, Byron had come to feel that action was more important than poetry. He armed a brig, the Hercules, and sailed to Greece to aid the Greeks, who had risen against their Ottoman overlords. However, before he saw any serious military action, Byron contracted a fever from which he died in Missolonghi on 19 April 1824. Memorial services were held all over the land. Byron's body was returned to England but was refused (because of his notoriety) by the deans of both Westminster and St Paul's. Finally Byron's coffin was placed in the family vault at Hucknall Torkard, near Newstead Abbey.