Tag: Nottingham

How to mark the bicentenary of the death of Lord Byron in Nottinghamshire

My Lord Byron feature appeared in print in the Daily Mail travel section last week.

The story was based around a visit to Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire [pictured above].

The original copy was edited for space, so here’s my first draft of the article below.

He was notorious for drinking from a cup crafted from a monk’s skull. He spent his evenings drunkenly singing Albanian sea shanties and was famously described by one of his former lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

Lord Bryon was, in many ways, the first celebrity. A Romantic poet, bon-viveur and scandaliser-in-chief of Regency society, he became the poster boy for literary mavericks and popularised vampire stories.

Nottinghamshire marks the 200-year anniversary of the death this year [April 19] with Newstead Abbey, his ancestral home near Mansfield, hosting the year-long exhibition, Byron a Sensational Life, showcasing artefacts from the Byron collection.

“I see him as a pansexual rock star in the Harry Styles mould,” says Newstead curator Jonathan Brown. “For all his faults, he would have been great company.”

Newstead dates from 1163 and was founded as an Augustinian Priory, surviving the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. The Monk’s Room, the former priory oratory with witching marks on the wooden beams, is said to be still haunted by The Black Monk.

Lord Byron arrived at Newstead in 1808 having inherited the title from his uncle, the so-called Wicked Lord, and set about beautifying the crumbling ancestral pile. Drowning in debt, he sold it to his Harrow schoolfriend, Thomas Wildman, in 1817 with the bailiffs and a series of angry husbands, whose wives Byron had seduced, knocking down the door.

Wildman subsequently hung Thomas Phillips’ 1813 portrait of Byron above the hearth in the Great Drawing Room, where he still surveys his adoring fans today.

The exhibition reveals the eccentricities behind the myth and uncovers rare items from the collection. In Byron’s bedroom, I learn he kept a loaded pistol next to his four-poster bed. The Edward III Room has a first edition of Polidori’s novella The Vampyre, inspired by Byron’s rakish appearance, and stanzas from Byron’s The Giaour, which between them inspired Bram Stoker and the Twilight films alike.

The library, meanwhile, documents his multiple affairs and menagerie of animals, including Bruin, a domesticated dancing bear, but also his political convictions. Byron used his first speech in the House of Lords to back the frame-breakers, the lacemakers from Nottingham’s historic lace quarter, who were struggling to maintain their trade during the Industrial Revolution.

Following a disastrous marriage to Annabella Milbanke, and amid scandalous rumours regarding his relationship with his own half-sister, Byron exiled himself to Europe in 1818. He died, aged 36, fighting the Greek War of Independence in 1824, making the eccentric lord a folk hero in Greece.

Byron leaves a legacy across Nottinghamshire, however. A short drive from Newstead is the village of Hucknall, where a statue of Byron looks out regally atop a kitchen shop and his book-shaped memorial is to be found in the graveyard of St Mary Magdalene Church.

Elsewhere, the Bromley House Library, the Georgian townhouse turned subscription library in central Nottingham, hosts the Byron at Bromley exhibition with a first edition and an early guidebook to Newstead amongst the atmospheric collection of dusty tomes and ceiling-high shelves. “I feel many of his circle were drawn to Byron’s inner turmoil,” says Heather Green, library supervisor.

Byron’s scandalous reputation eventually overtook his literary legacy. But with events across Nottinghamshire to mark his anniversary, plus an upcoming BBC Travelogue with Rob Rinder and Rylan Clark tracing his Grand Tour, Byron’s celebrity remains undiminished.

“I have a complex relationship with Byron,” says Dr. Sam Hirst, a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, who is consulting on the Newstead exhibition.

“But I feel a strange attachment to some of his work. After all these years, he can still really connect with people.”

Indeed, exploring the Newstead grounds later that day, I find the softer side to the Romantic firebrand. The grave of his beloved dog, Boatswain bears a moving epitaph from his devoted master.

“To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;

I never knew but one – and here he lies.”

More from Newstead Abbey

How to spend a spooky Halloween weekend in haunted Nottingham

Nottingham is home to some of Britain’s most haunted buildings.

I spent an autumnal weekend in the East Midlands city to get a feel for its dark-tourism heritage on a Halloween assignment for the Daily Mail travel section.

My feature was published at the weekend and here’s a taster:

The whole city, first founded by the Anglo-Saxons, is built on a sandstone bedrock, leaving a labyrinthine system of 800 man-made caves deep under the modern cityscape.

Folk tales of use as makeshift prisons and torture chambers lurk in the darkest corners.

“Rebellious Nottingham has lots of dark stories,” says tourist guide Keri Usherwood.

“From Robin Hood to the Lace Market Luddites of the 19thcentury textile trade, these stories help us make sense of our place in the world today.”

But the spookiest place in Nottingham is an ancient pub with a dark history.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem dates from 1189 and is said to be the oldest pub in England. It was a staging point for medieval pilgrims seeking refreshment and built into the castle cliff face.

Taking a seat in the upstairs Rock Lounge with pint of Olde Trip best bitter, I’m joined by landlord Karl Gibson, who has experienced regular paranormal activity since taking over in 2012.

“I’ve come to respect the history of both the pub and the city,” says Karl. “When I’m here alone, I feel these walls are telling me something.”

Read the full story via Daily Mail travel, Discovering the haunted joys of Nottingham.

More information Visit Nottinghamshire www.visit-nottinghamshire.co.uk.

Robin Hood: how to follow the legend around Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Robin Hood is making a comeback.

The latest take on the folk tale hits cinema screens this winter (November 23).

It’s a darker, more adventure-based retelling of the traditional story, starring The Kingsman‘s Taron Egerton in the lead role and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The film comes off the back of the opening of the new Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre, a new £5m facility in partnership with the RSPB, which opens to the public late August this year.

We had a preview, writing an article for a forthcoming issue of Family Traveller magazine. We also visited Creswell Crags, where Robin Hood is alleged to have hidden in the Ice Age caves [pictured above].

Local history expert John Charlesworth told us how the Robin Hood story has always been a favourite of cinema audiences.

The American actor Errol Flynn played the outlaw with verve in the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, while the last film, starring Russell Crowe as the man in Lincoln green was released in 2010.

There was even a 1960’s Canadian cartoon series, Rocket Robin Hood, which finds Robin living on the Sherwood asteroid in outer space.

“For me Errol Flynn portrayed Robin Hood best, with great fencing and a superb musical score, but I do have a sneaking fondness for Robin and Marian (1976), staring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. It has a more poignant feel, portraying Robin as a man out of his time.”

Read more in the autumn issue of Family Traveller magazine.

Story of the week: Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham


In Sherwood Forest all paths lead to the Major Oak.

The 900-year-old tree towers over the green shoots of the forest like an elder statesman on the bright spring morning of my visit.

Meanwhile, a crowd of appreciative onlookers snake a meandering trail from the visitors’ centre to gaze upon the place where the Britain’s best-loved outlaw and his band of merry men allegedly made their home.

Sherwood Forest was the largest of 90 royal forests created by William the Conqueror and once covered most of Nottinghamshire north of the River Trent.

From the 12th to 14th century, when the Sheriff of Nottingham enforced a strict forest law to protect the king’s livestock, Sherwood became home to numerous highwaymen.

They hunted for animals and robbed passing travellers along the erstwhile Great North Road — now the present-day A1.

Audio trail

The Major Oak is my starting point today to follow a new interactive audio trail, In the Footsteps of Robin Hood.

It retraces the trail blazed across the Nottinghamshire countryside by the character that has evolved from medieval folk tale to TV action hero via various incarnations on the silver screen.

Joining me to follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood’s is John Charlesworth, an expert in local history, who acted as a consultant to the development of the trail.

“Personally I believe Robin was a real outlaw, not just a fictional character,” says John.

“In the 1220s, a Robert Hod appeared in court in Yorkshire and was made into a fugitive from the law. He is the original Robin Hood.”

The trail is based around seven key sites, forming a triangular route from Sherwood Forest via Nottingham Castle in central Nottingham to Clumber Park near the town of Worksop.

There are also three new walking trails marked off the main route, all of which are designed to help explore the rural reaches of the East Midlands through their connection to the Robin Hood story.

At each of the locations a crossbow-shaped interpretation unit adds context to the truth behind the Robin Hood legend via audio-visual material.

Sound tracks

For the car journey between the sites, you can buy the CD commentary from local tourist offices and check the accompanying map; alternatively download it as a podcast to your iPod and bike your way round following the Sustrans National Cycle Route.

From the Major Oak, John and I retrace our steps through the 450-acre forest, following flower-strewn woodland paths and passing heathlands alive with birdlife.

We emerge from a clearing into the attractive village of Edwinstowe, home to a slew of places to stay and eat on the fringe of Sherwood Forest.

From here we take to the car, driving through the rural heart of Nottinghamshire’s Robin Hood country while John explains how one of the original medieval tales, The Gest of Robin Hood, is the basis for the legend as we know it today.

The fable tells of Robin’s rivalry with the Sheriff, the legend of splitting a silver arrow with his mastery of the longbow and the eventual pardoning by King Edward.

It even includes references to his merry men, including Will Scarlet and Little John, but Friar Tuck and Maid Marian are absent, likely to be latter-day additions as the legend evolved.

Stately home

Heading northeast from Edwinstowe, the next stop is Rufford Abbey, founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks and later transformed into a country estate for several wealthy local families.

Legends suggest that, while Robin famously robbed the rich and gave to the poor, he had an uneasy relationship with the Church of England and the abbey’s crypt, located in the expansive grounds, still contains ancient manuscripts and tapestries with records from Robin’s day.

The next stop, Clumber Park, was formerly a major deer-hunting park, where Robin would have hunted in defiance of forest law.

The country house was demolished in 1938 but the park remains with its Gothic chapel, wide-open spaces and expansive lake.

As we stroll along a serene avenue, where lime trees sway gently in the breeze, John explains how, before the current hit TV series, the Legend of Robin Hood had been a favourite of cinema audiences.

The American actor Errol Flynn played the outlaw with verve in the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, while a new film, starring Russell Crowe is currently in production.

There was even a 1960’s Canadian cartoon series, Rocket Robin Hood, which finds Robin living on the Sherwood asteroid in outer space.

“For me Errol Flynn portrayed Robin Hood best, with great fencing and a superb musical score, but I do have a sneaking fondness for Robin and Marian (1976), staring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn,” says John.

“It has a more poignant feel, portraying Robin as a man out of his time.”

Evolving story

Our last stop is Cresswell Crags on the trail’s northwest spur, where Robin is alleged to have hidden while fleeing the Sheriff of Nottingham with a bounty on his head.

Under forest law, outlaws could be take dead or alive and Robin would have hidden in the dark, dank chambers of the caves to escape both the Sheriff’s men and locals seeking to betray him for a bag of silver.

Back in Edwinstowe village we end our journey with a stroll around the churchyard of St Mary’s where, according to the legend’s happy ending, Robin and Maid Marian were finally married.

“For me the way Robin reflects our modern-day issues is what makes him such a fascinating character,” says John as we say our farewells.

“Robin can change with the times but the core of the story remains timeless.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in Ink in-flight magazines in 2007.

Liked this? Try also Light Night in Nottingham.