Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey is a former priory and home of poet Lord Byron, inhabited by several ghosts. Newstead Abbey, located in Nottinghamshire, England, was built in 1170 as a priory for Canons of the Order of St. Augustine, or Black Canons. In 1540, Sir John Byron acquired it and turned it into a mansion. It remained the Byron family home for nearly 300 years. According to superstition, ill luck comes to those who turn religious houses into personal or secular use. So it was with the Byron family, who suffered generations of bad luck, including declining fortunes.

The last Lord Byron to occupy the home was the famous Romantic poet, whose given name was George Gordon (1788–1824). When he inherited the estate, it was in terrible shape. His mother was too poor to live on the property, and his father, known as “Devil Byron” and “the Wicked Lord,” was living in the scullery, the only room with a roof intact against water. Devil Byron died there alone.

The poet Lord Byron was a handsome, colorful and eccentric figure. Club-footed, he nonetheless attracted many female admirers but was contemptuous of women. He was notorious for his love affairs, carried on both during and after his ill-fated marriage to Anne Milbanke. His most famous paramours were Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of Viscount Melbourne, and Claire Clairmont, the sisterin- law of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In 1817 Byron went to live in Venice. He sold Newstead Abbey in 1818 for 95,000 pounds. Far more money had to be devoted to repairing it. The curse stuck, for successive owners also were plagued with bad luck. Byron, meanwhile, wandered about Europe. He was working for Greek independence when he died in 1824.

The most famous Ghost at Newstead is the Black Friar or Goblin Friar. The appearance of this spectral figure was considered a portent of disaster by the Byron family. Byron himself saw the Black Friar on the eve of his wedding in 1815, a union which he later described as the single most unhappy event of his life. The marriage lasted a year.

The White Lady is believed to be the ghost of Sophia Hyett, the daughter of a bookseller, who was infatuated with and obsessed by the dashing lord. She wanders about crying, “Alas, my Lord Byron!”

Byron’s Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, also haunts Newstead. Byron described his beloved pet as his only friend and left instructions that he was to be buried alongside the dog on the site of the Black Canons’ high altar. Byron buried the dog there, but his wishes for his own burial were ignored. Some believe that is why the restless ghost of Boatswain wanders about, looking for his master.

Another ghost, now seldom seen, is Little Sir John Byron, who lived in the 16th century. He was fond of appearing under his portrait, reading.

The ghost of the poet Lord Byron himself is not present at Newstead.

Further Reading:

  • Coxe, Anthony D. Hippisley. Haunted Britain. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.
  • Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Assoc., 1977.
  • Marsden, Simon. The Haunted Realm: Echoes from Beyond the Tomb. London: Little, Brown and Co., 1998.

The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written byRosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007
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