Attributed to Peter Tillemans, 1684-1734
A Panorama of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire
pencil and greywash
16 x 47 cm. (6.1/2 x 18.1/2 in.


Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, England, was formerly an Augustinian priory. Converted to a domestic home following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it is now best known as the ancestral home of Lord Byron.

Monastic foundation

The priory of St. Mary of Newstead, a house of Augustinian Canons, was founded by King Henry II of England about the year 1170,as one of many penances he paid following the murder of Thomas Becket. Contrary to its current name, Newstead was never an abbey: it was a priory.

In the late 13th century, the priory was rebuilt and extended. It was extended again in the 15th-century, when the Dorter, Great Hall and Prior's Lodgings were added. The priory was designed to be home to at least 13 monks, although there appears to have been only 12 (including the Prior) at the time of the dissolution.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 gave the clear annual value of this priory as £167 16s. 11½d. The considerable deductions included 20s. given to the poor on Maundy Thursday in commemoration of Henry II, the founder, and a portion of food and drink similar to that of a canon given to some poor person every day, valued at 60s. a year.

Despite the clear annual value of Newstead being below the £200 assigned as the limit for the suppression of the lesser monasteries, this priory obtained the doubtful privilege of exemption, on payment to the Crown of the heavy fine of £233 6s. 8d in 1537.

The surrender of the house was accomplished on 21 July 1539. The signatures attached were those of John Blake, prior, Richard Kychun, sub-prior, John Bredon, cellarer, and nine other canons, Robert Sisson, John Derfelde, William Dotton, William Bathley, Christopher Motheram, Geoffrey Acryth, Richard Hardwyke, Henry Tingker, and Leonard Alynson.

The prior obtained a pension of £26 13s. 4d., the sub-prior £6, and the rest of the ten canons who signed the surrender sums varying from £5 6s. 8d. to £3 6s. 8d.

The lake was dredged in the late eighteenth century and the lectern, thrown into the Abbey fishpond by the monks to save it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, was discovered. In 1805 it was given to Southwell Minster by Archdeacon Kaye where it still resides.

Priors of Newstead

  • Eustace, 1216
  • Richard, 1216
  • Robert, 1234
  • William (late cellarer), 1241
  • William, 1267
  • John de Lexinton, resigned 1288
  • Richard de Hallam, 1288
  • Richard de Grange, 1293
  • William de Thurgarton, 1324
  • Hugh de Colingham, 1349
  • William de Colingham, resigned 1356
  • John de Wylesthorp, resigned 1366
  • William de Allerton, 1366
  • John de Hucknall, 1406
  • William Bakewell, 1417
  • Thomas Carleton, resigned 1424
  • Robert Cutwolfe, resigned 1424
  • William Misterton, 1455
  • John Durham, 1461
  • Thomas Gunthorp, 1467
  • William Sandale, 1504
  • John Blake, 1526

Country house

Newstead Abbey in 1880.
Newstead Abbey in 2012
Newstead Abbey in 2007

Sir John Byron of Colwick in Nottinghamshire was granted Newstead Abbey by Henry VIII of England on 26 May 1540 and started its conversion into a country house. He was succeeded by his son Sir John Byron of Clayton Hall. Many additions were made to the original building. The 13th century ecclesiastical buildings were largely ruined during the dissolution of the monasteries. It then passed to John Byron, an MP and Royalist commander, who was created a baron in 1643. He died childless in France and ownership transferred to his brother Richard Byron. Richard's son William was a minor poet and was succeeded in 1695 by his son William Byron, 4th Baron Byron.

Early in the 18th century, the 4th Lord Byron landscaped the gardens extensively, to which William Byron, 5th Baron Byronadded Gothic follies. It became a stately and glamorous estate. The 5th baron, known as "the Wicked Lord", was eccentric and violent and ruined the estate. Lord Byron's son and heir (also named William) eloped with his cousin Juliana Byron, the daughter of William's brother John Byron. Lord Byron felt that intermarrying would produce children plagued with madness and strongly opposed the union. He also needed his son to marry well to escape the debt that had been incurred in the Byron name. When defied by his son, he became enraged and committed himself to ruining his inheritance so that, in the event of his death, his son would receive nothing but debt and worthless property. He laid waste to Newstead Abbey, allowing the house to fall into disrepair, cutting down the great stands of timber surrounding it, and killing over 2,000 deer on the estate.

His vicious plan, however, was thwarted when his son died in 1776. William also outlived his grandson, a young man who, at the age of twenty-two, was killed by cannon fire in 1794 while fighting in Corsica. The 5th Lord died on 21 May 1798, at the age of seventy-nine and on his death, it is said, great numbers of crickets he kept at Newstead left the estate in swarms. The title and Newstead Abbey was then left to his great-nephew, George Gordon, the famous poet, who became the 6th Baron Byron.

Lord Byron

The young Lord Byron soon arrived at Newstead and was greatly impressed by the estate. The scale of the estate contributed to Byron's extravagant taste and sense of his own importance. However, no less impressive was the scale of problems at Newstead, where the yearly income had fallen to just £800 and many repairs were needed. He and his mother soon moved to Nottingham and neither lived permanently at Newstead for any extended period. His view of the decayed Newstead became one of the romantic ruin, a metaphor for his family's fall:

Thro' thy battlements, Newstead, the hollow winds whistle;
Thou, the hall of my fathers, art gone to decay.

The estate was leased to the 23-year-old Henry Edward Yelverton, 19th Baron Grey de Ruthyn, from January 1803. The lease was for £50 a year for the Abbey and Park for five years, until Byron came of age. Byron stayed for some time in 1803 with Lord Grey, before they fell out badly.

In 1808, Lord Grey left at the end of his lease and Byron returned to live at Newstead and began extensive and expensive renovations. His works were mainly decorative, however, rather than structural, so that rain and damp obscured his changes within just a few years.

Byron had a beloved Newfoundland dog named Boatswain, who died of rabies in 1808. Boatswain was buried at Newstead Abbey and has a monument larger than his master's. The inscription, from Byron's poem Epitaph to a Dog, has become one of his best-known works:

The poem Epitaph to a Dog as inscribed on Boatswain's monument
Near this Spot
Are deposited the Remains
of one
Who possessed Beauty
Without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
And all the Virtues of Man
without his Vices.
This Praise, which would be unmeaning flattery
If inscribed over Human Ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
"Boatswain," a Dog
Who was born at Newfoundland,
May, 1803,
And died at Newstead Abbey
Nov. 18, 1808.

Byron had wanted to be buried with Boatswain, although he would ultimately be buried in the family vault at the nearby church in Hucknall.

He was determined to stay at Newstead—"Newstead and I stand or fall together"—and he hoped to raise a mortgage on the property, but his advisor John Hanson urged a sale. This would be a preoccupation for many years and was certainly not resolved when Byron left for his Mediterranean travels in 1809. Upon his return to England in 1811, Byron stayed in London, not returning to see his mother who had been living in Newstead. She died, leaving him distraught at his own negligence of her. He lived again at the Abbey for a time but was soon drawn to life in London.

For the next few years, Byron made several attempts to sell the Abbey. It was put up at auction in 1812 but failed to reach a satisfactory price. A buyer was found, however, who offered £140,000, which was accepted. By spring 1813, though, the buyer, Thomas Claughton, had only paid £5,000 of the agreed down-payment. Byron was in debt and had continued to spend money on the expectation that the house would be sold. Negotiations began to degenerate and Byron accused Claughton of robbing the wine cellar. By August 1814, it was clear that the sale had fallen through, and Claughton forfeited what he had paid of the deposit. Byron was now without settled financial means and proposed marriage to the heiress Anne Isabella Milbanke. Claughton did return with new proposals involving a reduced price and further delays. Byron turned him down.

Later owners

Colonel Thomas Wildman

Newstead Abbey (1975)

In July 1815, Newstead was once again put up for auction but failed to reach its reserve, bought in at 95,000 guineas. It was only during Byron's exile in Italy, in 1818, that a buyer was found. Thomas Wildman, who had been at Harrow School with Byron and was heir to Jamaican plantations, paid £94,500, easing Byron's financial troubles considerably.

Wildman too spent a great deal of money on the Abbey and its contents, restoring it to some greatness. The architect John Shaw Sr.designed new parts of the abbey for Wildman.

William Frederick Webb

In 1861, William Frederick Webb, African explorer, bought the Abbey from Wildman's widow. Under Webb, the chapel was redecorated, but the rest of the house remained largely unaltered. After his death in 1899, the estate passed to each of his surviving children and finally to his grandson Charles Ian Fraser. Fraser sold Newstead to local philanthropist, Sir Julien Cahn, who presented it to Nottingham Corporation in 1931.


Newstead Abbey in June 2015.

The Abbey is now publicly owned, by Nottingham City Council, and houses a museum containing Byron memorabilia.

Artist biography

Peter Tillemans (c. 1684 – 5 December 1734)[1] was a Flemish painter, best known for his works on sporting and topographical subjects. Alongside John Wootton and James Seymour, he was one of the founders of the English school of sporting painting.

From 1708 until his death he lived and worked in England.

A bust of a man believed to be Peter Tillemans, by John Michael Rysbrack(1727)

Tillemans was born in Antwerp in c. 1684, the son of a diamond-cutter, and studied painting there under various masters. As he was the brother-in-law of another Flemish painter, Pieter Casteels, it is assumed that he married before leaving Antwerp. Like other artists from the Low Countries such as Dirk MaasJan Wyck and Willem van de Velde the Younger, Tillemans moved to England. In Tillemans's case he moved in 1708, induced to do so by a picture-dealer called Turner: he spent the rest of his life working there.[2]

In his Sportsmen in a Landscape (1971), Aubrey Noakes offers this description of Tillemans:

If we may judge from his success Tillemans was a socially agreeable and charming man. A portrait of him reveals that he was a gentle, friendly-looking fellow, with long curling hair, presumably his own and not a wig, such as was commonly worn by members of the upper and professional classes in the late eighteenth century.[1]

A chronic sufferer of asthma, Tillemans retired to Richmond "on account of his ill state of health".[3] He died at the house of Dr Cox Macro (1683–1767, later chaplain to George II) in Little Haugh Hall, in Suffolk, on 5 December 1734 (the previous day he "had been busy on a horse portrait")[1]and was buried on 7 December at Stowlangtoft. His collection of paintings had been sold in an auction conducted by Dr Macro on 19 and 20 April 1733 and included paintings by James Tillemans, probably a son or other relation, and by Arthur Devis, who, like Joseph Francis Nollekens, was one of Tillemans's pupils.[2][4] Dr Macro had a bust of Tillemans made by John Michael Rysbrack, placing it "in a niche at the top of a staircase in Little Haugh Hall".[1] A portrait of the artist, engraved by T. Chambers, from a painting by Hissings, is given in Fuseli's 1805 revised edition of Rev. Matthew Pilkington's A Dictionary of Painters.[5]

Tillemans was brought to England in 1708 by "Turner, a picture dealer"; his first works were copies of battle scenes made for Turner, particularly of the works of Jacques Courtois,[5]as well as small genre pictures.[6] He enjoyed much success imitating the style and execution of David Teniers.[5]

The Battle of Glenshiel 1719, 1719

Tillemans worked in many different styles and rarely dated his work. After at first working as a copyist, he quickly made his name, and among his first important commissions in England were two paintings of the interior of the Palace of Westminster, one of Queen Anne in the House of Lords(1708–14), the other of the House of Commons in session (c. 1710).[3] By 1711 Tillemans joined Godfrey Kneller's Academy of Painting and Drawing in Great Queen StreetLondon, stating his speciality as "landskip".[2]

His main residence was in Westminster but he travelled extensively on commission. Dr Cox Macro, his most faithful patron and the one for whom his work is best documented, gave him commissions, including battle and hunting scenes, landscapes, renovation work, and portraits from 1715.[2][6] In 1716 Tillemans repainted part of a portrait of Dr Macro by Frans van Mieris from around 1703, making alterations to his face.[7]That year he also painted Dr Macro in the background of The Artist's Studio (c. 1716), a self-portrait, with a pupil and Dr Cox Macro, surrounded in the studio by paintings.[2] (He also painted Dr Macro's children in Master Edward and Miss Mary Macro in c. 1733). In 1717, his conversation piece of the royal family making music was shown at the Bartholomew fair.[2] He was commissioned in 1719 by the antiquary John Bridges to "make about 500 drawings for a projected history of Northamptonshire",[6] and some of these were later published in Peter Whalley's History and Antiquities of the County of Northamptonshire (1791).[2] His other patrons included the Duke of Devonshire, the 4th Baron Byron (to whom he was also drawing instructor),[5] and the Duke of Kingston.[3]

His "highly accurate"[8] eponymous painting of the Battle of Glen Shiel in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, painted in the same year as the battle, was originally catalogued as The Battle of Killiecrankie 1689.[8]

Sporting and topographical works

The greater part of Tillemans's oeuvre was painted from approximately 1720 onwards,[9] and it is from the works painted over these years that he chiefly derives his fame.

Three Hounds with Horsemen, a Hunt to the Left

During the early 1720s, Tillemans moved successfully into the field of painting dogs, horses and racing scenes and was one of the earliest painters of sporting scenes in England; four of these works, "engraved by Claude du Bosc and published in 1723, are among the most spectacular early sporting prints in England".[6]

Horse with Groom and Hounds, 1734. Tillemans was working on this unfinished painting on the day before he died.

The development of painting on sporting themes was centred on the Newmarket Racecourse in the market town of Newmarket in Suffolk. Together with his friend John Wootton (a pupil of Jan Wyck) and James Seymour, Tillemans was one of the three founders of the English sporting school;[10] their paintings "show the first marriage of the topographical tradition of landscape with a sporting element".[10] Because both Wootton and Tillemans omitted to sign many of their works, some of them are difficult to tell apart.[10] Tillemans's Newmarket: the Long Course(1723) is in the Government Art Collection.[2] Another Newmarket scene, The Newmarket Watering Course and a sporting scene, Three Hounds with Horsemen, a Hunt to the Left, both in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, were originally part of John Patteson's collection. Patteson had inherited many of Tillemans's paintings by his marriage into Dr Macro's family,[11] and these now form part of the Patteson Collection at Norwich Castle Museum. Tilleman painted numerous portraits of racehorses for his patrons, among whom were the Dukes of SomersetRutland, and Bolton, and the Earl of Portmore.[5]

The Thames at Twickenham, 1725

According to Sir Walter Gilbey in his Animal Painters of England From the Year 1650: A brief history of their lives and works:

The excellent plates engraved by Js. Sympson and Jn. Lloyds, from a set of three pictures descriptive of " Newmarket Horse Races," enable us to measure Tilleman's talent as a horse painter. Equine anatomy had not yet been mastered — had been hardly approached seriously — by artists when these pictures were painted, but the "different actions and postures," to quote from the inscription on the first of the series, are rendered with a skill that shows no inconsiderable advance in the art of horse portraiture.[5]

In 1724, Tillemans worked with Joseph Goupy on scenery for the Haymarket opera house.[2]

Foxhunting in Wooded Country, 1720–30

Tillemans was also a member of the Rose and Crown Club, and in 1725 was recorded by George Vertue as steward to the Society of the Virtuosi of St Luke. Vertue noted that Tillemans was acquainted with "people of Fashion & persons of Quality" and was in demand as a painter of country-house and estate views.[2][6]

Chirk Castle from the North, 1725

His country house paintings include Chatsworth House (1720s), Holker Hall, and Chirk Castle in Denbighshire (1725). In such work the houses often stand in landscapes brought to life by animals and hunting scenes.[2]

Tillemans painted several topographical works of views in Richmond and Twickenham, to the west of London, including A View of Richmond from Twickenham Park (later engraved by P. Benazech),[5] A View from Richmond Hill and The Thames at Twickenham (known also as A Prospect of Twickenham). This last painting, the "earliest complete topographical view of the river frontage in the 18th century",[3] was commissioned either by the poet Alexander Pope (his villa by the Thames is shown in the painting)[12] or John Robartes, later 4th Earl of Radnor.[3] His panorama of The Thames from Richmond Hill (c. 1723) was one of three paintings done for the Earl of Radnor.[2]

Known works

The Artist's Studioc. 1716
Portrait of Master Edward and Miss Mary Macro, the children of Revd Dr Cox Macroc. 1733
Queen Anne in the House of Lords, 1708–14
Interior of the House of Commons In Sessionc. 1710
Charge de cavalerie