Mansfield Fire Museum www.mansfieldfiremuseum.org.uk
Mansfield Heritage Trail www.mansfield.gov.uk
Mansfield Museum www.mansfield.gov.uk
Newstead Abbey www.newsteadabbey.org.uk
Pleasley Pit & Country Park www.pleasleypittrust.org.uk
“The more you read of Byron’s troubled life and times as you make your way round the premises, the more improbable a fatally attractive womaniser he seems. The idea that he ever limped along his drive from the bus-stop seems very fanciful.
“In contrast to the later image of a man of action, Byron was as apt to be fighting the flab as the enemies of Greece. He associated thinness with mental clarity and creativity. Ahead of his time as a student, at university he followed a diet of biscuits and soda water; prone to binge, he would wash a super-sized meal down with magnesia. He smoked cigars to ward off hunger pangs.
“Byron’s height as an adult was 5ft 8ins and his odd eating habits brought his weight down from 13st 12lbs to 9st at one point. Constantly on his guard against corpulence, he also had to live with a deformed foot. He took exercise with the same moderation he applied to his diet; remarkably, he became a skilled sportsman and, as a swimmer, might have been known as Flipper to his friends had he lived 180 years later. He also helped the weight-loss along by wearing layers of woollen clothes to promote sweating. Mad, bad and fragrant to know…
“How much time Byron spent at Newstead is open to question. The Abbey says he lived there “at various times” between the autumns of 1808 (when he was 20) and 1814. Also between those years he:
• Undertook the Grand Tour, an expedition cut short by the Napoleonic Wars
• Crossed Portugal and Spain by land and thence the Mediterranean to Greece
• Moved on to Smyrna and Constantinople where he famously swam the Hellespont
• Became a celebrity on returning to London with the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
• May have had affairs with (among others) a 14yr-old Italian boy, a 12yr-old Greek girl, Lady Caroline Lamb and his half-sister Augusta Leigh.
“Stately homes are usually interesting for the décor, the furnishings or the architecture. Newstead Abbey is not bad to look at and some of the rooms are memorable, but it’s the former lord of the manor, his strange character and activities, that will stay in your mind as you make your way back down his curving, wooded and interminable drive.”
This is an extract from ‘Towns of Two Halves’. Order a copy from Amazon