To the Manor born


Thrumpton Hall, just south of Nottingham, returned to it’s glory days last weekend, when my daughter Lisa married Leonardo Lopez Wain.  I should have known that there was a Byron connection.  A more romantic setting it would be hard to imagine.  And indeed, a former owner of the Hall, Frederick the 10th Baron Byron, was married to Lady Anna Fitzroy, sister of the 10th Duke of Grafton, and a direct descendant of King Charles II.

An engraving of Thrumpton Hall by Wencelas Hollar in the 1600s

An engraving of Thrumpton Hall by Wencelas Hollar, 1600s (Creative Commons)

The Cavaliers would have felt quite at home at last Saturday’s reception.  My daughter loves period costume and the wedding guests were invited to indulge in the same.  Many of her friends are role players and were delighted to partake.  As one of the guests remarked to me “I just love dressing up, don’t you?”  I had to confess that it was my first time, but that, yes, it did feel good.

I had already survived the drama of arriving at the wrong church just 15 minutes before the ceremony was due to begin, and a panic stricken scurry through country lanes to collapse into my seat a bare 5 minutes before the bride.  My reading from Song of Solomon was delivered with an impassioned throb in my voice and knocking knees as I struggled to find my place in the bible.  After that, everything felt good.

The Hall was magnificent.  We gathered in the library, around an open fire.  The books and the furniture were from a bygone age.  The reception rooms were lavish, and the Jacobean cantilevered staircase, carved in wood from the estate, an object of real beauty.  The guests mingled as good guests should.  The atmosphere was as warm as the fire.

All too soon it was over, and Lisa and Leo stepped briefly out of character to fly BA to their honeymoon in Venice.  Costumes donned again, they were off to Carnaval and a masked ball.  May they always be as happy as they are today.

To see the dress and bouquet in more detail, please visit my Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post : On going.  You can click on any of these individual photos to see them in gallery form.  Happy Valentine’s Day everybody.

Chasing the Byron connection? Windswept at Seaham

Rough seas at Seaham Harbour - copyright Ian Britton at

Life is strange sometimes, isn’t it?  It was one of those “blowing a hooligan” days, but the sky was blue and bright and I just couldn’t stay home.  As always, it was the lure of the sea that pulled me up the coast to Seaham.  It’s a place I don’t often visit, but whenever I do it seems to have improved.  Over the years it’s had to pull itself up by the bootstraps.

Revitalised Terrace Green, Seaham

The Durham coastline is rugged in the extreme and Seaham Harbour was hacked out of these cliffs to provide transport for locally mined coal.  Seaham’s deep mines reached out more than 3 miles beneath the North Sea.  Seacoal and waste despoiled these beaches as far as the eye could see when the last mine finally closed in 1992.  Almost 20 years later, the sea has washed and groomed them back to a semblance of their old selves.

Of course, man has pitched in to help with the repair.  The success of this is evident in the Coastal Footpath which now graces the clifftops.  At numerous points along the coast road it’s easy to drop down onto wide sweeping stretches of coastline.

Seaham itself has a vast panorama.  At the southerly end the lighthouse juts out into the harbour.  Sometimes, returning home by train from Newcastle, I’ve witnessed the sea battering its way in over the harbour wall.  Today was not so ferocious, but I had to lean into the wind.

Lower promenade

From North Terrace you can descend to a lengthy promenade which hugs the cliffs.  Not pretty in itself, still it gives shelter from the wind and the chance to observe the nooks and crannies of the giants above.  Dogs foolishly bark at the waves and small wellie-wearers enjoy the rock pools.

Seaham Hall Beach Car Park Sculpture

At the northern end I clamber back to the cliff top to admire the Seaham Hall Beach Car Park sculpture.  Shaped like the layout of St Mary’s Church, it’s one of a number of sculptures which pay tribute to the town’s heritage.

Vane Tempest Sculpture

The Vane Tempest Sculpture is a striking piece of art work, depicting the skyline of the former Vane Tempest Colliery.

The upper promenade leads back to Terrace Green.  Opposite, at 17A North Terrace, is my favourite coffee stop in Seaham, “Leaf, Bark and Berries”.  An intriguing mix of food emporium, café and furniture shop, the homemade quiches are excellent and I always enjoy a browse at the crafts and cabinetry on display.  Using the sizeable properties to their full potential seems to be a Seaham trait, as I noticed that the newer “Black Truffle Coffee Shop” on Terrace Green boasted a boutique at the rear.  Must check it out, next time.

Leaf, Bark and Berries- cafe-cum-browsing opportunity

Looking back at my subject, you could be forgiven for wondering what all this has to do with Lord Byron.  On 2nd January, 1815 he married Anna Isabella Milbanke, the daughter of the owner of Seaham Hall.  The marriage took place at the Hall rather than at nearby St Mary’s, and was thought by many to be doomed for this reason.  Whatever the cause, they were to last only a year.  A child, Augusta Ada, was born on 2nd December.  She never knew her father, but at her own request was buried next to him in the family vault at Hucknall Torknard Church, Nottingham.  Which, completely coincidentally, brought me full circle with my last post on Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey.

Seaham Hall today is a very grand and successful hotel, the only obvious connection, Lord Byron’s Walk.

Many more details of history and heritage can be found on from whom I have borrowed a number of photographs.  The most recent addition to the town sculptures sits beside the new Byron Place Shopping Centre.

The Brothers- waitin t'gan down

Life as it was in Seaham, a town proud of it’s industrial past, yet reaching out to the future.

Byron’s Newstead Abbey

This weekend was epic for me.  I always love my pre-Christmas visit to my daughter in Nottingham, but this year we did something very special.  We visited Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, decked out in all its Christmas finery.


The gates thrown wide in welcome

The presence of the poet, scholar and freedom fighter, not to mention lover, looms large in this beautiful historic house.  Certainly he was “a bit of a character” and the library is full of texts and tributes to his many escapades.  He lived at Newstead Abbey between 1808 and 1814, but debt finally forced him to sell.  Since then it has been variously renovated and restored by its owners.

The gatehouse

The gatehouse

The pretty pink Pronto bus, en route from Nottingham’s Victoria Centre Bus Station to Mansfield, deposits you right by the entrance.  The charming gatekeepers lodge is just a foretaste of what is to come, as the cheery attendant in the ticket booth is quick to point out.  First though, quite a long walk through the thickly forested grounds.  You can turn off the main drive to follow a winding woodland walk through the trees.  Children would delight in the hide and seek potential of this, though I was concentrating on not upending on the leaves.  In Spring the rhododendrons and camellias must sing with colour.

Approaching the lake

Approaching the lake


Just as you begin to tire you see ahead the drive’s ending, and soon an enormous lake.  Ducks and geese squabble about, while a disdainful peacock awaits your admiration.  On your left, proudly erect, the magnificent Abbey.

West Front

West Front of the Abbey

The West Front dates back to 1274, and is the original façade of the old priory church.  Also intact are the lovely medieval cloisters.  A more romantic setting would be hard to find.  No wonder it inspired Byron’s poetry.

The stairwell’s beautiful floral display

Step through the heavy door and your eyes are drawn to a grand flight of stairs.  Heraldic painting enlivens the ceiling.  If, like me, you’ve arrived on a Christmas opening day, you’ll be lured upwards by the sound of fine voices.  A costumed young lady and gent perform everything from carols to swing, their obvious enjoyment  bringing a smile to my face.  The wood-panelled Great Hall is very grand indeed.

The singers

Our entertainment in the Great Hall

Reluctantly I move on, the voices following.  A dazzling sequence of rooms present themselves.  The handiwork of the college students who have festooned the Abbey with gilded flora and foliage is a beautiful addition to this festive season.  Opulent and exquisite furnishings, Byron’s very own bed, each treasure follows the next.  My favourite, the Japanese room, has stunning cranes gliding across the walls.

Grand Salon

Grand Salon with gilded hydrangea heads in a stunning arrangement

Fabulous table top

Fabulous table top

Grand Salon, grand furnishings

Grand Salon, grand furnishings!

Salon, table and tree

A little genteel reading and writing?

Rocking horse

The rocking horse

Japanese room

My favourite, the Japanese Room


Cranes adorning the wood-panelled walls

In the Gothic Revival Library a poet and storyteller invites you to linger.  The cabinets are filled to the brim with Byron’s astounding past.


Gothic Revival Library and the dazzling chandelier

Library book?

Craft in the Library

Finally there waits the most romantic of cloisters, and a peak into the chapel.  Between duties, Santa is more than happy to chat, adding his own snippets of information to your knowledge.  A quick turn in the bracing air of the cloisters garden and your visit is almost complete.

Lisa meets Santa- just a little blurred. Must be the sherry?

The chapel’s stained glass windows

Inside the chapel

Cloister gardens

Cloister gardens

Naturally there is a shop full of temptation- chutneys, sweets, toys and all things Byron.  Better still, around the corner the café waits.  I was ready for my smoked bacon and brie Panini.  My daughter chose the soup, mightily packed with mushrooms and chives, before indulging her sweet tooth with organic carrot cake.  I resisted the tiny mince pies and a glass of sherry as we still had far to go.  Bookings were being taken for Christmas Afternoon Tea, which sounded superb for £15, but any day of the week Traditional Afternoon Tea can be had for just £10.

The shop

Toys in the shop

One last floral display

One last floral display

300 acres of park and gardens are available for exploration, but the sun was low in the sky and I settled for a quick look through the waterfall.  The grounds are open year round, 9am till dusk, and on Sundays, house tours are available April to September.  For further details and special events Two highly detailed videos will show you round the house if you can’t get there in person.

Lisa and the Abbey

Lisa- not blurred!

Through the waterfall

Through the waterfall

The waterfall

“Mad, bad and dangerous to know” he may well have been, but I truly enjoyed my visit to Byron’s former home.