Byron book is back home

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A COPY of a historic book of condolence to Lord Byron is to be officially presented during Hucknall’s 2012 International Byron Festival.

It will be handed over at Hucknall Parish Church — where the illustrious poet is buried — on Sunday June 10.

The original album was given in 1825 for visitors to leave their tributes, said Mansfield man Clive Brookes when he gave a talk to fellow members of NEWSTEAD ABBEY BYRON SOCIETY (NABS).

The book mysteriously disappeared in 1834 and might even have been stolen. It eventually turned up in a scruffy condition at a church sale in the USA and was bought for just over £20 by Marilyn Solana in Savannah, Georgia.

Mrs Solana later travelled to Edinburgh and donated the album to the National Library of Scotland, where an archive houses a collection of Byron’s work in the name of publisher John Murray. The book is now set to be restored and put on display there.

NABS chairman Ken Purslow said he was disappointed that the book would not be returned to Hucknall Parish Church, where it really belonged, but having a facsimile of it would be the next best thing.

In his talk, Clive revealed that a total of 815 people who wrote tributes in the book included Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh, who visited the church in September 1829.

Augusta’s love affair with Byron was largely responsible for the poet’s separation from his wife, Annabella Milbanke, and his subsequent self-imposed exile.

Clive also told how he came across a rare book, ‘Gray Days And Gold’, at an antique shop in Newark and bought it for just £1. The book was written by a distinguished American drama and literary critic, William Winter, who visited Hucknall for a pilgrimage to Byron’s burial place on August 8 1884. This was during a period when Hucknall was being transformed by the sinking of its collieries and the influx of railways.

Winter found the town “modern, commonplace, almost squalid in appearance”. He wrote: “The widest part of the main street was filled with stalls, benches, wagons and canvas structures to display vegetables and other things for sale, and it was thronged with rough, noisy and dirty persons, intent on barter and traffic, and not indisposed to boisterous pranks.”

During his visit, Winter met William Calladine, who told him he attended Byron’s funeral and was the last person to go into the vault before the poet’s burial.