MY MEMORIES of Maureen Crisp, the secretary of the Newstead Abbey Byron Society (NABS), who has just died, and my deep admiration for her work, go back to the first International Byron Festival at Hucknall in July 1998.
Not only did the event put Byron country well and truly on the map, it also proved that friendship goes far.
During the 1998 festival, actor Ian Frost, from America, captivated his audience at the Lovelace Theatre in Hucknall Community Centre (now John Godber Centre) on Ogle Street as the poet Lord Byron, in 'Byron, A Celebration', adapted by former New York businessman Bill Studdiford.
I also remember the special service and concert to mark the signing of a friendship agreement between the Ashfield district and the Armenian city of Gyumri, held on Sunday July 5 1998 in Hucknall Parish Church.
After the devastating earthquake which hit Armenia on December 7 1988, Gyumri, then called Leninakan, was the city closest to the epicentre.
People all over the world rushed to Armenia's aid. The gift of the British government to Armenia was a school opened by Margaret Thatcher in the city of Gyumri.
The poet Lord Byron had great admiration for the Armenian people and they called the school 'The Lord Byron School' in his memory.
The school became linked with Holgate Comprehensive School in Hucknall due to the close proximity of the parish church in Market Place, where Byron is buried.
When, in the summer of 1997, Midland Mining announced plans to excavate coal from seams beneath Newstead Abbey – Byron's ancestral home – and its picturesque grounds, Ken Purslow, chairman of NABS (founded 1988), and Maureen Crisp both worked tirelessly in their efforts to oppose the mining plans. It was the belief of experts that the mining could cause major damage to Newstead Abbey itself.
It is interesting to recall that on November 23 1998, while on a visit to Greece, Maureen Crisp met His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, at a reception at the Greek Embassy in Athens and they talked about Newstead Abbey.
The Prince asked her how long the Byron family had lived there and about the present issue with the mining.
One of Maureen's greatest achievements took place in the summer of 2006, when the magnificent six-foot-by-six-foot portrait of Byron's daughter Ada, the countess of Lovelace, was brought to Hucknall Parish Church for the Byron festival in July.
The portrait of Ada hangs in the reception room of 10 Downing Street and was secured on temporary loan from the government arts collection.