News for Autumn 2019

Appeal for View of Newstead Abbey

(This is a copy of the appeal that appeared in Salon, Edition 428 -17th June 2019)

In 2014, the Thoroton Society gave an entire volume of its Record Series to Newstead Abbey: a Nottinghamshire Country House: its Owners and Architectural History 1540-1931, by Rosalys Coope FSA and Pete Smith FSA. Within days of the book’s publication, the Curator of Newstead Abbey, Haidee Jackson, contacted the authors to say that a previously unknown painting of the abbey had been offered to Nottingham City Museums for £5,000.

Rosalys Coope died in December 2018, aged 97. She was, wrote Maurice Howard FSA in Salon, ‘One of our longest-serving Fellows, elected to the Society as part of a group of relatively young female scholars promoted and celebrated by the President of the day, Joan Evans FSA. Rosalys’s life was one of extraordinary scholarly achievement across a number of spheres of art and architectural history ... [and] a constant source of encouragement and advice to so many of us in the art-historical community.’ Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery’s paintings are in storage while the site is refurbished (due to re-open in 2020).

The City Council declined to buy the new abbey view, which is currently on loan to Newstead. Pete Smith writes that he hopes to raise the picture’s purchase price, so it can be presented to the Council ‘for restoration and eventual exhibition at Newstead in memory of Rosalys Coope and all she did for Newstead Abbey’.

‘Restorers suggest that the picture will clean up well,’ says Smith, ‘and that the cuts have not damaged any of the more interesting areas of the picture. The present owners Sir James and Lady Halina Graham of Norton Conyers have very generously agreed to reduce the price to £4,500 as an incentive to the scheme.’

Coope and Smith earlier wrote about the painting:

This large oil painting from Norton Conyers in Yorkshire is a view of the Abbey from across the Upper Lake. It is not in good condition, in fact, it is in desperate need of cleaning and professional restoration. The picture is not of the highest artistic quality and the composition is somewhat stagey. It appears to be either by a provincial journeyman artist or an amateur.

The most likely candidate would appear be the Reverend Richard Byron, a younger brother of the 5th Lord Byron whose view of the East Front painted in 1758 and presented by him to his nephew, the Earl of Carlisle at Castle Howard, now hangs in the West Gallery at Newstead (purchased in 1998 from a private collection in Yorkshire). This large canvas may therefore have been painted, possibly from memory, by Richard Byron who had known Newstead in his youth but spent most of his adult life in County Durham and in Yorkshire. This would help to explain some of the obvious inaccuracies in the buildings portrayed. For example, the west front of the Abbey itself is shown with four tall bay windows whereas we know from many other visual sources that the house had only three tall bay windows before 1818. The picture appears to show an external staircase leading from one of these bay windows, something not shown in any of the contemporary views of the west front. The picture also shows Kennels Castle, which was probably built around 1760 indicating that this painting was painted soon after this date.

As with all the known images of Newstead Abbey this picture adds significantly to our knowledge of the history of the Abbey and particularly its surrounding landscape. This painting appears at first sight to be yet another view of the west front of Newstead seen from across the Upper Lake. In fact, this painting is taken from much further back (west) than most other views and includes a detailed representation, in the foreground, of the two arched gateways which led to the open ground in front of Folly Castle. These two gateways are shown in some detail. Their distinctly red colour suggests that they were built of brick (a rarity at Newstead). They may have had Gothic-style decoration like that found on Folly Castle itself, though the condition of the picture means that these details cannot be distinguished at present. Restoration and cleaning would allow us to see these gateways in far more detail.

Between these gateways is a low battlemented wall with cannons on red-painted gun carriages pointing out across the lake. Whether this gun emplacement ever existed is open to question. There is no other evidence for it, and a drawing by S H Grimm which shows the gateways is too distant to be able to make it out. The artist may have conflated the Battery - which still exists at the water’s edge - into this new position in order to emphasise the foreground, where a lady and gentleman promenade.

The couple’s costume confirms a mid-18th century date for the picture. The gentleman - in what might be termed naval attire - appears to be looking across the picture with either a telescope raised to his eye or a horn to his lips! Perhaps they are the 5th Lord and his wife, Elizabeth, and perhaps he is watching or signalling to the ships on the lake. The prominence given to the cannon and the ships on the lake suggests that the subject of this picture may be linked to the naumachia or mock sea-battles, which the 5th Lord, a former naval officer, is known to have staged at Newstead. Such nautical pastimes were indulged by a number of English aristocrats in the 18th century.

This fascinating and problematic painting needs expert cleaning and restoration. This process may well reveal many answers to some of the questions raised about Newstead Abbey. It will, we are sure, transform this picture back to the significant image which it once was.'

Smith has opened a bank account for the appeal and we have so far received generous contributions amounting to over £3,500. The original target was £4,250 so any contributions however small will be much appreciated.’ Details for electronic banking are The Co-operative Bank, Sort Code 08-91-04, Account No. 11378035 (please use your name for the Reference, unless you wish to remain anonymous).
Cheques made payable to Peter Smith can be sent to him at 17 Villa Road, Nottingham NG3 4GG.

In 2015 Newstead Abbey acquired a 16th-century portrait of Sir John Byron, after it had been spotted by Philip Mould in an auction where it had been listed as a portrait of an unidentified gentleman.

Peter Smith

Netherfield Anglo-Saxon Cremation Cemetery

Nick Molyneux is currently researching the Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery found sometime before 1913 at Netherfield, between Carlton and Colwick. Six pots from the site have been held by the University of Nottingham since 1957, having originally been donated to Lincoln's City and County Museum in 1912. Whilst Nottinghamshire's Historic Environment Record (HER) and Audrey Meaney's Gazetteer of Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Sites (1964) make reference to the site, there seems to be little in the way of explanation as to the date and circumstances of the discovery or archaeological context.

If any of you have any information which may be of help, please e-mail Nick at Thank you.

Nick Molyneux