Interestingly there are other differences in the standards of maintenance and display of the areas in the Abbey inhabited by the Webbs and those inhabited by the servants. One example of this is that the Kitchen, even though it is reasonably accurate, is not available for general public viewing, only schools visits etc. Another is the before mentioned restaurant. The areas of the Abbey that it was built over were servants work areas. Also as you walk through the rooms below stairs there is an alcove where there is general junk from the modern Abbey just dumped, like a vacuum cleaner.
This ruins the illusion of the 19th century Newstead’s below stairs. I feel that there is not enough emphasis on the servants of Newstead Abbey to give a fully rounded view of what it was like in 1871, as it wasn’t just the lives of the wealthy that made up the mini community of Newstead. It is a biased emphasis on the Webbs although they are important, not focusing so much on the servants areas gives an unrealistic view of the Abbey. Another reason for Newstead being an inaccurate is that there is too much emphasis on Lord Byron.
By 1871 Lord Byron had not set foot in The Abbey for 57 years. Even so the Famous poet attracts tourists from all over the globe, and Newstead Abbey does not waste the opportunity to make Lord Byrons presence felt wherever possible. There is a Byron Library, there are paintings and busts of him all over and it’s advertised as ‘The Ancestral Home of Lord Byron’. In the gift shop Byron is still very much a focus, with his face on the bags. His heroic side is very much a focus and in the Byron Library here are suits of armour and helmets from his war days.
Also speeches, that he made during the industrial revolution, to the House of Lords in favour of the Ludites who were destroying machinery. Byron pointed out that the machinery had destroyed their livelihood and by standing up for what he believed Byron was made out to be a hero. Other artefacts that emphasise this side of Byron are boxing gloves, a painting of Byrons boxing instructor and sparring partner and swords including a ceremonial one. All of this plays up to the tourists who want to see Lord Byron portrayed in a positive way.
Another incorrect emphasis is the paranormal. There are plenty stories of it being haunted by many different ghostly beings. Some of them are ‘The Black Friar’ also known as ‘The Goblin Friar’ or ‘The Monk of Newstead’, ‘Little Sir John’ and most famous ‘The White Lady’ whom the restaurant is named after. Though they don’t specifically say that the Abbey is haunted, these factors and others such as ghost evenings fuel misconceptions of tourists. Therefore we have two opposing opinions on today’s representation of the Abbey.
It claims to be a reflection of life as it was in the days of the Webbs and the di?? cor and material excess of the hours is in line with this statement but there is so much emphasis on Lord Byron. However this may not be as out of line as it is thought. Mrs Amelia Webb did in fact use Lord Byron as a tool to bring in tourists to the Abbey. She collected Byron Artefacts and curios, such as the skull cup. Although the one we see there today is a replica as the original was seen as disgusting and unholy and was taken and ritually buried somewhere in the grounds and is lost to this day.
So if we were to visit we were to visit the Abbey in 1871 we would in fact come across some Byron tourism, maybe not in the same way but it still would be there. However the main reason for the Abbey not being a totally accurate representation is heritage tourism; the act of portraying selected historical elements for commercial reasons. The Abbey emphasises what will attract tourists. It was started here by Amelia Webb with Lord Byron and that still attracts many visitors today. They now know that Showing off the rich splendour of the Webbs will attract tourists, who would naturally want to experience luxury, especially Victorian luxury.
The servants may be interesting to some but generally they are not such a selling point as the main family that lived there. The superstition is just another means of getting tourists into the Abbey. People like excitement and mystery and a large old stately home is a perfect setting for a ghost story. People don’t have to be told whether there are ghosts or not they will draw their own conclusions but the Abbey gives out enough hints and nudges in the right direction to make people believe. However saying this is not a true reflection of the Abbey in 1871 is wrong.
People in those days would more than likely have believed in ghosts and whether there were ghosts living in the Abbey then, or even now, who can say? In conclusion I think that the Abbey gives a good impression of life in the 19th century. No it’s not perfect, but it gives a fairly accurate representation as well as bringing in the tourists. When you think about it if it didn’t have a means of bringing in tourists it wouldn’t matter if it was a good reflection of history or not, because no-one would be there to see it…