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Byronism undermined....

Controversial plans have been announced to mine over a million tons of coal from under Newstead Abbey, a Grade One listed building which was once the home of Lord Byron and now attracts more than 35,000 visitors annually. The extraction of the coal will cause the building eventually to subside by at least twelve inches.

The situation highlights the conflict between ownership of a property and ownership of the minerals which lie beneath it. Under the law, the owner of the property does not necessarily own the material rights. In this case, Midland Mining own the mineral rights and no planning permission is required to undertake the work.

Midland Mining Mineral's Surveying and Environmental Manager, Doug Williams, states that the company's aim is to reach three faces of coal situated half-a-mile under the Abbey, each face being 800 metres long, 250 metres wide and two metres deep. Midland Mining acknowledges that Newstead Abbey is likely to be damaged as a result and has stated that it is keen to ensure that damage is kept to a minimum. The company has promised that windows which may be in danger as a result of land movement will be removed in advance and replaced by temporary windows until the ground has settled.

The plans have aroused a storm of protest from both local and national organisations. Professor John Beckett, head of history at Nottingham University has expressed concern that an internationally important building would be subject to irreparable damage. Ken Purslow, chairman of the Newstead Abbey Byron Society is demanding a full consultation exercise, describing the plans as 'an act of modern day vandalism'. He decries arguments that the scheme would safeguard jobs, pointing out that the 600-strong workforce would have to be employed from other areas. Although the area used to be a stronghold of the mining industry, there has been considerable diversification in past years. The National Coal Board which used to own the mining rights had previously taken coal from seams nearer the surface leaving the deep coal untouched due to concern about the Abbey's structure.

Newstead Abbey is owned by Nottingham City Council. While deploring the decision to mine, it recognises that there is little it can do to prevent it under existing legislation. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1990 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Act of 1979 does provide some cover for damage to listed buildings and the council is seeking to work closely with Midland Mining on preventative measures to safeguard the fabric of the building. Dr Stephen Halls, Assistant Director, Arts, Tourism and Heritage, comments 'we are waiting for the technical reports. Until then, we will not know the full implications'.

All this could not have come at a worse time. Nottingham City Council, in conjunction with the Byron Society in London, have recently approved a plan to look into the creation of a National Centre for Byron Studies at Newstead Abbey. The centre would house a comprehensive archive of the poet's papers and exhibitions of Byron memorabilia of interest public alike.

'Many scholars believe that Lord Byron is second only to Shakespeare in the English literary canon and his influence on Romantic literature and the history of ideas is immense', comments council leader Graham Chapman. 'His works and ideas are studied all over the world -- there are Byron societies in forty countries. As part of our strong and continuing commitment to the house and its grounds, we aim to make Newstead the natural focus of international Byron studies'.

As well as being used for academic studies, the centre would create educational programmes for young people. according to Geoffrey Bond of the London Byron Society, 'The Abbey has a wealth of material which can be displayed using the latest interpretative techniques. Anglo-Hellenic and Anglo-American and other international links will be created identifying Newstead as the international centre of Byronism'.

The proposed Centre for Byron Studies forms part of an overall plan to upgrade facilities for the public at Newstead Abbey. Over the next few months, a detailed study will be made of the Abbey to decide which parts might best be suitable in which to base the centre. A working party comprising Geoffrey Bond of the London Byron Society, leading councilors and senior officers from Nottingham City Council will look at how the proposals might develop and prepare a Lottery funding application. However, it will probably be another year before a detailed proposal is put before the Lottery Commission and by then, the foundations of Byronism could well be crumbling.
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Title Annotation:controversial plans to extract coal from beneath Lord Byron's home, Newstead Abbey
Author:Morgan, Angela
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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