Byron Memorial Ring
An exceptionally rare mourning ring for the Romantic poet Lord George Gordon Byron, [1788 -1824], one of only three such rings publicly known worldwide. One is in the Pforzheimer collection, New York Public Library and the other we sold on our website some years ago. No other examples are recorded in jewellery historians’ literature, sales’ archives or in the comprehensive inventories of jewellery held by major museums.
By descent, reputedly, from the contents of Newstead Abbey via Pepper Arden Hall, Northallerton. Newstead Abbey was purchased in 1861 by William Frederick Webb from Colonel Thomas Wildman, who had purchased the estate and its contents from his school friend, Lord Byron in 1818. Sir Herbert Chermside married Geraldine Webb, heiress to Newstead Abbey, where Lord Byron had lived. Sir Herbert and Geraldine lived at Newstead Abbey with Ethel Webb, Geraldine’s sister. William Frederick Webb, their father, had died in 1899. Geraldine expressed a desire to live at Pepper Arden Hall and so Sir Herbert bought the estate in 1909, however Geraldine died in 1910. Ethel Webb succeeded her sister as life tenant at Newstead Abbey and Sir Herbert continued to spend a large part of his time at Newstead. Ethel Webb died in February, 1915. In her will she left the entire contents of Newstead Abbey to her brother-in-law, Sir Herbert Chermside. He moved from Newstead with the heirlooms to Pepper Arden Hall around 1919. The Byron ring has been at Pepper Arden Hall since around 1919.
The ring is 18 carat gold, enamelled on the outer hoop between chased borders : In Memory Of and surmounted with an enamel plaque of coronet in colours and the name Byron. To interior, a full set of hallmarks for 1824, maker’s mark for Charles Rawlings and the details of Byron’s death : Died 19th April 1824 aged 36. The ring is size O [US 7] and the band is 1/3 of an inch wide. I doubt that this ring has ever been worn, it is in immaculate condition and as crisp as the day it was made.
The ‘cult’ of Byron is said to have begun with the publication of his epic Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812. Fashionable London was enamoured with the controversial young poet and ladies reputedly swooned in his presence. His scandalous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, and his even more scandalous divorce from Annabella Milbanke added to his notoriety and allure. Lady Caroline described Byron as ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’. When Byron died of a fever at Messolonghi, Greece in April 1824, the public reaction in England was one of shock and disbelief and the news of Byron’s death is said to have struck London ‘like an earthquake.’ The poet Tennyson remembered the day he heard the news as, ‘A day when the whole world seemed to be in darkness for me’. Byron’s body was repatriated to England yet the Dean of Westminster Abbey refused to allow his burial in Poets’ Corner on the grounds of his questionable morality. Byron was finally interred in the family vault in the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Hucknall Torkard, Nottinghamshire in July 1824. In 1969, 145 years after Byron’s death, a memorial honouring him was finally erected in Westminster Abbey.