Seaham festival to marking ‘mad, bad’ Lord Byron’s wedding anniversary

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A FESTIVAL to capitalise on Lord Byron’s links to a coastal town is being planned to mark the 200th anniversary of his ill-fated marriage.

A small celebration could be held in Seaham next year as a test run for the milestone celebrations in 2015 – two centuries after Lord Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke at Seaham Hall.

Discussions are already under way with cafe owners and other venues earmarked to host displays, readings and events, with town leaders and organisations being encouraged to give their backing.

A costumed re-enactment is also being considered for the seafront, where the writer often walked during his stay in the area.

Organisers have stressed plans are in the early stages, but said they are already getting positive feedback from those who can help make the festival a reality.

The International Byron Society, which holds an annual conference, has already said it is interested in seeing how the plans develop and it is hoped a delegation of its members could visit next year.

If the events go ahead, it could attract devotees of Byron’s work from as far away as Japan and Australia.

The festival is the brainchild of Douglas Glendinning, who was spurred into action when visitors he was showing around the area were captivated by the stories of Byron’s connections to the former colliery town.

Mr Glendinning, an art historian who lives in Durham, said: “When I explained the connections, my friends were fascinated and I thought about the potential for Seaham and how it could develop.

“The idea is to have some public talks and there could be some for academics, but we also want it to be accessible so, for example, people could come in and listen to a reading in the library.

“If, for example, 100 people come to Seaham for four or five days, there’s a potential they could spend in the region of £500.

“They might stay somewhere such as Seaham Hall, they might stay in a bed and breakfast for £30, but all together it could be a substantial amount of money.”

Although the wedding of the couple was held in January, the plan is to hold the festivals during the summer.

Coun Ed Mason, leader of Seaham Town Council, is supportive of the plans.

He said: “It is true Seaham hasn’t always capitalised on the connection with Byron in the past.

“There are Bryon societies all over the world, including Japan.

“It would be nice to attract international visitors.”

Twitter: @EchoEastDurham

GEORGE Gordon Byron was born in London on January 22, 1788, and was the son of Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron and his second wife, Catherine Gordon of Gicht.

His life has been celebrated for his aristocratic excesses including huge debts, numerous love affairs and rumours of scandalous incestuous liaisons.

It’s been said he could have been suffering from manic depression and his wild behaviour famously led to him being described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” by his lover Lady Caroline Lamb.

He headed to County Durham in December 1814 to marry Anne Isabella Milbanke and the room used in the January 2, 1815, ceremony in Seaham Hall now takes his name, with the space used as a dining hall and meeting room.

The International Byron Society says he did not want to marry Annabella, as she was known, and efforts were made to cancel the service while he was on his way to County Durham.

His half-sister Augusta persuaded him to go ahead. The siblings later embarked on an affair.

By the time they began their honeymoon in Yorkshire, the bride and groom’s relations had begun to sour, but they went on to live in London.

He had began the Herbew Melodies in the October before he wed, with the work penned in collaboration with Isaac Nathan and sections of it completed while he was in East Durham. It was published in April 1815.

In January 1816, after his bad behaviour worsened and he had an affair with another woman, his wife left him, taking their child Ada. They never met again.

Byron wrote two poems about the separation, Fare Thee Well! and A Sketch from Private Life and spent the rest of his life complaining he did not know why she left.