HISTORY lovers and Byron enthusiasts have pleaded for reassurance that Newstead Abbey will not be closed for good after major restrictions were placed on its opening hours.
The dramatic cut in opening times was confirmed on Thursday after Nottinghamshire County Council rubber-stamped their new cost-cutting budget. Since fears first surfaced over a drop in opening times, members of The Newstead Abbey Byron Society rallied to gather a petition of more than 120 signatures to be sent to Nottingham City Council.
Among those who signed their name to the society’s cause were university academics from around the world and relatives of Sir Julien Cahn, who donated the Abbey to the organisation which later became the city council in 1931.
The historic abbey, will now be open to the public on Sundays only during April-October, with the exception of Bank Holidays and for Christmas, festive events and heritage open Weekends.
The building will still be available for pre-booked weddings, conferences and school trips while the gardens will remain open all year.
Chairman of the society, Ken Purslow, said: “We are aware of the costs of running Newstead Abbey. But this is a site of international importance and it is very concerning the opening hours would be restricted like this.
“We want to know what the long term proposals are for this site. Any plans would need consider the effect on the local economy.”
The petition has also received support from across the Atlantic, with The Byron Society of America signing the petition and describing the Abbey as one of Nottinghamshire’s ‘treasures’.
Mr Purslow said the future of Byron Festival, the annual event organised by the group which attracts thousands of tourists, was now also in question.
“I wouldn’t say the festival is in jeopardy, but we are questioning what is going to happen in the future. We are asking what the charges are going to be for holding the festival, and they are not telling us.”
Nottingham City Council says the move will cut the abbey’s £600,000 running costs in half - a move it claims is necessary after the Government announced a 16.5 per cent cut in the council’s budget.
Coun Dave Trimble, Nottingham City Council’s portfolio holder for leisure, culture and customers said: “The City Council remains open to discussions on how best to continue to manage the house and site in the longer term and is willing to talk to other partners or operators about the site and how best to preserve and conserve this important part of Nottinghamshire heritage.
“Our priority has always been to protect the Byron legacy. We have always adhered to the covenant between the city and former owner Sir Julian Cahn and will continue to do this in all our discussions.”