To-morrow is my birthday – that is to say, at twelve o’ the clock, midnight, i.e. in twelve minutes, I shall have completed thirty and three years of age!!!! – and I go to my bed with a heaviness of heart at having lived so long, and to so little purpose.Lord Byron
Two hundred and thirty two years ago – Lord Byron made his appearance and even though he shuffled off this mortal planet in 1824 – I still intend to enjoy a large slice or three of this delicious cake in his honour!
Despite Byron’s enduring fame, the circumstances of his birth were far from auspicious for he was born on Tuesday January 22 1788 in a rented apartment on the first floor above a shop in Holles Street in Cavendish Square London to Catherine Gordon Byron, who as a lone young mother had no family nearby for emotional and financial support.
‘I will live as cheap as I can but it was impossible till now as there was a great many expences that could not be avoided… my little boy is to be named George dont show Mr. Byron this…‘Catherine Gordon Byron
Byron’s father was the dashing and financially reckless John ‘Mad Jack’ Byron and as there was no debtor’s amnesty on a Tuesday, he was unable to be with his wife lest he be seized for debt and hauled off to prison.
Although the modest abode in Holles Street has long since disappeared, the poet’s birthplace was commemorated in October 2012 with the unveiling of a fabulous green plaque on the wall of the John Lewis store which runs adjacent to Oxford Street.
And one October afternoon a few weeks later – I went in search of this tribute.
However, as I walked up and down a busy Holles Street peering at the walls of the John Lewis store during the course of my futile search, it wasn’t long before I attracted the suspicious glances of my fellow pedestrians who perhaps thought that I was casing the joint!
Eventually, a bus inspector took pity on me and after reassuring himself that I meant him no harm, he became my ‘search buddy’ and so off we walked – again!
As we continued our search in Holles Street, he told me that he had been aware that there had been “some sort of unveiling ceremony” earlier that month but he had witnessed nothing of any significance and then asked “any way, who was this Byron?”
But with the daylight vanishing as fast as my hope; I thanked him for his help and quickly excused myself!
Salvation appeared in the form of a John Lewis window designer who literally crashed into me as I continued my futile walk along Holles Street and having graciously accepted her sincere apologies and although she didn’t know where the plaque was situated; she was delighted to take a break from designing the sparkly scenes of festivity and promptly marched me inside the store.
As I crossed the threshold of the store I felt as if I had walked into one of the circles of Dante’s Inferno.
Imagine the scene if you will of a confined space that is heaving with people who are all jostling about with baskets piled dangerously high with festive gifts as the inane Christmas music blares out, faces increasingly red from the excessive heat and long queues AND it’s ONLY October!
I should also add the spirit of goodwill was also nowhere to be seen!
The window dresser having brought me into this hell then promptly disappeared in search of someone who would “definitely know” where the Byron plaque was.
By now I could care less…
As I stood rooted on the spot afraid to move less I become a victim or more likely, a perpetrator of ‘store rage’, I waited as patiently as I could along with a little transcendental meditation about my train schedule home.
Eventually, the window dresser reappeared with a look of relief on her face and for the first time in my life – I was absolutely delighted to find myself being marched OUT of a store.
We came upon Holles Street, a few steps to my left and voilà, there it was!
As I photographed the elusive plaque in the fading light, I had to laugh at the appropriateness of the quotation chosen.
And as it was for Catherine Gordon Byron in that heady year of 1788 – I was also rather pleased to take my leave Holles Street that day.
‘I would not have taken one till I had known Mr. Byron’s plans but the time I must leave this is on Sunday and I could not get any for a shorter time and none so cheap...’Catherine Gordon Byron
In Search of Byron in England and Scotland A Guide Book Anne Fleming (Old Forge Press & Ditchling Press Ltd 1988)
My Amiable Mamma A Biography of Mrs. Catherine Gordon Byron, Megan Boyes (J.M. Tatler & Son Ltd 1991)