‘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
Today is Lord B’s 233rd birthday and even though he shuffled off this mortal planet many years ago – I can still 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 want money to be sent me while in Town and I must have it as if Mr. Byron gets it it will be thrown away in some foolish way or other and I shall be obliged to apply for more… 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.
‘Notwithstanding your writing to Mr. Leslie to furnish Mrs. Byron with money, he has not done it, and she has not any to go with… she was brought to bed of a Son on Monday last & is far from well. I beg you will write once more by this day’s post.‘John Gordon Byron
Catherine’s financial advisors in Edinburgh who had been concerned for her plight for some time had arranged for legal representation for her in London through John Hanson, a solicitor from Chancery Lane and Hanson’s wife was able to recommend a male accoucheur to assist with the birth, a fashionable practice at that time.
The presence of a male accoucheur is interesting in the light of Byron’s later claims about his mother’s “false delicacy” during his birth which he believed had resulted in the deformity of his right foot.
Byron’s birth was apparently a long and difficult affair and he was born with the caul or veil over his head which is a thin, flimsy membrane that protects the foetus and in childbirth is seen as a shimmery coating of the head and face.
Throughout history, the appearance of the caul has been considered a good omen and a protection against drowning and as such it was not uncommon for a caul to be sold to a sailor as a lucky talisman.
In the first recorded sale of a ‘Byron relic’, Catherine’s nurse Mrs Mills sold Byron’s caul to Captain James Hanson of the Royal Navy who was also the brother of John Hanson.
Whether Byron’s caul could be considered a lucky talisman is debatable for Captain Hanson and his crew on board the HMS Brazen were to perish as the ship ran to ground upon the rocks of Newhaven on Sunday January 26 1800 and the memorial of which can be discovered in the grounds of St Michael’s Church in Newhaven.
Well, Byron did once facetiously remark to his friend James ‘Bold’ Webster Wedderburn that his name “would almost damn any thing or creature”!
My young brother was also born with the caul over his face and my mother admitted to being alarmed when she first saw him and she can recall the midwife telling her that he had been born “lucky”.
Fourteen years later my brother was to survive a horrific road accident and despite his life-changing injuries; both physical and psychological, he remains a vital and wonderful person and I consider myself lucky that he is still with us – however, that is ANOTHER story!
Now, I need to go in search of ONE dessert fork and enjoy a taste of this gloriously sickly confection…
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)