Birthplace of Norfolk literary legend could soon host holiday lets

A portrait of author George Borrow by Henry Wyndham Phillips

A portrait of author George Borrow by Henry Wyndham Phillips - Credit: Archant

He's one of Norfolk’s most famous writers, whose life spanned Dereham, Norwich, Oulton - and Spain. 

Now, fans of George Borrow could soon be able to holiday at the grounds of the home in which he is thought to have been born.

Under plans submitted to Breckland District Council, a barn and outbuildings at Borrow's Dereham birthplace would be transformed into holiday lettings. 

Borrow, who authored travel book The Bible in Spain and the novels Lavengro and The Romany Rye, was born at the grade-II listed manor house on Dumpling Green in 1803. 

Now, the building’s owner has applied for permission to convert the barn and demolish some single-storey outbuildings, replacing the latter with a one and a half storey new-build. 

In a statement on the council’s website, the applicant’s agent wrote: “Demolishing these two units are [sic] not seen as having a negative imposition on the listed status of Borrow Hall, [and] in fact could be seen as having a positive effect.”

He added that “the redevelopment of both areas would be undertaken using materials of a sympathetic nature”.

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The barn and the new-build would each have three bedrooms and an open living space.

The agent said the works would have “minimal impact on the overall structural integrity” of Borrow Hall.

An aerial view of Borrow Hall, at the end of Dumpling Green in Dereham.

An aerial view of Borrow Hall, at the end of Dumpling Green in Dereham. - Credit: Google

He added that the work would “have no social impact on any nearby neighbours”, and could potentially improve the value of the area. 

The house itself, located about a mile south of Dereham town centre, is thought to date from roughly 1740 and a plaque above the door records it as Borrow’s birthplace.

There is some historical debate about the claim's accuracy, as it may stem from a possible error in a late 19th century biography of Borrow. 

Borrow’s parents are thought to have been living on Dereham High Street at the time of their son’s birth, though Borrow’s grandparents owned a farm in the then-village of Dumpling Green.

In his novel Lavengro, Borrow wrote: “On an evening of July, in the year 18-, at East D - -, a beautiful little town in a certain district of East Anglia, I first saw the light.”

The council is expected to issue a decision on the plan by February 16. 

Who was George Borrow? 

The Norfolk-born author is usually credited with popularising the description of Norwich as a ‘Fine City’.

In chapter 14 of Lavengro, Borrow called it “a fine old city”, though he may have been influenced by William Cobbett's Rural Rides, which calls Norwich “a very fine city”.

Borrow's first novel shares its name with the city’s Lavengro Road and there is also a George Borrow Road in both Norwich and Dereham. 

The George Borrow Road sign in Dereham. Picture Matthew Usher.

The George Borrow Road sign in Dereham. Picture Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Educated at Norwich Grammar School (today Norwich School), Borrow was known in his youth to enjoy attending fairs on Tombland and talking to gypsies on Mousehold Heath.

His second novel The Romany Rye, about his experiences the gypsies, shares its name today with Dereham’s branch of Wetherspoons.

The 175th anniversary of his arrival in Spain - where he was jailed for promoting an embargoed version of the New Testament - was honoured with a plaque-unveiling in Madrid in 2011

Borrow and his wife settled at Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft, where he wrote most of his books. 

He died aged 78 at Oulton and is buried in the Brompton Cemetery in London. There is a memorial to him inside Oulton Church.