Plaque unveiled in Spain to remember Dereham-born writer George Borrow
08:35 29 December 2011
A plaque in memory of a Dereham-born writer, labelled a great liberal, has been unveiled by historians hundreds of miles away in Spain.
George Borrow, who was born in July 1803, spoke many languages and communicated with gypsies, which attracted the attention of the British and Foreign Bible Society. At the age of 29, the author walked 100 miles to London for an interview.
The society took him on and he went to the Spanish capital, Madrid, in January 1836 to print and circulate the New Testament.
This led him to be arrested and he spent 11 days in the city prison and was then incarcerated at Seville the following year.
The diamond-shaped plaque, which celebrates the author, reads: “Here lived the writer-Traveller-Philosopher, George Henry Borrow, 1836-1840.”
It was unveiled on Christmas Eve by a group of enthusiasts at number 14 Calle Santiago, in Madrid, where the author lived from 1836-1840.
Guests at the formal occasion included Don Adrian, a respected academic and historian, his wife Countess Dalmau, Stephen Drake-Jones, a historian and chairman of the Wellington Society in Madrid, a Spanish television presenter and a journalist from the Spanish magazine M & U.
Mr Drake-Jones sister, Alison Slater, lives in Bylaugh, near Dereham, and he visits her every year.
The Wellington Society Chairman gave lectures on Borrow in the 1990s, while he was teaching at a Madrid campus for USA study-abroad students.
He was inspired to do the talks after being driven around Dereham by his sister.
Mr Drake-Jones said: “By taking on the Catholic church of Spain, George Borrow is seen here (Spain) as a great liberal and to a degree a philosopher...that is how they interpret his four years here. Government’s came and went, a civil war was in progress and the church was very strong, even though the Inquisition had been abolished by the liberals in 1820.”
After the plaque unveiling the group went to the nearby Maximilian wine tavern, just a few doors down the road, for a short reading of Borrow’s work in Spanish and English.
There was also a toast to a “friend of Spain’s fight for liberal thinking in 1836”, according to Mr Drake-Jones.
A framed print of the author was also presented to the owner of the wine tavern.
“I’m quite amazed how many Spaniards have not only heard of George Borrow, but have shown great interest in what I am helping to do in his honour,” said Mr Drake-Jones.
Ironically, Borrow is known by Spainiards as Don Jorgito - Little George - when the author was a physically formidable man of 6ft 2in.
After Borrow returned to Norfolk he wrote The Bible in Spain, which was a best-seller in the 1840s. This work was about his confrontations with the Spanish authorities and the Catholic Church.
Another literary creation from Borrow was Lavengro, where he described Dereham as “a beautiful town...where I furst saw the light of day”, and The Romany Rye.
He also had links with Norwich, where he studied at the city’s grammar school, and Lowestoft, where he lived after getting married in 1881.