George Borrow News, 8th May 2020

Project Gutenberg have released a very rare book which gives some domestic details of Borrow’s life at Oulton with his wife Mary.

The book is:

Interesting Incidents Connected with the Life of George Bickers, Originally a farmer’s parish apprentice at Laxfield, in Suffolk, but now residing in Oulton, in the same county, being an Autobiography of the above, from 1809 to 1881, inclusive.

Published Lowestoft 1882.

Read/download book (free)

Photograph of George Bickers as in book

Our member, Ivan Bunn, discovered this book and gives a thorough analysis of it in this excellent book George Borrow—Oulton and Beyond.  However, the book itself is extremely rare, not even the British Library have a copy (there a copy at Lowestoft archives).

The book was written by George Bickers, who was born at Laxfield, Suffolk, 16 January 1809, making him about 6 years younger than George Borrow.  After a rural schooling, where he learned to read and write, he left at 14 and went into service at a farm in his parish, receiving no money but having board, lodging, washing and clothes.  After five years of this he was found a job as apprentice to George Sutton, shoemaker in Worlingham parish (which is about 3 miles from Mutford, where Borrow would have an estate).

In telling his autobiography he’s keen to point out the religious influences on his life, he becoming a Methodist.  He becomes acquainted with Rev. Francis Cunningham, who introduced George Borrow to the Bible Society.

Around 1830, he takes up work for Edmund Skepper, maltster, at Oulton, as groom and gardener.  In the Skepper household was “a widowed daughter, and grand daughter”, and their names were Mary Clarke (later Mary Borrow) and Henrietta Clark, the famous “Hen”, who would become Borrow’s step-daughter.  It’s from this point that George Bickers starts to tell us of the domestic details of the Skepper household, how Mrs. Clarke had a pony and chaise for the private use of herself and daughter etc.  In 1836, Mary Clarke took on George Bickers as a servant.  George admits he didn’t know what was going on, but in 1832 George Borrow had presented Mary with his translation of Bluebeard into Turkish, and the courtship had started.  George Bickers does say Borrow “visited several times while I was in Mrs. Clarke’s services.”

Charming detail after detail is revealed, and by becoming a resident of Oulton, he would of course been in the same small circle as the Borrows until their move to London (1860), and would have known of Borrow’s return to Oulton (1874).

Whilst some may find George Bickers’ comments on religion uninteresting, there’s much else in the book to enjoy and it throws a great deal of light on the world at Oulton.  If you enjoy the book, you will certainly like Ivan’s book, which adds a wealth of extra information, photographs etc.

Oulton cottage on the Oulton Hall Estate, where Mary Borrow