22 Hereford Square, Brompton, London

The home of George Borrow and his family between 1860–1874.

In the early 1840’s the area which was to become Hereford Square was mainly pasture land, around 10 acres in size and bordered by the Old Brompton Road to the south, and the Gloucester Road to the east.  The land was owned by James Day, of Norwich, and his family (the area is now known as the Day estate).  Around June 1845 James Day agreed with a young speculative builder, Thomas Holmes of Lower Belgrave Street, to build Hereford Square on the land, which was to be “ready for occupation” by Christmas 1849.  Work started on Hereford Square in August 1845, with work on 22 Hereford Square starting in 1846.  Unfortunately Thomas Holmes was declared bankrupt and work stopped.  In July 1848 George Pinckney Whitfield, one of Thomas Holmes’ creditors, obtained the original building agreement, and resumed construction of Hereford Square himself.

George Pinckney Whitfield first spent between £1,200 and £1,300 in laying out the central square with its iron railings, and this was completed by the end of 1848.  By 1851 all the houses of Hereford Square were built and leased, with most being occupied over the next two years.  All houses in Hereford Square had their own back garden, and the occupants enjoyed right of access to the central garden area of the square subject to an addition rent of £3 per annum paying for the maintenance of the garden and the lighting of the square.

On 25 September 1860 George Borrow, Mary Borrow (his wife) and Henrietta Clark (his step-daughter), rented 22 Hereford Square at £65 a year, excluding rates.  The Borrows were keen to move closer to London (and away from their remote estate at Oulton, Suffolk), and the newly built house, at that time still in a largely rural area, met their needs.  Hereford Square’s residents were affluent middle-class people: there were no great “celebrities”.

Robert Collinson the painter lived at No. 20 all the time the Borrows were at No. 22 Hereford Square, and become friends with the Borrows [1].  At No. 35 (1861–73) lived John Arrowsmith, geographer and cartographer, someone who might be interested in George Borrow the great traveller, although no link has appeared.  Frances Power Cobbe lived at No. 26 (1864–84) with her friend Mary Charlotte Lloyd, and these both became associated with George Borrow.  Mary Borrow also became friends with Lady Soane who lived at No. 18 (1862–65). [2]

On 30 January 1869 Mary Borrow died at 22 Hereford Square, and was buried in the nearby Brompton Cemetery.

After the death of his wife George Borrow became increasingly isolated and depressed.  Mary Charlotte Lloyd (No. 26) try to invite him to social events, but he gradually sank more and more into himself.  E.g.

“26 Hereford Square, Brompton, Saturday [before Easter], 1869.

“Dear Mr. Borrow,—Will you come and dine with us to-morrow at 7 o’clock instead of eating a solitary Easter dinner?  Miss Cobbe begs me to say it would give her as well as myself much pleasure if you would be persuaded to do so.  A verbal answer by the bearer will be sufficient—plain yes or no!—Yours very truly,

M. C. Lloyd.”


Dear Mr. Borrow,—This is our only spare evening till I leave for Wales on Monday; so will you not come in and have a chat with us?  I want to say good-bye, and shall think you have been offended at something we have said or done if you will not come to-night—Yours truly,

M. C. Lloyd.”


“Dear Mr. Borrow,—We shall have some friends with us to-morrow (Wednesday) to take a five o’clock cup.  If you feel disposed to join us we shall be much pleased.  Do not be at the trouble of answering, but come as you may feel inclined.—Truly yours,

Frances P. Cobbe.”

src: Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, William Knapp, Volume 2, 227, 228

At some point in the second half of 1874 George Borrow gave up 22 Hereford Square, and moved back to his estate at Oulton, Suffolk.

George Borrow’s house still stands at 22 Hereford Square, and today bears a plaque to him.

source: Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, William Knapp, Volume 2

source: Survey of London, Volume 42, pp. 1580–1670


[1]  Knapp had a letter from the Collinsons to George Borrow expressing their sympathy on the death of Mary Borrow.

[2]  See letter in Clement Shorter’s Life of George Borrow p. 145.