Peterborough, England, April 2014

This is a quick write-up: a proper one, together with the papers given, will appear in a future edition of The Bulletin.

About a quarter of the membership of the George Borrow Society gathered at The Bull Hotel, Peterborough, 11th–13th April 2014, for another of our weekend conferences.  The programme started informally on Friday at 7.30 p.m. with drinks, talk and, according to those who ate, some excellent meals.

On the Saturday morning there were talks in the Festival room, where we were joined by some members of The John Clare Society.

George Borrow Society at Bull Hotel, Peterborough, 2014

In the first session David Nuttall looked at what brought George Borrow, John Clare, the Gypsies and a host of other characters together at Norman Cross in 1811, and how links developed later.  Especially gratifying was new evidence backing up the first meeting of Borrow with Jasper in Lavengro.

George Hyde then looked at the Sapengro Episode in Lavengro, going beyond the story to look at the literary and physiological harmonics that Borrow uses.  Running across multiple languages and cultures, a whole range of facets were brought out, with George leaving all sorts of teasers for further study.

After a coffee break, Clive Wilkins-Jones tackled a much darker topic: to what extent did the search for the true Romany by gypsylorists like Borrow indirectly lead to the Nazi persecution of the Gypsies?  Placing Borrow in the context of Romany studies, Clive also looked at the accusations of Borrow’s detractors.

The afternoon was left free for participants to explore Peterborough, with the Cathedral and Museum being particularly recommended.  The Museum contains an excellent exhibition on Norman Cross.

Peterborough Cathedral

Lavengro Press launch April 2014 In the evening we gathered again at The Bull for the launch of The Lavengro Press.  At the launch the first two books from the Lavengro Press were available, and sold well.  Colm Kerrigan’s prize essay “George Borrow’s Journey through Cork in 1815” was one of the books: the author was very gracious in signing my copy; the other is Three Fraser Memorial Lecturers — i.e. David Jones and Everyman’s Wild Wales, by Martin Murphy; Gweledigaetheu Uffernol: George Borrow, Goronwy Owen and the Vision of Hell, by Clive Wilkins-Jones; ‘Born to be a great traveller’: Joseph Sell as Borrow’s Imaginary Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by David Chandler.  You can purchase either or both books from the Lavengro Press website.

Our annual dinner followed and Tony’s toast (at the end of the evening) will appear in The Bulletin — recommended reading if you didn’t hear it.

A sunny Sunday morning found us and our coach at Norman Cross, where the Lavengro French Prisoner of War camp once stood.  After a welcome by the owner and restorer of the agent’s house, Derek Lopez, Paul Chamberlain of The Friends of Norman Cross gave a talk in the Norman Cross Gallery, which in Borrow’s time was the straw barn.  It’s not Borrovian, but the gallery had an very impressive exhibition of portraits of musicians by Gilson Lavis — well worth visiting.

Agent’s house, Norman Cross

Our coach then took us to The Farmers Grill and Carvery at Yaxley, where we enjoyed a very good lunch.  The afternoon saw us at The Gordon Boswell Romany Museum, near Spalding, which was very interesting and brought a little of the real Romany way to life for us.

Coming back from the Museum we enjoyed mile after mile of the flat fenlands, before parting at The Bull, Peterborough.

Thanks to everyone who took part and made such an enjoyable weekend.  Especially thanks to Ann and Prue who organised the trip (with “stringmaster” Tim), and to Graham who organised our Sunday trip.