George Borrow, "Romany Rye" and Bushbury Church

There has long been a tradition in the parish that the church at "M" visited by Borrow and the Petulengroes in Chapter VIII of "The Romany Rye" was Bushbury Church, and that "Mumpers Dingle" where they were encamped was near Willenhall.

In the Methuen edition of 1903 edited by John Sampson, Shaw's picture of Bushbury church was reproduced as a frontispiece, and Charles Masefield in his Staffordshire of 1910 (page 97) repeats the story. W. E. Tate in his classic "The Parish Chest" (page 90) comments on Mrs. Petulengro's aversion to sitting on the poor benches at the back of Bushbury church. Borrow tells us how the gypsies entered the church by the door near the east end, which, if the church was Bushbury, could only be the tiny door in the north wall of the chancel, presumably provided for Hugh de Byshbury when the chancel was built about 1350.

But was South Staffordshire the scene of all these happenings? If Mumper's Dingle was at Willenhall, why did the gypsies choose to attend church at Bushbury when either Willenhall or Wednesfield would have been nearer? In his paper "George Borrow's Mumper's Dingle" (see letter in the "Blackcountryman" Vol 13 No. 2 Spring 1980), Mr.W.R.Edge seems to have proved conclusively that Mumper's Dingle was in fact "Shaw Rough" in Southeast Cheshire, and that the church at "M" was Madeley near Stoke. There is a door in the chancel at Madeley, a much larger door than at Bushbury, and more likely to have been in regular use as an entrance for the congregation. There does not seem to have been any more likelihood of the very small door at Bushbury being unlocked and in use in the 1820s than there is today.

Regretfully therefore I must conclude that the tradition of George Borrow at Bushbury can no longer be accepted.

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