Perfrements and Protestantism

by Alison Jarvis

         — from a family booklet made by Alison Jarvis who is descended from the Perfrements, antecedents of the Samuel Perfrement born 1775, who married a Salthouse girl Susannah Payne, and settled in Salthouse. Their daughter Sarah Ann Perfrement born in 1815, was Alison's great great grandmother who married John Dewing Jarvis and lived in Salthouse.

Perfrement is generally accepted as being a corruption of ‘Palfreyman’, a name of French origin dating back to the late 1200’s meaning man in charge of saddle-horses (‘palfrei’)

Of Huguenot descent
George Borrow, the 19th century travel writer and linguist, comes from the same Norfolk line of Perfrements.
In ‘Lavengro, the Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest’, he interestingly shines a light on a probable link with the French Huguenots. In this semi-autobiographical work, he writes of his mother :

She was descended from a family of French Protestants, natives of Caen, who were obliged to leave their native country when old Louis, at the instigation of the Pope, thought fit to revoke the Edict of Nantes: their name was Petrement…they were noble hearts, and good Christians, they gave sufficient proof in scorning to bow the knee to the tyranny of Rome. So they left beautiful Normandy for their faith's sake, and with a few louis d'ors in their purse, a Bible in the vulgar tongue, and a couple of old swords, which, if report be true, had done service in the Huguenot wars, they crossed the sea to the isle of civil peace and religious liberty, and established themselves in East Anglia.

The eight civil wars in France between 1562 and 1598 were known as the wars of religion.  They ended under the reign of Henri who converted to Catholicism but also issued a decree the Edict of Nantes - protecting the religious liberty of the protestant Huguenots.  In later reigns, these privileges were gradually eroded and in 1685, Louis revoked the Edict.  This led to the widespread emigration of Huguenots, a sizeable number of whom settled in the Norfolk area.

Whether or not George Borrow is correct in his supposition of a Huguenot link, we are fortunate to have him as a relation since his comparative fame opens up details of shared ancestry, centring on (East) Dereham in North Norfolk (pictured left).

And Dereham is in an area steeped in history. The town itself was founded as a religious community in 654 a.d. by Withburga, daughter of the Saxon King Anna. Legend has it that her bones were stolen by the Bishop of Ely 300 years later whereupon a well sprang forth; now part of the parish graveyard (pictured right). 

Ironically, given the protestant connections noted above, the town was also home to a rector in the mid-1530’s (cottage pictured left), later famed for the prolific burning at the stake of heretics to the Catholic Church. In Bloody Mary’s reign, Rector Bonner was promoted to the rank of Bishop and was reputedly responsible for more than 200 deaths.


Samuel and Mary (the elder)
Our earliest known Perfrement descendents, Samuel and Mary, are known to have had at least 5 children:

Alison's earliest known Perfrement descendents

Both parents are buried at All Saints Church, Swanton Morley (pictured left). This - and North Elmham where some of their sons were baptised – are villages a few miles to the north of Dereham.

Their eldest son, Samuel, is part of our direct line, and we will return to his family later.  We know nothing of the second son Covenant (beyond his baptism in 1741 at North Elmham). For the other three brothers, however, we do have some details:

Although Robert was baptised in North Elmham, he was married at the church of his parents’ burial, All Saints.  His bride was Mary Blanchflower and the couple are known to have had 3 daughters: Margaret (born 1770); Ann (born 1772); and Susannah (born 1773).

Susannah, the only daughter about whom more details are forthcoming, also had three children - interestingly, all outside marriage but spread across several years.  Her eldest, Lovely, was born in 1796 and died as a child and was buried at Swanton Morley; nothing is known of her second daughter, Mary, beyond her birth-date (born 22nd Sept; baptised 23rd Sept 1796; buried Dec 1806, Swanton Morley); but her youngest, William, lived into old age and we can trace the progress of his life through census records. 

In 1841, Susannah is sharing a house with her son William (then aged 30 and an agricultural labourer) in Swanton Morley. This arrangement has ended by 1851, at which time she lives with Mrs Ann Browne, her sister; both being in receipt of parish relief.  William himself remains a servant or labourer, lodging with various families locally in 1851, 1861 and 1871. However, by 1881 he is an inhabitant of Gressenhall workhouse (now a museum, pictured below). 

Since he died in 1885, we can assume that the end of William’s life was spent in this most dreaded of  institutions.  However, it is worth noting that work-house conditions for older in-mates were usually less severe than for the other categories, and that:

”On the whole, Gressenhall work-house was well served by its masters in the 19th century and was spared the excesses of punitive zeal and corruption that sometimes occurred elsewhere.”
[From leaflet by Andy Reid, Norfolk museums & archaeology service, 1988]

Nevertheless, the norm was for strictures applied to unmarried mothers to be particularly harsh, so we must hope that William’s own unmarried mother did not experience them at any stage.
John, Samuel and Mary’s fourth son (baptised 15th August 1744 in North Elmham) got married to Mary Jackson in 1771, some 15 miles from his ‘home patch’ at Cringleford, on the outskirts of Norwich.  Baptism records suggest that this was where they raised their family of 7 children —Covernant Seppens b1772; Hannah Maria b1774; John b1778 (d1782);Frances b1780; John Green b1782; Sarah S b1787 and Charles b1792. Their eldest, the wonderfully named Covenant Seppens Perfrement, was later to move even further afield, to London, where he and his wife Ann had 2 daughters; Mary (born 1799 in Southwark) and Jane (born 1802 in Shoreditch).

Philip, the youngest son, stayed somewhat closer to home, settling in the village of Scarning, just to the west of Dereham.  He followed the near-universal family tradition of marrying someone called Mary (on this occasion, Mary Hobble) and the couple had (at least) 2 children; the imaginatively named Philip (baptised in 1782) and Mary.

We know from census records that Philip (junior) was a shoemaker by trade, and was also serving as Parish Clerk in 1861 (he died in 1867).  He had a wife (Elizabeth) and daughter (Martha Mary).  His sister Mary married someone by the name of Wormer, but had been widowed by the time of the 1841 census.  She appears to have lived in with Philip’s household after this time, and by the time of the 1871 census, was living in with her niece Martha’s family.

Samuel and Mary (the younger)

Returning now to Samuel, the eldest son of Samuel and Mary senior; and it goes without saying that he too was to marry a Mary (Samuel was baptised on 7th October 1739 at North Elmham; Mary on 7th    July 1743 at Swanton Morley; They married in 1766, in Swanton Morley).

Samuel (born 1739) and Mary (the younger).

This couple had eight children, including Samuel, whose daughter married into the Jarvis’s and Ann, the mother of George Borrow.  From 1780 to 1805, Samuel was a tenant farmer in Dumpling Green, near East Dereham. The farm is pictured below although neither the house nor Dumpling Green as a recognised place-name survives today.

Samuel Perfrement’s farmhouse, Dumpling Green, Norfolk

Samuel Perfrement's farmhouse, Dumpling Green, Norfolk It is worth noting that farming at this point was in a state of transformation.  18th century Norfolk was the cradle of the Agrarian Revolution with great landowners such as the Earl of Leicester (‘Coke of Norfolk’) and a local Viscount (‘Turnip Townshend’) transfiguring farming methods, and joining forces with others to establish the (increasingly powerful) Royal Agricultural Society.  Tenant farmers such as Samuel were part of a dwindling ‘yeoman class’ who had all but vanished by the turn of the century. 
In turn, the transition from agricultural to industrial prowess was also determining the county’s fortunes.  In the 18th century, Norfolk was one of the wealthiest and most densely populated counties in Britain, with Norwich one of the largest cities.  However, come the development of textile industries in the early 19th century, Norfolk was unable to compete with the cheap local energy sources available to its northern rivals.  By the mid-century, urbanisation was well underway in Norwich but 20% of the population were classed as paupers and the city had one of the highest mortality rates in the country.
So how did Samuel and Mary’s offspring fare in these times?
We know that their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married someone called Henry Ireson, and that she had a son, Samuel Mathias in 1799.  We don’t know for sure whether Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry was foreseen as a result of her laundering her underwear, but perhaps it was:

“Ann's elder sister, curious to know if she was ever to be married, falls in with the current superstition that she must wash her linen and 'watch' it drying before the fire between eleven and twelve at night. Ann Perfrement was ten years old at the time. The two girls walked over to East Dereham, purchased the necessary garment, washed it in the pool near the house that may still be seen, and watched and watched. Suddenly when the clock struck twelve they heard, or thought they heard, a footstep on the path, the wind howled, and the elder sister sprang to the door, locked and bolted it, and then fell in convulsions on the floor.”        from: Clement King Shorter George Borrow and his Circle, 1913. (He sources  the tale to an edition of Borrow’s semi-autobiographical ‘Lavengro’.) 

William, the eldest son, died as a child, aged 9. furniture which was once Ann perfrement's now in Norwich Castle Museum.

is the Perfrement who leads us to many family details, as mother of the famed George Borrow. This means, somewhat bizarrely, that we are even able to identify a piece of her furniture (right) held by Norwich’s museum service.
And Ann was an interesting young woman in her own right, having performed as a travelling player before her marriage in 1793. A biographer of George recounts:

“It is recorded that at a theatrical performance at East Dereham he [Thomas Borrow] first saw, presumably on the stage of the county-hall, his future wife - Ann Perfrement. She was, it seems, engaged in a minor part in a travelling company, not, we may assume, altogether with the sanction of her father, who, in spite of his inheritance of French blood, doubtless shared the then very strong English prejudice against the stage. However, Ann was one of eight children, and had, as we shall find in after years, no inconsiderable strength of character…”

Clement King Shorter George Borrow and his Circle, 1913


She was, another biographer tells us, ‘supernumerary’ to the main company, who came from the Theatre Royal at Norwich.  Built in 1758 (contemporary etching pictured left), the playhouse was originally known as the New Theatre.  It acquired its revised title ten years later when royal assent was given to an Act of Parliament that authorised theatrical licensing.
Although the building was demolished in 1825, having been declared to be in bad repair, today’s Norwich Theatre Royal stands on more or less the same site.

Thomas, Ann’s husband, hailed from Cornwall and was a recruiting sergeant for the West Norfolk Militia, reaching the rank of Captain and Adjutant.  As a recruiting officer, Thomas will have ‘encouraged’ men to “take the King’s shilling” – the term used in the 18th and early 19th centuries for signing up to  serve as a soldier or sailor. Thomas’s job will have meant scouring the country for potential recruits, and offering bounties of up to 2 months wages to enlist for life; less for signing up for 7 years.  Recruiters of the time used all sorts of tricks, most involving strong drink, to press the shilling onto  unsuspecting victims.

 “Calculating one’s options in life must have been difficult for the recruit in a noisy, smoke-filled Ale House after consuming a number of gills of rum, happily provided by a member of the recruiting party. While the recruiting prospect drank endless rounds from the punch bowl, his ears were filled with stories of an easy life as a soldier, quick promotion and how women to could not help but be drawn to a man in a red coat… Once enlisted, the recruit was surprised to find that from his bounty he had to pay for part of his uniform, called his regimental necessaries, along with other miscellaneous expenses. On joining his company, he was happily welcomed by his new comrades; everyone was a friend to a man with several pound sterling in his pocket. However once he had been convinced out of his last shilling to purchase drink for his new-found friends, the recruit soon found himself alone again”.

Ann and Thomas had two sons. The eldest John (born 1801), followed his father into the Militia and although he died overseas as a relatively young man (from illness not battle) at Guanajuato in Mexico, and was unmarried, we get a glimpse of his circumstances from the following entry on Norfolk’s museum holdings’ list:

“Letters from George Borrow from Willow Lane, Norwich, respecting the disembodied militia allowance of brother Lieut. John Borrow, West Norfolk militia, who departed to Mexico leaving two illegitimate children a charge on the parish.”


It is to John’s brother George that we now turn:

George Henry Borrow (1803-1881)

The story of George Borrow, our first cousin four times removed, warrants some specific description.
George was born on 5th July 1803, and was to become a notable linguist and famed travel writer.  Amongst his better known works are The Bible in Spain (1843); Lavengro (1851); Romany Rye (1857); and Wild Wales (1862).                      

Born in his grandfather’s house at Dumpling Green, George’s childhood was characterised by near constant moving over the length and breadth of the country, as required by his father’s job.  In 1815, for example, the family were living at Clonmel in Ireland; here the young George learned the Irish language (plus Latin and Greek) and acquired the somewhat different skills of horse-whispering and bare-back riding. Perhaps he picked up other skills in Sheffield, Edinburgh, Chelmsford, Hastings, Colchester, Canterbury - all of which featured in the map of his childhood, as well as Norwich and surrounds.

Despite the inevitable disruption caused by his family’s nomadic lifestyle to his formal education though he did manage to attend Norwich Grammar School and the Royal High School of Edinburgh more than fleetingly, George’s linguistic skills later saw him become the protegé of William Taylor, a Norwich-born scholar and political radical (William Taylor who came to be known as ‘godless Billy’ for his ideas including advocating the end of all state intervention in affairs of religion). 

George spent much of his early adulthood travelling.  In 1825, he embarked upon an extensive walking tour of France and Germany. Later, employment by the Bible Society (distributing translations of vehemently protestant texts) facilitated further international travel to St Petersburg (1833-5); to Spain (1835-9); to Portugal and Morocco; and also to Turkey (1844).

In his personal life, George (born 1803) married a (Mrs) Mary Clarke, a widow 7 years his senior who had a daughter (later, in 1866, to marry “an Orangeman from Belfast”) and who owned a small estate in Oulton, Suffolk.  It was here that George began his writing career, after leaving the service of the Bible Society.  He variously lived at Yarmouth, Oulton and London; his travel confined to walking tours in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man where a hotel still bears his name.

George had a life-long empathy with Romany people, who feature prominently in his writings.  Fascinated by their customs, songs and dance, he became very familiar with their language which transcended European boundaries. His final published work was a dictionary, Romano Lavo-Lil: a word-book of the Romany, 1874,  the first of its kind.  Although later books could not compete with earlier works in terms of public acclaim, it is worth noting just how high the bar had been set. The Bible in Spain was a runaway success, outselling Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when first published.

Accounts of Borrow’s life present some fascinating detail:    

“Borrow was a frequent visitor to Norwich.  Some interesting glimpses…are to be found in the manuscript diary of Miss Cecilia Lucy Brightwell, the Norwich authoress and etcher, who was an intimate friend of the Borrows.  One entry (13th March, 1851) records that Borrow called on Miss Brightwell after he had been “to see the Bosjemans (or Bushmen) exhibiting at Assembly Rooms, men about 4½ ft. high, strange and disgusting creatures, with a strange inarticulate language full of clicks.”  On the same day Borrow accompanied Miss Brightwell to the Norwich Museum, where they “looked at the casts and were much struck with one which he said appeared alive.  It proved to be Pitt.  Next it being that of Oliver Cromwell, a wonderful huge, unhewn, rugged, astounding visage.  He declared it reminded him of Stonehenge”.

Details from A brief account of the life of George Borrow and his Norwich
    home by Geo. A Stephen, Norwich City Librarian, 1927

The death of his wife in 1869 left Borrow a widower and he was cared for by his stepdaughter and her husband in his later years.  Both Mary and George are buried in Brompton  Cemetary in London.

Returning to the children of Samuel and Mary, James followed his sister Ann and was the 4th child of the family.  James married Deborah Learner in 1798, and the couple had 10 children — Ann (b1798; d1854); Charles (b1799); Phillis (b1801); Uriah James (b1803; d1875); Maria Kezia (b1806); James (b&d 1811); William (b1811; d1853); Sarah (b1813;d1893); George (b1815;d1891); and Deborah (b1816).   From the marriage records of the two youngest, we know that James was a gardener by trade.

Next in order comes our direct ancestor Samuel, but we will return to him and his family after considering the fates of the three other siblings.  We know that Mary Sophia married John Burcham in November 1804; that Philip, the youngest boy, married Ann Lee in 1817; and that Sarah, the last of Samuel and Mary’s family, died unmarried as a young woman. Mary Sophia and Philip both tied their respective knots at Scarning, a village a couple of miles South of Dereham, suggesting that perhaps the wider Perfrement family had moved there.  Nothing is known of Mary and John’s offspring, but Philip and Ann had 2 sons: Philip junior (1819-1851) and Charles (1825-1882).  The 1841 census tells us that Philip (senior) and Philip (junior) were both agricultural labourers; and the 1851 census reveals that the older Philip has come to be dependent on parish relief.

Somewhere along the line, Samuel, our great great great grandfather, moved some 30 miles away from Dereham and settled on the coast at Salthouse (see Jarvis booklet).  He married Susannah Pane (or Payne) there on 7th May 1799, and both are recorded as being ‘of the parish’. 
Samuel Perfrement 1775-1863's family

Samuel and Susannah (sometimes ‘Susan’) had 5 children, as shown above.  However, their fourth child, the first ‘Sarah Ann’ lived for only 2 weeks.  We know from the parish registers that at the time of the second Sarah Anne’s baptism on 8th March 1814, Samuel was a labourer (as he was too on later census entries).  This implies limitations of income but not necessarily of generosity, as the following story shows. 

In 1815, 2 Salthouse men were arrested for carting wreckage off the beach and were taken to Norwich County Gaol to await trial. The men wrote of their plight to the villagers: [see The Poor Prisoners] Many contributed money in response to their plea; Samuel Perfrement is listed as donating 2 shillings to their cause.

in the Salthouse census for 1841, the family is listed as follows:

1841 – Purdy Street, Salthouse


Position, Marital status and age



Samuel Perfrement

Not given



Ag labourer

Susan Perfrement

Not given




Samuel Perfrement

Not given



Ag labourer

Sarah Ann Perfrement

Not given




Maria Loynes

Not given




Aurora Loynes

Not given




Samuel Loynes

Not given




Although recorded as separate households on the 1841 census, the Perfrements and Loynes occupied the same dwelling and in fact, Maria was almost certainly Samuel and Susannah’s daughter (born 20th March, 1808), who had married a James Loynes from Holt at Salthouse on 19th February1833.

From the 1851 census we learn that Samuel was born in East Dereham, thus  establishing him as coming from the Dumpling Green family. In this census the family is living in Purdy Street and is much reduced.  Sarah Ann had married John Dewing Jarvis in 1843, Susannah had died in 1846; and Maria had died in 1850. The two Samuels are still there however, and are still working as agricultural labourers (albeit that Samuel senior is 74 years old by this time).  Father and son now share their home with the 27 year old Philip Perfrement (their nephew/cousin) and a lodger by the name of William Gaffer (a 'banker' working on the new bank being made to protect the mrash), Philip and William were also agricultural labourers.

The pairing of Samuel and Samuel persists in 1861, when they again share their home (now on Cley Road) with Aurora Loynes, by this stage a 27 year old woman.  Aurora is unmarried and is a dressmaker.the Perfrement grave in Salthouse churchyard

The child of Samuel and Susannah who does not appear on any of the ‘family’ census entries (aside from the ‘first Sarah Ann’ who lived for only a couple of weeks) is Phebe.  She does, however, appear as a witness to at least one of her sibling’s weddings, probably two.  Phebe Perfrement was present when Maria tied the knot with James Loynes, and Phebe Parlett was present when the ‘second Sarah Ann’ tied the knot with John Dewing Jarvis.  The link is confirmed by the 1851 census, where Salthouse entries include a Phebe Parlett (mariner’s wife, aged 47 years) who is sharing her home with Aurora Loynes (seamstress, aged 17 years).
Samuel died on 21st September 1864, aged 86 years. 

He and Susannah are buried together in the grounds of St Nicholas Church at Salthouse, in a plot also shared with their son Samuel who died in 1866. Their shared gravestone is pictured right.