Plains, Priests, and Protest: Refugee Week in Norwich

This week is Refugee Week, and Norwich is most refugee week logocertainly a city of refuge. There have been many refugees in the city over the centuries and they have left their mark in many different ways.  Have you ever wondered why open spaces in Norwich are called Plains rather than Squares?  This is an example of a word brought over by refugees from the Low Countries more than four centuries ago and incorporated into the local language, in this case the Dutch word ‘plein’.

A more recent refugee to make a contribution to Norfolk life was Father D’Etreville, a priest who was forced to leave France at the time of the French Revolution, and who lived for a while at Strangers’ Hall.  His contribution?  He taught three languages (French, Italian and Spanish) to the great Norfolk writer George Borrow.  D’Etreville was able to return to his home country after almost 40 years of exile.

Wars and civil wars in the twentieth century have also created many refugees.  The Spanish Civil War is just one example.  On May Day 1938, we would have seen Spanish child refugees in Norwich Market Place.  In those days, the market stalls were not permanent and the space created when they were cleared away was used for speeches and demonstrations.  The Labour Party always held a rally on May Day.  On this occasion, 36 Spanish refugees – both boys and girls – who were lodged in a hostel at Wickham Market took part.  They were preceded by a Spanish Republican flag and some wore dresses in their national colours.  They sang the Internationale and songs of their own country.  One of their number, a girl of fourteen, made a speech in Spanish which was afterwards translated for the crowd.  A collection was made and the money was handed over to the carers of the refugee children.

To see the events happening for Refugee Week in the East of England click here

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1 Response to Plains, Priests, and Protest: Refugee Week in Norwich

  1. Michael Begley says:

    Are we sure about ‘plains’?
    It is a Middle English word. ‘. . the plein of Salesbury . . ‘ (c1325)
    Although I grant its use in Norwich may date back only to the 18c.


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