Camilla Cottage, Westhumble. (From an old sketch in the possession of F. Leverton Harris, Esq., M.P.). Source: Hill 230.

When the Locks of Norbury Park offered to lease a plot of land on their spacious estate to the newly-wed D'Arblays, it must have seemed like a lifeline to the impecunious couple. But the success of Fanny's second novel, Camilla (1796) was what enabled them to build on it — or, rather, near it, not on the plot originally offered, but on a field outside the park, so that one day (or so they hoped) it could be passed on to their son: "the situation of the field is remarkably beautiful,” Fanny reported to her father, telling him of her husband's efforts to create the garden there: "He dreams now of Cabbage Walks — potatoe Beds — Bean perfumes and peas’ blossoms" (386).

The d’Arblays called their new home Camilla Cottage, and moved into it in 1797 with high hopes, having a picnic in one of the bare rooms, with some bread, boiled eggs and a gardening knife, before their furniture arrived. Their little boy Alex galloped round the place using a stick as a make-believe horse, and all was excitement and triumph. Their own home at last, and in such beautiful surroundings, too.

The rural idyll was comparatively short-lived. General d’Arblay could not devote himself indefinitely to gardening. As soon as it seemed safe to do so, he went back to France, at first only planning to visit family and friends. His wife quickly retreated to Norbury Park to have company while she awaited his return. But less than a month after his safe arrival, he was off again, and this time his wife and son followed. It was to be a ten-year stay, for the Treaty of Amiens in 1801 proved only a respite from the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, and the family was still in France when war broke out again.

When Burney finally returned to Camilla Cottage in 1812, their books and clothes were still intact, but the couple would never resume their life there. The house, they were informed by the new generation at Norbury Park, could not be passed on after all. It was sold. In 1919, it would be burnt down, apparently still containing some of their possessions, including the General’s “Letter Book.” It has since been replaced by a larger house called Camilla Lacey. However, there are some suggestions that at least part of the pre-1919 walls were incorporated into the neighbouring Burney House, to which Camilla Lacey was once attached. Certainly, the d'Arblays' stay in this Surrey village has not been forgotten.

Image capture, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite it in a text document.

Related Material


Banerjee, Jacqueline. "Burney House for Sale." Burney Newsletter. 12/1 (Spring 2006): 1-2.

_____. Literary Surrey. Corrected ed. Headley Down, Hampshire: John Owen Smith, 2011.

Burney, Fanny. The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. II, Courtship and Marriage 1793. Eds. Joyce Hemlow and Althea Douglas. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972.

Hill, Constance. Juniper Hall, A Rendezvous of Certain Illustrious Personages during the French Revolution, including Alexandre d'Arblay and Fanny Burney. Illustrations by Ellen G. Hill and reproductions of photogravure, etc. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1904. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 1 August 2020.

Created 2 August 2020