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George Crabbe’s poem ‘The Borough’ inspired Benjamin Britten’s return to England from America. A self-proclaimed pacifist during the Second World War, Britten identified with the poem’s protagonist, Grimes, and his views about military service, and he returned home with companion Peter Pears to set about working on the opera Peter Grimes. Britten strongly identified with the central character from ‘The Borough’, and he and his librettist, Montagu Slater, decided to set the opera in the period in which the poem had been written, the early 1800s.

A friend of Crabbe’s son confirmed that ‘The Borough’ was based on the story of a real-life fisherman who lived in Aldeburgh during the mid-1800s. Britten himself resided in nearby Snape, but in 1947 he would move to a house in Aldeburgh, located on the aptly named Crabbe Street and overlooking the sea that is so vividly described in the original poem.

As the English Opera Group began to experience critical success, Britten and his co-founders, Pears and Crozier, felt they could provide it with a residency in Aldeburgh for public performances. With the aid of government funding, they subsequently created a viable festival; a proud achievement and a true labour of love. It was in Aldeburgh that Britten was to end his days.


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