The Orwell Society’s visit to the Hertfordshire village of Wallington, home of George and Eileen Orwell from 1936, was a memorable experience for our members. Judi and Keith Williamson share their memories of the day.
June 9th would have been the wedding anniversary of George and Eileen Orwell, who were married at St Mary’s Parish Church, Wallington in1936. The Orwell Society arranged a visit to Wallington to commemorate this occasion and to see The Stores (the Orwell home) and places, which may have inspired aspects of Animal Farm. About 20 members of the Society attended, from all over the country – and beyond, including New Jersey!
Sadly, ill health prevented Events Organiser Quentin Kopp from attending but the success of the visit bore all the hallmarks of the meticulous planning and organization for which he is justly famed and celebrated. Quentin is equally celebrated for ensuring great food on these trips and this was no exception; the day starting with a pub lunch at the Orange Tree in Baldock and an excellent afternoon tea prepared by the Churchwardens in Wallington and served in the Village Hall.
By 1936, Orwell had written and had published Down and Out in London and Paris, Burmese Days and A Clergyman’s Daughter. He had also completed his travels in the North of England researching the material which formed the basis of The Road to Wigan Pier.
Orwell met Eileen at a party in the Spring of 1935 and that same evening told his landlady that Eileen was the kind of girl he would like to marry!
Orwell moved into The Stores at Wallington on 2nd April 1936 and lived there periodically until Eileen’s death on 29th March 1945. (Throughout this time, he was known in the village as Eric Blair). Orwell finally surrendered the lease to The Stores in September 1947.
Our local guide for much of the day was Dan Pinnock. Dan has lived in Wallington for about 70 years and regularly provides talks and guides about Orwell’s time in the village. Dan’s relatives had known Orwell.
Our first port of call was St Mary’s Church where the marriage took place. The nave, west tower and windows date from the mid 15th Century. Inside, there are pews, which are over 400 year old. A corner of the Church is given over to photos and text regarding Orwell’s time in Wallington.
St Mary’s Church, Wallington
Dan highlighted one village resident’s recollection of Orwell and Eileen’s wedding: “They both walked up the road together. Mr. Blair then vaulted over the Church wall to meet her inside the side gate and carried her to the porch.” This was something never seen in Wallington before or since!
We then moved on to the Great Barn at Manor Farm. The barn dates from 1786 and clearly was an inspiration for Animal Farm. Today the barn is the venue for many village activities. Dan gave more insights into Orwell’s time in the village. Richard Blair thanked Dan and presented him with a commemorative Jura slate.
Outside the Great Barn
Richard and Dan addressing the Society in the barn.
Coincidence? In Orwell’s novella the animals lived on Manor Farm
The Stores was originally a two up/two down cottage, dating possibly from the late Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century. It was very difficult to imagine how the 6’3” Orwell would have been comfortable with the low ceilings and door ways, but many of his friends commented that, not only was this to be his address for the longest period of his life, it was often the happiest they had ever seen him.
The Stores today
When Orwell and Eileen began to run The Stores, their initial source of income seemed to come mainly from the sale of children’s sweets, before they moved into selling other foods. The squint holes, which Orwell cut into the connecting door to allow him to see when customers entered, are still there.
Opposite the cottage, on the bank, is the piece of ground where Orwell and Eileen kept his livestock, including hens, ducks and Muriel the goat.
The plaque on The Stores
This was a fascinating and privileged insight into the home of Orwell and Eileen. Again Richard Blair thanked the Churchwardens for the provision of a wonderful tea, and everyone in the village for their welcome and reception.
In summary, this was a wonderful and unforgettable day. Sincere thanks to Quentin, Liz, Richard and Dennis for all their work in ensuring this visit was so special.
Judi and Keith Williamson
Uploaded August 3rd 2019