Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Orwell’s North-East Retreat (NZ390226)

A little to the north-west of Stockton lies the village of Carlton, and a few hundred yards to the north of that can be found Greystone Lodge. Astonishingly, this little corner of the North-East was once, briefly, the home of the great George Orwell during what was one of the most important periods of his life.

Already suffering from ill-health, the author and his wife, Eileen, moved there in 1944 together with their adopted son, Richard, following bomb damage to their London flat. The house belonged to his wife’s sister-in-law, Gwen.

It was here that Orwell put his finishing touches to Animal Farm, which was published in 1945 – and highly likely that work was commenced (at the very least in his head!) on Nineteen Eighty-Four (working title The Last Man), which itself was published in 1949.

The peace and quiet of Greystone must have seemed a world away from the horrors of the ongoing war, of which Orwell was desperate to be a part of (but was preclude from on health grounds). But it wasn’t to last. For when he was offered (and accepted) a post as war correspondent in France in 1945, his wife died in his absence on the operating table in Newcastle whilst undergoing a hysterectomy. He returned to Greystone to find her unfinished final letter home from her hospital bed lying on the hall table.

He remained for a few more days, attending to the funeral and his adopted son’s future, before severing his links with the North-East for good. He struggled on for a few more years through ailing health, until his own death in 1950 aged just 47.

P.S. Strange but true: Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair, and Greystone overlooks the parliamentary constituency of Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s old stamping ground.

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