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George Orwell London Photographs

In April of 1999, my friend Max Minkoff and I visited London. Three of the days we were there we spent photographing the places George Orwell lived, worked and ate. This was somewhat of a quest for me; I wanted to establish a context for Orwell's writing, to get an idea of the places that had been important to him, changed as they must be fifty years after his death. The first and second days were spent wandering the streets of London; the third day we went out to Sutton Courtenay to photograph Orwell's gravesite.

This adventure would never have been possible were it not for a little book I discovered in a used bookshop in my home town of Seattle. Orwell's London, by John Thompson, with photos by Phillipa Scoones, is an extensive catalog of the sites of Orwell's life. I count 115 pictures in it, half historical photos of English life when Orwell lived it, half taken in 1984 specifically for the book. Addresses are given in the caption of each photo, which makes finding the buildings easy even for a pair of novice London visitors with an AZ map and a modest knowledge of the tube. This web page updates and duplicates a small subset of the photos in the book--it would take two weeks of solid effort to reproduce them all. While the book groups the photos mostly chronologically, I have chosen to order by address to aid travellers who would like to pack the most Orwell viewing into an afternoon.

It may seem odd to spend one's vacation walking the obscure back streets of a city so rich in attractions. Certainly one could spend months in London visiting museums and galleries, seeing shows and taking sightseeing trips. But I feel like I know more of London now for having spent time outside of the tourist centers. We were cheerfully honked at by a carload of teens wanting their picture taken. We looked after the scooter of a motorcycle messenger from Liverpool with missing front teeth as he bought a beer at the end of his shift, and then had a (mostly one-sided) conversation with him as he complained about beer prices in London. And we learned to be careful how many zones you cross when riding the Underground, because the attendants are serious about leveling fines for riding with the wrong kind of ticket when their supervisor is watching--they will, however, happily take a phony American address to mail the bill to.

Let me also thank Max Minkoff for accompanying me on this journey. I'm sure that he had as much fun as I did, but it was not a pilgrimage for him as it was for me, and I'm sure there were times he would rather have sat in a quiet pub instead of walking another hour to the next apartment building. In fact there were many times when I wanted to do that as well, but having a friend along made the travelling easier--this could never have been done alone.

A note on maps: I have attempted to be as accurate as possible matching addresses to maps, but I don't have the exact street addresses of all the buildings, and Mapquest has a limited ability to match to exact addresses even when available. When possible, I have matched to cross streets, but even that is not possible for all photos. Please take the maps as a general guide to the location of the buildings and don't expect to find a structure exactly where the star is.

Victor Gollancz Ltd
Victor Gollancz was Orwell's first publisher and the founder of the Left Book Club through which he commissioned Orwell to write The Road to Wigan Pier. Gollancz died in 1967, and I don't know who if anyone carried on the publishing company after him. More...

The Outer Temple
The Outer Temple housed the offices of Tribune, a magazine for which Orwell was the literary editor. He also wrote a weekly column called "As I Please", which helped to establish his reputation as a man of uncompromising views with a sharp command of English. In March of 1945 he took a job with the Observer and left Tribune. More...

Adelphi and Time and Tide
Orwell had a least two connections to this section of Bloomsbury Street. Number fifty-two housed Adelphi, which published many of Orwell's early pieces. And number thirty-eight housed Time and Tide, which More...

13 & 18 Percy Street
Two Percy Street addresses have connections to Orwell. Number 13 is the Elysee restaurant, specializing in Greek food. Orwell liked the moussaka here; Arthur Koestler apparently hated it. Number 18 was the flat where Sonia Brownell lived. Orwell visited her here in the late 1940s before his his last illness. She became his second wife in 1949, as he was dying. (source: Orwell's London, pg. 112) More...

Marquis of Granby and Newman Arms
The Marquis of Granby and the Newman Arms, both located on Rathbone Street, were usual drinking spots. Another favorite, the Wheatsheaf, is just across the street on Rathbone Place. Max and I stopped in for lunch at the Marquis. That's me studying the menu. Thompson remarks that the Marquis was not the first choice for Orwell "since it was run by an ex-policeman and known for its violence." More...

Senate House
The Senate House on Malet Street is the headquarters of the University of London. The structure is surprisingly large for the neighborhood, rising in tiers above the surrounding buildings. With its imposing white facade, it is thought to be the inspiration for architecture of the four ministries in Nineteen Eighty-Four. More...

Freedom Defence Committee
"George Woodcock writes that the committee 'led a precarious but active existence from 1944 to 1949....Orwell became vice-chairman.'

"It came into being because the National Council for Civil Liberties was strongly influence by communists and fellow travellers and so chose not to support the cuases of those non-communist intellectuals who fell foul of government discrimination."
--Orwell's London, pg. 95. More...

University College Hospital
Orwell spent his last illness at University College Hospital, in the private patients' wing. This photograph is actually of the public hospital; the private wing is around the corner in a red brick building with a white stone ground floor. Orwell checked in in September 1949, was married here on October 13th to Sonia Brownell and died here in room sixty-five on January 21st, 1950. (source: Orwell's London, pgs. 97-101) More...

Leverton & Sons
Leverton and Sons, on Eversholt Street, were chosen as funeral directors, apparently because they had a close relationship with the minister at Christ Church. Orwell willed that he be buried, not cremated. (source: Orwell's London, pg. 104.) More...

ChristChurch
Funeral services for Orwell were held in Christ Church on Albany Street on January 26, 1950. The church itself is not particularly beautiful; it is rather ill-proportioned, with a massive doorway and fort-like masonry walls topped by a gracful tower that looks like it is struggling to overcome the plainness of its foundation. Orwell was not buried in here, but rather at All Saints in Sutton Courenay, Oxfordshire, "in a country churchyard" as ordered in his will. More...

Dorset Chambers
From May 1940 to April 1941, Orwell and his wife Eileen rented 18 Dorset Chambers in Chagford Street. It was on the top floor and therefore dangerous during the Blitz. He was working for Time and Tide writing theater reviews and joined the Local Defence Volunteers while living here. From here, the they moved to 111 Langford Court. (source: Orwell's London, pgs. 50-1) More...

Langford Court
From Dorset Chambers, the Orwells moved to 111 Langford Court, Langford Place. The were here from April 1941 to the summer of 1942. Although presently a very smart building by all appearances, in 1941 it was crammed full of refugees and unpleasant. Again, they were living near the top of the building, exposed to German bombs. They moved from here to 10 Mortimer Crescent, which no longer exists, having been destroyed in an air raid while they lived there. (source: Orwell's London, pgs 51-52) More...

Drill Hall
This building was used as a training facility by the Local Defence Volunteers, which later became the Home Guard. Orwell joined the organization in June 1940, a month after the LDV was formed. He was too ill to enlist in the regular army, otherwise he would have done so. Because of his service in Spain, Orwell was made a sergeant. More...

Booklover's Corner
At the corner of Pond Street and South End Green is a pizza house that used to be Booklover's Corner, a book shop where Orwell worked in 1934 and '35. This plaque, commemorating Orwell's time here, is just to the left of the door. More...

Parliament Hill
77 Parliament hill is just a short walk from Booklover's Corner, up a sharp hill and on the edge of a park. Orwell moved here in February 1935 after living over Booklover's Corner. He had the first floor room in the back. A plaque over the front door commemorates Orwell's stay. More...

Canonbury Square
"Orwell lived at the top of the house from 1944, first with Eileen, then with a housekeeper [after Eileen's death], then with his sister Avril. It cost them about £100 a year to rent. Eileen once told a friend that they would be able to afford much better places if they didn't both smoke so much."
--Orwell's London, pg. 92. More...


For other photos, please see the raw photos page.



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