Pilgrimage to Orwell
Friday & Saturday, August 13 & 14, 2004
8. VISITING ORWELL'S ORWELL
It was dusk when we pulled into the village of Orwell after our exhilerating day visiting my "Ancestral Bookend" in Bedfordshire and Orwell's home in Wallington. The clock half-way down the church tower says five-to-eight and it was actually donging while I was standing there (obviously five minutes before it should have been).
The sign on the road where we turned to head to the motel was brilliantly illuminated. It's as though Orwell had become the moon.
Before we continue with the photos here is the story of how I discovered the existence of the village of Orwell:
In July 2001 we traveled to England for the first time in many years, mainly to visit relatives. At that time my website Orwell Today had been on-line for approximately six months but I knew very little about Orwell's personal life, having not yet read any biographies. All I knew about him was that he had been English but I didn't know much else. My respect for him was derived completely from his writings, in particular "1984" which had inspired the creation of my website.
So on that particular trip to England I wasn't doing Orwell research or following in his footsteps or even thinking much about him. But all that changed on the day we were driving between my grandmother's ancestral home in Essex to my grandfather's ancestral home in Bedfordshire and came across signs pointing to a village named "Orwell". I asked my friend who was driving to stop and let me take a picture of the Orwell road sign so I could put it on the website. But we were running late and concentrating on map reading and before we knew it we were past the last Orwell sign and had missed the opportunity.
I kicked myself when I got home and regretted not having the photo to share with readers. But my curiousity had been aroused and I wondered what had come first, Orwell the man or Orwell the village. In other words, was the village named after Orwell or was Orwell named after the village?
That winter I read my first Orwell biographies and the consensus seemed to be that Orwell had chosen his pseudonym after a river named Orwell close to his parents' house in Suffolk where he'd lived for awhile in the late 1920s. But I also learned that Orwell used to visit a girlfriend who lived in Bedfordshire near where my grandfather was from and so I started wondering if maybe he'd passed the Orwell sign when visiting her. Suffolk is close to Essex and so he'd probably have traveled the same road from his parents' house to Bedfordshire as I'd travelled from my grandmother's house to Bedfordshire. In any event I decided that the next time I went to England I'd retrace the route and take a picture of the Orwell sign and even visit the village itself.
But when we went to England again in 2003 and I conducted the Homage to Orwell I didn't get a chance to go to "Orwell" the village. Then when I got home I read the latest biography and the author mentioned the village of Orwell saying that Eric Blair had WALKED through it on his way from his parents' house in Suffolk to visit his friend in Bedfordshire and that it MIGHT have influenced him in his choice of pseudonym. He said that an author Orwell greatly admired had chosen HIS pseudonym after a village close to his home and that Orwell may have copied him in this regard.
Here's the excerpt from page 143, INSIDE GEORGE ORWELL, by Gordon Bowker:
"...The origin of 'George Orwell' is uncertain. A novelist he greatly admired and with whom he strongly identified, George Gissing, shared his surname with a Norfolk village just a day's tramping from Southwold. 'Orwell' was the name of both a Cambridgeshire village and a Suffolk river. Adrian Fierz thought 'George' came from his father's habit of applying it to casual acquaintances, and Rayner Happenstall thought it reflected Orwell's predilection for English royalty (Mary, Elizabeth and Jane were his preferred names for girls). But the George Gissling parallel supplies a more satisfyingly literary source...."
That REALLY got my curiousity aroused and gave me even more reason to want to go to the village of Orwell the next time I went to England. Deep down I felt that Orwell probably DID have Orwell the village in mind when he chose the name Orwell, as well as Orwell the river. And the fact that "Orwell" is on the road between my grandparents' houses made the name even more meaningful to me and perhaps had something to do with my intense interest in Orwell.
So when we traveled to England again this August of 2004 to conduct the Pilgrimage to Orwell it was the fullfillment of a long-desired wish that we did get the chance to not only take a picture of the Orwell road signs but to also take pictures all through the village of Orwell and even stay the night in a motel near by.
It had always been our plan to eat dinner and stay the night in Orwell but the village didn't have a restaurant, hotel, motel or bed-and-breakfast. We asked a man playing soccer in his front driveway if he knew of anywhere to stay. He gave us directions to a motel he highly recommended not far away on the road to Cambridge. Our plan was to come back in the morning and take daylight photos of Orwell. We found the motel with no problems, checked in for the night and then went to the lounge for dinner. The television was on showing opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Athens and we half watched that while discussing the day's events over dinner. The meal was absolutely delicious with exquisite dessert. And another Orwellian thing happened when they brought my husband his beer.
While he was drinking the beer I was reading the coaster. The logo at the top of the coaster looks like an Indian prince of some sort. And the words on the bottom under GREENE KING IPA say BREWED IN BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK.
Suffolk is where Orwell lived with his parents after coming home from Burma in 1927, and from whence he'd walked to Bedfordshire through the village of Orwell. The back of the coaster went on to explain the meaning of IPA. It said: "IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a particular type of beer that was brewed for export to expatriates during the days of the Indian Raj. Because hops have a preservative effect on beer, an unusually large quantity of hops were used in the brewing process to ensure that the beer remained in good condition during the long sea voyage to India. To this day, Greene King IPA retains the distinctive hoppy taste and aroma"
It seemed to me that there couldn't be a better beer to be drinking while on a Pilgrimage to Orwell than this very one which had so many things in common with him. Firstly it was a beer that was made in Suffolk where he used to live. Secondly it was a beer that was shipped to India for the benefit of the expatriates, ie Englishmen who were living there serving the empire, something Orwell had done for five years. Orwell had probably drank this beer while he was there. Thirdly it was a beer with a high concentration of hops which is a plant Orwell used to pick in his tramping days and about which he's written extensively.
I myself was drinking wine but I put down my glass and grabbed my husband's beer to have a taste. To me it was the closest thing to "having a pint on Orwell" that anyone could experience in this lifetime.
The next morning we took a photo of the lounge where we'd had dinner the night before. We'd sat in that table over by the arched window.
We had breakfast in the elegant dining room where the waitress was the same one as the night before. When we complimented her on the excellent food and service she proudly told us that her fiance was the chef. After lingering over coffee we went back to our room and picked up our luggage. As we loaded the car and took out the map we talked about how lucky we'd been to come across the man in Orwell who'd told us about the "Cambridge Motel".
We approached the village of Orwell from a different direction than we had the night before and came in on a different road. That gave us the opportunity to take another picture of an Orwell sign.
Just a little way down the street we came to the "Orwell Village Hall". The plaques above the doors are awards for "Best Kept Village".
Then we were back again at the church where we'd taken the picture of the Orwell sign the night before. We parked the car and went inside the church where we met a lady from the parish. She told us a little bit about the history of the village but said that Orwell the author was not featured in their promotional material. I suggested that they make more of a big deal about the coincidence of the name. I told her that Orwell had once walked through this village and that it was my contention that it had influenced his choice of pseudonym. She said that she would bring up the topic at her next book club meeting and that perhaps they would put one of Orwell's books on their reading list. Before hopping onto her bicycle to do her rounds she kindly took a picture of us:
I love the leaning headstones. After that we took a walk down the High Street to the Post Office and grocery store. We bought film, stamps and treats for the drive and then headed out of Orwell.
The final Orwell sign was actually "Orwell Road" which made it doubly worth taking a picture of. We drove along it for a mile or two and then turned off toward my 'Ancestral Bookend' in Essex.
go next to 9. ORWELL'S WHITE HORSE or back to index at PILGRIMAGE TO ORWELL
Reader Sue enjoyed reading the account of my visit to her village of Orwell in England
Reader Katie, from the village of Orwell in England, is planning a Literary Weekend featuring 1984
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