OK, I know the plaque on the front says this was the actual home of author George Orwell – who moved here in 1944 with his family. But the property was also apparently partly the inspiration for Victory Mansions, the home of Winston Smith, the protagonist of his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair) moved to the property at 27b Canonbury Square with his wife Eileen and their young adopted son Richard in 1944 after their flat in Mortimer Crescent, Kilburn, was hit by a V-1 flying bomb.
But Eileen sadly died unexpectedly during surgery only a few months later in early 1945 while Orwell was off working as a war correspondent.
Despite this, Orwell retained the property until 1947 – the same year his allegorical story Animal Farm was published – but had left the property when Nineteen Eighty Four, which he had largely written while on the Scottish island of Jura in 1947 and 1948, was published in June, 1949 – only a few months before he died in January, 1950.
His was apparently the basement flat – rather unlike Smith’s home which Orwell wrote was located “seven flights up” in a rather large block. The architectural differences aside, however, Orwell’s flat apparently served as something of a model for Smith’s “bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area” which was, like the rest of the flats Victory Mansions, was “falling to pieces” and filled with the smell of boiled cabbage.
A plaque erected by the London Borough of Islington has long adorned the building although last year Orwell’s son Richard attended the unveiling of a new plaque which amended the dates Orwell lived here, changing it from 1945 to 1944-47.
Of course, London is replete with other locations mentioned in Orwell’s book – Trafalgar Square becomes Victory Square (Big Brother stands atop the column in place of Admiral Lord Nelson), the Ministry of Truth where Smith works is modelled on the University of London’s Senate House in Bloomsbury, and the cells in the Ministry of Love are apparently based on those at Bethnel Green Police Station where Orwell has been incarcerated (although only for a few hours) after being arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour in 1931.
Orwell, meanwhile, is commemorated with numerous plaques located around London, including an English Heritage Blue Plaque at a property in Lawford Road, Kentish Town.
Canonbury Square – Orwell’s former residence is in the foreground (with the old plaque). PICTURE: 14wesley/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0