canonbury_squareOK, 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

Advertisements

An iconic location in one London’s most well-known Royal Parks, the history of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner as a site of public oratory dates back to at least the mid 1800s (although thanks to the site being located close to where Tyburn Tree once stood, its arguable that the tradition goes further back, to when condemned prisoners were able to have a final word on the gallows – but for more on the Tyburn Tree, see our previous post here).

Located near Marble Arch on the north-east corner of Hyde Park, the area was the scene of massive protests by the Reform League in the mid 1800s which were aimed at extending the voting franchise to the working class. In 1866, protestors tore up the railings and rioted for three days after they approached the area and found themselves locked out of Hyde Park. They returned en masse the following year in defiance of a government ban but were allowed to protest without intervention.

While there was some opposition to the idea of public protests in the area, in 1872, the passing of the Parks Regulation Act meant the park’s authorities could issue permits for speakers (while it didn’t enshrine the right to speak in law, it did establish the general principle of speaking in parts of the park). The area covered by the act is much larger than Speakers’ Corner but tradition has established that as the site where people gather to speak (and listen).

Anyone can now turn up to address the public at Speakers’ Corner whenever the park is open but tradition has meant most of the speaking happens on a Sunday morning (when you’ll certainly encounter some very regular speakers). The only condition is that the speech be considered “lawful”.

Among the more notable speakers who have attended are Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. The suffragettes also held meetings there in the early 1900s and, in 2003, it was the scene of a massive rally against the taking of military action in Iraq.

Numerous other countries have since adopted the idea and created their own version of a “speakers’ corner” including Australia, Singapore, Canada and the US.

London’s Speakers’ Corner has undergone a makeover in recent months (somewhat controversial to some) and was last month reopened by the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid who described Speakers’ Corner as a “deeply symbolic space that celebrates freedom of speech”.

The refurbishment included new trees and plantings, resurfacing and the installation of railings, designed by Royal Parks landscape architect Ruth Holmes and landscape architects Burns + Nice and carried out by award-winners Bowls and Wyer.

For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/hyde-park-attractions/speakers-corner.

Seventy-one years of broadcasting from Bush House in Aldwych came to an end last week when the BBC World Service formally left the building. The building has been used by the BBC for foreign language broadcasting since 1941 (the service’s previous home, Broadcasting House in Portland Place having been bombed out), initially for the European Service and, since 1958, for the rest of what was then called the Overseas Service. Designed by American architect Harvey Corbett, the building at the end of Kingsway in west London was constructed in 1923 and opened in 1925 (additions were made in 1928 and 1935). Built for an Anglo-American trading company at the enormous cost of around £2 million (a price tag which led to it being declared the most expensive building in the world), it was named for American businessman, Irving T. Bush. Noted for its distinctive portico featuring two male statues depicting Anglo-American friendship, the premises has been the site of important events including General Charles De Gaulle’s wartime broadcasts to the Free French while among those who worked in the building were George Orwell, who worked for the Eastern Service during World War II. The BBC, who have returned the World Service to Broadcasting House following a major extension, have never actually owned the building – owners during its residency there have included the Church of Wales and its current Japanese owners. For more on Bush House and its BBC connections, see www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/collections/buildings/bush_house.shtml. For the final broadcast, see www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18805063. PICTURE: Bush House, 1951 – Courtesy BBC.