Homage to Orwell
Monday, July 14, 2003
12. 27B CANONBURY SQUARE PHOTOS
The following photos of the outside and inisde of 27B Canonbury Square are intended to provide a rare glimpse into Orwell's personal life, just as reading his books provides rare glimpses into his personal thoughts. It's a beautiful flat and although it has been modernized and updated, its layout is the same as it was when Orwell lived there. With apologies to the present occupants, I refer to it as Orwell's flat. Please excuse the darkness but the shadows were long at that time of day, and the apartment is long too, making it hard for the flash to entirely illuminate:
The photo above is of the front of Canonbury Square. These are eighteenth-century row houses (meaning they are all joined together) which originally had four floors and a basement each. Now, in most of them, each floor is a separate flat. Orwell lived here from 1944 to 1948 in a top floor flat - "the most dangerous place to live when the bombs are falling". By that time Canonbury Court had become "a bleak tenement in a down-at-heel area". It's an expensive area now as can be seen by the outside of the building. If you look closely you can see a plaque between the ground floor windows above the third and fourth vehicles from the left. Orwell's windows are above and to the right of the plaque on the top floor, in what would have orignally been the end house. The branches of the tree are obscuring them.
In the above photo I am standing below the windows of Orwell's top floor flat. The windows are for the small bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and Orwell's study/workshop. Notice the round blue Orwell commemorative plaque up high to the left of me designating this an historic house.
The above photo was taken from the bottom of the square looking toward Orwell's building at the top. Notice the two windows at the very top and to the right of the big tree. I think the far right window is the study where Orwell did his typing and "which looked like a workshop, with its carpenter's bench, its rack of chisels and its smell of new cut wood". If you look directly down from there you can see a "For Sale" sign just above the wrought-iron fence. The asking price for that house (which isn't divided into flats) is 1.25 million pounds. A small price to pay for proximity to Orwell!
The above photo was taken from one of the upstairs front rooms looking down at Canonbury Square and the row houses along the left side. The tree branches to the right are the ones obscuring the windows in the first photo.
In the above photo I am standing in front of the open door of Orwell's flat. (The flat next door is open too as they were in the middle of re-organizing). It was a thrilling experience to be retracing Orwell's footsteps up the six-flights of stairs I'd read so much about. "It was not easy for a tubercular invalid who often had to carry groceries, coal buckets and a heavy infant...Friends noticed that Orwell was wheezing and gasping for breath by the time he reached the door". In 1984 Winston always 'went slowly, resting several times on the way.'
The first photo above shows Orwell's entrance hallway at the end of which a person turns right down the long hallway shown in the second photo. The rooms opening off the right side of the hallway look out over Canonbury Square. The rooms opening off the left of the hallway look out over the walled back garden. Orwell's study/workshop is at the very end of the hallway. I'm standing in front of its open door but all you can see are my glasses glittering in my hand.
The framed photographs on the wall to the right of Orwell's bedroom - and just outside his study/workshop - are a permanent memorial to George Orwell and must stay with the flat forever. Whoever lives in the flat must never remove them (except to paint or wallpaper, after which they must go back up). I took the photo while standing inside Orwell's study/workshop. There are eight altogether. They are the most famous of all the photos of Orwell and duplicates of them appear in most of the biographies. They were taken by his friend from the Freedom Defense League, Vernon Richards. Most of them depict Orwell in different poses, alone or with Richard, inside and outside Canonbury Square.
The first photo above is of the hallway, with Orwell's bedroom door open on the right. I took it while standing in front of Orwell's study/workshop, pointing the camera toward the end of the hall. The second photo is Orwell's bedroom. The housekeeper sent toddler Richard in every morning to wake Orwell up by tickling his feet. From the kitchen she could hear him giggling.
The above photos are of Orwell's living room, showing the fireplace, a bookcase, and the windows looking out over the walled back garden. "Eileen's presence was something which could still be felt in the flat. A photograph of her holding Richard was prominently displayed on the mantlepiece...the stuff around his rooms--a Burmese sword, a Spanish peasant lamp, the Staffordshire figures--show something of his foreign life, his strong English solidity."
In the above photo I am standing in the serene little park in Canonbury Square paying symbolic homage to Orwell. In England these little green spaces in front of buildings are called squares. Orwell had strong feelings about squares and had written an "As I Please" column about them. He didn't like the fact that they had fences around them. He thought they should be accessible to all people at all times, instead of only to the people who could afford to have a square in front of them. While we'd been sitting on the bench I'd been thinking that this must have been a place where Orwell would have sometimes sat with Richard, to and from their walks. The biographies say he used to be seen around the neighbourhood carrying Richard and pushing him in his stroller. But while the photo was being taken I was mentally paying my respects to Orwell. To me it felt similar to wreath-laying on Remembrance Day ceremonies, although there were no bugles playing and there weren't any wreaths. But there were solemn, stately flower beds and Orwell is a fallen soldier. He lived most of his life in the trenches - both figuratively and literally - fighting a war against the invisible forces attacking our world.
go nex to 13.ORWELL'S LOCAL PUB or back to HOMAGE INDEX
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~