Jura Map Jura Isle
"Thinking always of my island in the Hebrides."


Barnhill in Sight Distant Front View

Orwell wrote the above sentence in his war diary in 1940, perhaps thinking about the lines of a poem called The Seasons that was written in 1730. And when his friend David Astor told him that he owned an estate on the island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides, Orwell got the idea to move there. But he wanted to wait until the war was over because he didn't think it was right to leave London while it was being bombed. Only the privileged did that, whereas the poor had nowhere else to go. Finally the war ended in May 1945 and four months later Orwell travelled to Jura for the first time. In 1946, 1947 and 1948 he spent about six months a year on Jura and Barnhill became his permanent home. The following excerpts from various biographies give the flavour of his life there. ~ Jackie Jura

Here's from ORWELL, THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, by Michael Shelden, page 439-440:

Almost a year after Eileen's death, Orwell gave renewed consideration to a plan which he had shared with her in the last months of her life. He wanted to find a special retreat where he could escape the pressures of London for long periods at a time...Eileen had written to the landlady, Margaret Fletcher, and had obtained a good deal of information about the place. She was ready to move there if Orwell insisted on taking it, but she was not enthusiastic about the idea. She had every reason to doubt the wisdom of going there for any extended period. The house itself was enormous compared with The Stores - there were five spacious bedrooms, a large sitting-room and dining-room, and a big kitchen. But like the cottage, it had no electricity. This might have been easier for Eileen to bear if the place were not so isolated. Barnhill stands near the northern tip of the island, and in Orwell's day the nearest neighbour was more than a mile away; the road leading to the place was nothing more than a primitive track which connected it to Margaret Fletcher's house several miles away, and the nearest shop was twenty-five miles to the south. It was the only one on the island. The population of about three hundred was scattered over an area of 160 square miles...[end of quoting from OTAB by Shelden]

Here's from INSIDE GEORGE ORWELL, by Gordon Bowker, page 348-355:

"As the harsh winter of 1945-46 wore on, Orwell was pining for Jura. He thought that away from London he might concentrate on his novel, telling Leonard Moore that when he returned he hoped to have a wad of it completed. However, preparing to move was a heavy task for him. He was ill again in March, and arranging for his furniture to be moved up to Scotland proved more arduous than anticipated, 'almost like stocking up a ship for an arctic voyage', he told Koestler. However, the prospect of escaping London, the telephone and the journalistic grind buoyed him. During 1945 he had written over one hundred thousand words and his income was for the first time in excess of anything he had earned previously - some 967 pounds before tax. By the beginning of 1946 he was clearly suffering from overwork. He told Dorothy Plowman that he was 'smothered under journalism'; to Andrew Gow, he wrote, 'I have become more and more like a sucked orange ', and to his old POUM comrade Stafford Cottman, he wrote, 'For two months I mean to do nothing at all, then maybe I shall start another book but anyway, no journalism until next autumn...I have given up the cottage in Hertfordshire and taken another in the island of Jura in the Hebrides...I think I can make it quite comfortable with a little trouble, and then I shall have a nice place to retire to occasionally at almost no rent '...."

"The conditions were fairly primitive. Without electricity he used Calor gas for heating water and cooking. The Valor stove and storm lanterns burned paraffin and he burned coal and peat to heat the house in the evenings. The sole means of communication with the outside world was a battery radio. But the weather was surprisingly good...'It is not a cold climate here', he wrote, 'actually the mean temperature is probably warmer than in England, but there is not much sun and a great deal of rain'...."

"To begin with Barnhill had no hot water and no decent transport. In June he went to Glasgow to pick up Kopp's van, but no sooner did he get it to Jura than it broke down on the quayside. Kopp, it apperas, had sold him a dud, but somehow their friendship survived this hiccough, and that year Orwell bought a goose from him for Christmas and Kopp's eldest son, Michel, visited Barnhill that summer. However, without the van, he was reduced to using an ancient motorbike, on which he became a familiar sight -- usually trying to get it started after it had broken down on the potholed track leading north to Barnhill. He is remembered locally as suddenly appearing through the rain, a tall, gaunt figure in oilskins, sometimes, even more sinisterly, carrying a scythe (for the clearing of reeds from the track, apparently). It was a scene straight from an M.R. James ghost story or a ghastly verse from the Ingoldsby Legends."[end of quoting from IGO by Browker]

Here's from ORWELL, WINTRY CONSCIENCE OF A GENERATION, by Jeffrey Meyers, page 255-258:

"Most writers, after struggling for fifteen years to achieve literary success, would have remained in London to be lionized and enjoy their celebrity. But Orwell, immune to the effects of wealth and fame, couldn't endure his success: it didn't match his idea of himself. Desperately tired and jaded in the spring of 1946, he complained to Koestler that 'everyone keeps coming at me wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc. - you don't know how I pine to get free of it all and have time to think again'. Nineteen Eighty-Four was beginning to take shape in his mind, and he wanted to rest for two months and allow the idea to germinate. Quite unexpectedly, the man who hated Scotland took off for the remote island of Jura in the Inner Hebrides..."

From the booklet Jura and George Orwell, by Gordon Wright here are REMINISCENCES OF ERIC BLAIR by Mrs Fletcher/Nelson of Ardlussa:

"I remember the April day in 1946 that Eric George Orwell (he was known locally by his true name of Eric Blair) arrived. He had heard about Jura from David Astor while he was a correspondent with the Observer Newspaper and in 1944 had written to my brother, who then owned Ardlussa, to find out if there was a suitable house to rent. My brother was killed in action in October 1944 so he renewed the correspondence with me when I returned to Jura in 1945. I suggested that he and his wife come to stay - to see Barnhill for themselves before making a decision. Eric George Orwell - who was known locally by his true name of Eric Blair - wrote back to say that his wife was having to undergo an operation but that when she recovered they would like to come to Jura for about ten days. The next letter came to say that his wife had died during the operation. He then decided to come to Jura on his own."

"He arrived at Ardlussa by the post-van and my husband Robin and I took him to Barnhill the next day. I well remember my first meeting with this tall, gaunt and sad-looking man and being extremely anxious as to how he would manage on his own. I offered to help with food supplies which were still strictly rationed and difficult to obtain. He said that he would be all right and preferred to manage on his own. I had the impresson that he was content as long as he had a roof over his head and a loaf of bread to eat..."

"Eric started with very little furniture; he had only his basic needs - a camp bed, table, a chair or two and a few essential cooking utensils. We lent him some furniture and gradually more was obtained but even by the end of his time on Jura the house never looked comfortable and except for the warm fire his sister, Avril, had in the kitchen it was fairly bleak. It was certainly a spartan existence to begin with but it was the way he wanted and gave the conditions under which he liked to work..."

"I remember Richard, his adopted son, arriving in July 1946. Eric went down to fetch him and came back with the little boy, barely able to walk and a young housekeeper, Susan Watson, who was lame. His sister Avril came soon after this for a visit and decided to stay. She was an exceptional person. She was 41 when she came and had an interesting and varied life. We quickly became friends. One of her great gifts was to be able to see the amusing side of the many problems at Barnhill. She and Susan clearly did not see eye to eye and when Susan had a friend up to stay the situation became intolerable. The next we knew, Susan and her friend arrived on our doorstep one very wet evening just as it was getting dark, having walked the seven miles from Barnhill carrying their suitcases. Susan was in a state of exhaustion. We put them up and they left next day by the post bus on their journey back to London..."[end of quoting from REMINISCENCES by Mrs Fletcher/Nelson]

Here's from INSIDE GEORGE ORWELL by Gordon Bowker, page 356-357:

"..Susan Watson's lover at the time, David Holbrook, decided to visit her at Jura. Holbrook, twenty-three and a member of the Communist Party, was just out of the army, and finishing an English degree at Downing College, Cambridge. He was anxious to meet the controversial author of The Road to Wigan Pier and Animal Farm, and was quite expecting to enjoy long conversations with him about literature and politics. He was to be disappointed. After struggling with the luggage over the last eight miles of track to Barnhill, menaced by rutting deer, he was greeted by the sight of Orwell shooting a duck with a shotgun. Inside the house the mood was sombre, the conversation gloomy and the atmosphere tense. He thought that having been told that he was a Communist, Orwell suspected he had come to spy on him. He was not to know that he feared something even worse, which was precisely why he had bought that Lugar (Susan remembered him with a loaded handgun always at the ready on Jura). After all, Trotsky had been eliminated by a Communist agent who had insinuated himself into his household. Like Susan, Holbrook had walked on to the set of a Kafkaesque drama being played out in Orwell's own mind."

"To the young student the place seemed a kind of Cold Comfort Farm, with all means of escape - the van and the motorbike - broken down, seemingly a deliberate act of self-isolation. He was warned grimly against the cliffs one could topple over in the dark - leaving him more than a little nervous...At supper that first day, Avril had burnt the goose, and Orwell droned on interminably about an arctic tern he had spotted that day. 'I wanted to talk to him about life, about politics, Spain and that sort of thing, but he was wheezing away about an artic tern'...Apart from feeling under suspicion, Holbrook also thought that Orwell disapproved of his carrying on his affair with Susan under his roof at Barnhill."

"He did, however, manage to get a rare sight of Orwell's unfinished work. 'I was prowling around the house one day, when he was out, you know. I went up to the attic and there was a big attic room, and there was a desk, all untidy, and this typewriter where he was working. And it was obviously Nineteen Eighty-Four.'..."[end of quoting from IGO by Bowker]

Here's from ORWELL, WINTRY CONSCIENCE OF A GENERATION, by Jeffrey Meyers, page 260:

"Orwell loved Jura, especially in the summer. There was so much work to do at first that he kept his resolution and didn't write for several months. Instead, he occupied himself with building obstinately sagging bookshelves and planting a vegetable garden, looking after the geese and hens, making hay and getting milk for Richard from a neighboring farm, going fishing and setting lobster traps, shooting rabbits and butchering venison, walking the hills and exploring the north coast in his outboard motorboat. He enjoyed a rich diet of lobster, rabbit and deer and (since there was no beer) had a ration of gin every night..."[end of quoting from OWCOAG by Meyers]

Here's from ORWELL, THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Michael Shelden, page 440:

He had no intention of becoming a hermit. He simply wanted to have more time to spend on writing something more substantial than short pieces for papers and magazines. He wanted people to come and visit him. He liked the idea of having a steady stream of friends coming and going. There was enough room in the house to allow him to work quietly even with a few guests under his roof, and their presence would give him the chance to continue engaging in the kind of friendly debates which he so much enjoyed in London. Barnhill would be not only his farmhouse but his office, his restaurant, his pub, his inn, and there would be few reminders of the outside world of wars, dirty streets, modern factories, and power politics...[end of quoting from OTAB by Shelden]

From the booklet Jura and George Orwell, by Gordon Wright here's REMINISCENCES OF ERIC BLAIR by Mrs Fletcher/Nelson of Ardlussa, page 11-12:

"That first summer many friends and relatives came and went. Some marvelled, on arrival, at the peace and tranquility of life on Jura but found it difficult to accept the isolation. To many of them we gave hospitality and helped them on their journey. Coming from London they had already travelled 24 hours by train, boat and bus by the time they reached Ardlussa. As there was no telephone and telegrams came by post many visitors arrived at the same time as the telegram announcing their arrival. This added complications as there would be no-one down from Barnhill to meet them."

"The nearest neighbours were either at Kinuachdrach, which was a mile and a half further north where we ran a small farm, or ourselves at Ardlussa. Milk and eggs were obtained from Kinuachdrach but all the groceries were sent up once a week form the shop in Craighouse... Avril, with Orwell's help when he was well enough, dug the garden and grew what vegetables she could. It was difficult to keep out the deer which abounded round the house."

"Transport was varied and unreliable. To begin with they had a rowing boat with an outboard engine and a motor bicicyle which was constantly breaking down. Eric spent many hours sitting beside the road tinkering with the engine and hoping that someone would appear who had more mechanical knowledge than he had. My older children remember him often coming to the house, usually in oilskins, wanting help. He often carried a scythe on the back of his motor bike with which to cut the rushes which grew rapidly in the middle of the road...A pony was lent them but it had a will of its own and soon got the upper hand and refused to go into the shafts of the pony cart. It was very occasionally ridden down for the mail. Richard Rees, who came to live at Barnhill a year later with Avril and Eric, bought a lorry which did for awhile but was continually needing attention. Tyres and spare parts were difficult to obtain. There were two men working at Ardlussa at this time who had a good working knowledge of engines and many times they helped get the varied Barnhill transport working again. Later they had a larger boat which was used to come down to Ardlussa for visitors and supplies when the weather was good. Before they left they had an old Austin truck.

"During the time that Eric was living at Barnhill he did occasionally bring Richard in for me to look after for a day or two with my four children, but I know he was always reluctant to ask. One day he brought Richard down with a badly cut forehead which he had done by falling off a chair onto a glass. This had to be stitched so we sent the car to Craighouse for the doctor. There was no district nurse so I held the boy while the doctor stitched. Eric looked miserably unhappy and occasionally came into the bathroom to see how we were getting on..."[end of quoting from REMINISCENCES by Mrs Fletcher/Nelson]

Here's from GEORGE ORWELL, A LIFE by Bernard Crick, page 356-368:

"Strangers were not uncommon in the summer. Remote though the house was, both sleek yachtsmen and tough hikers, possibly challenged by its very remoteness, would call from time to time as if, Avril said with conscious exageration, 'it was a Public House' or as if they were doing them a favour. Her brother did not welcome such casual callers...Orwell welcomed the real islanders, however, when the men from the cottages north of Barnhill came down. In the manner of the islands, the kettle was always boiling on the hearth and strong tea and scones were dispensed. When someone brought supplies up from Craighouse or the post from Ardlussa, they were offered 'a wee dram' (a stiff double, in fact). Most of the islanders liked him, one of his neighbours recalled: 'He seemed a kindly man and he kept himself to himself and interfered with no one' - which the crofters see as a great virtue among their own kind, and even more as how the gentry should treat them. (Orwell saw himself as potentially one of them; but they firmly saw him as 'a peculiar and kindly gentleman.')..."

"...Bill Dunn saw a good deal of the Blairs. He was sceptical about Orwell's skills as a farmer, gardener or handyman. Orwell was still suffering from the effects of his winter bronchitis, and was not out of the house much for the first month after their return, so Avril was grateful for Bill Dunn's help in and out of the house. Dunn welcomed the company of a gentleman, even a rather stiff -- he thought - and reserved Left-wing writer; but he was pleased to notice that the sister, though perfectly loyal, did not share all her brother's values, obsessions and political views."

"Richard Rees was to come for a long stay that summer, but had not yet arrived. By the end of May, Orwell began to get out and about again, though he did not feel in good health until midsummer. Bill Dunn reminisced: 'I thought he was a very nice chap, very vague, terribly vague, he certainly didn't look well, but he was always jolly game. I remember going out to Scarba with him.' Scarba was only a mile north of Jura, but was across the famous Corryvreckan, a tidal race and whirlpool."

"'We landed in a sort of shingly bay and the first thing we saw was a dirty great adder, an enormous thing and Eric quickly planted his boot right on top of its neck and anchored it to the ground and I fully expected that with the other foot he would grind its head into the ground too - he was obviously intent on destroying it - but he got out his penknife and quite deliberately opened and proceeded more or less to fillet this wretched creature, he just ripped it right open with the thing - quite deliberately. I must say, it surprised me terribly because he always really struck me as being very gentle to animals, in fact I think he was a very gently, kindly sort of man.'..."

"None of the summer visitors to Jura remember his talking about what book he was writing. They just heard the typewriter pounding away in his room...[end of quoting from GOAL, by Crick]

Here's from ORWELL, WINTRY CONSCIENCE OF A GENERATION by Jeffrey Meyers, page 261-262:

"Michel Kopp visited Jura in the summer of 1947 and found the farmhouse 'rather dilapidated'. Orwell was driving himself hard, 'working day and night at his book with perhaps the premonition that Nineteen Eighty-Four would be the last one and that death was lurking in the background... I used to see him mainly at supper-time. He was looking in poor health, eating little, chainsmoking and drinking a lot of coffee.'"

"Jane and Lucy Dakin, on Jura in the summers of 1946 and 1947, found both Orwell and Avril -- who was keeping house for him--remote, detached and self-absorbed. When Lucy finally arrived, thoroughly exhausted after the long and difficult journey from London, he merely said, 'Ah, there you are Lu '. And there was no hug from Aunt Avril, who gave her a glass of milk with a shot of brandy. Avril, who'd run a tea shop in Southwold, was a good cook. She was practical. Orwell was not; and though he thrived on hardship, he could never have survived on Jura without her. Apart from mealtimes, he typed for most of the day. They ate ghastly Scottish bread, and there always had to be a pudding, which he loved. After dinner he'd take a walk or fish for food. Janey and Lucy helped make hay and fetch the milk for Richard from the neighboring farm. In their spare time they read copies of the exotic New Yorker--sent free to Orwell as a valued contributor."

"Gwen O'Shaughnessy, with her children Laurence and Catherine, also traveled up to Jura. Catherine, who became a nurse in later life, remembered the difficult approach to the uncomfortable house:"

"'We were met, in the dead of night, by a horse and cart and taken to a farmhouse where we spent the night. We then travlled...in this cart along a path they called a road. It was literally a two-wheeled dirt track with great big ruts in it which made the journey long and rough. He was living in an old farmhouse on the edge of the sea. Freezing cold. It pelted with rain, slamming it into the side of the house with such force that I thought it would blow the place down. He chose that place for its isolation and quietness but for a TB patient it couldn't have been worse. It was damp and cold most of the time. Not an ideal place to convalesce.'"

"To Catherine, Orwell seemed 'long-suffering, tired looking, immensely thin, but gentle.'"[end of quoting from OWCOAG by Meyers]

From the booklet Jura and George Orwell, by Gordon Wright here's REMINISCENCES OF ERIC BLAIR by Mrs Fletcher/Nelson page 14-16:

"From the time he came Eric was a sick man suffering from Tuberculosis. As he grew worse it was arranged that a specialist should be called from Glasgow to see him as he was too ill to travel. This was December 1947. Richard Rees brought him down from Barnhill and he stayed in our house for about a week. The specialist arrived and after exmamining Eric told us on no account to let him go back up the rough road to Barnhill. There was a danger that he might have a severe haemorrhage which could prove fatal. He was to be kept quiet and in bed until a place could be found for him in a sanatorium near Glasgow. We had already looked after him for several days but after hearing what the doctor had said he refused to stay any longer saying that it was unfair for him to remain and be a risk to our four young children. We urged him to stay explaining that we were keeping all his things separate and would destroy his bedding after he left. We said that a few more days would not make any difference but he insisted on summoning Richard Rees and returning to Barnhill. During this time I recall him having long talks with my husband, Robin. They had both been at Eton - but Eric twelve years earlier. He told Robin that he was anxious to have enough strength left to finish the book he was writing. He felt it had an important message."

"He knew that he had not very long to live. On one occasion I thoughtlessly left a bottle of painkillers for toothache by his bed. I was in the garden when I remembered it and hurried in. I need not have worried. Eric's concern was to have enough strength to finish his book."

"After many months in a sanatorium Eric came back to Barnhill. The farming enterprise was got under way. Bill Dunn was living there, running some cattle and getting the fields ready to grow some crops. I think Eric came to realize that his vision of Jura being divided into small-holdings for dairy farming was totally impractical. The distance from markets, the difficulties of getting supplies and the isolation are too great for all but a few exceptional people. In spite of Bill's hard work and the help of Avril and friends, the farm at Barnhill hardly broke even let alone made a living wage."

"We were sorry when the inevitable came. Eric had to move south - too ill to continue living at Barnhill. The farm closed down and Bill Dunn moved to the mainland where he later married Avril. Sonia Brownell, who had married Eric while he was in hospital just a few weeks before he died in January 1950, came up in February to stay with us at Ardlussa. Robin took her to Barnhill which she saw for the first time and where she went through Eric's papers. She was clearly upset by its lack of comfort and amenities and felt that she could not have lived there without drastic modernisation."

"The book "1984" was written during Eric's time on Jura and was completed in 1948. He spent many hours in bed in the rooms above the kitchen with his typewriter on his knees working on the final draft of his manuscript. The sound of his urgent typing to complete the work could be heard constantly in the kitchen below..."[end of quoting from REMINISCENCES by Mrs Fletcher/Nelson]

Here's from ORWELL, THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, by Michael Shelden, page 379:

On 28 July he was back on Jura. Avril had brought an excited Richard down to Glasgow to meet him. Bill Dunn was waiting with the giant second-hand Austin at Craighouse.

For six hot and glorious summer weeks he was at least a long shadow of his old self. He played with Richard more than before. The boy was now 4 1/2, a gib lad for his age. 'Though I only get up half the day,' Orwell told both Celia Kirwan and Michael Meyer, so could take no boat trips or long walks or help around the farm. He did not feel up to riding the frisky Bob, yet walked to Kinuachdrach several times to fetch milk and butter and pottered in the vegetable garden. And he revised his book. If he had to spend half the day in bed, yet 'I have got quite used to working in bed', he told Meyer..."[end of quoting from OTAG by Crick]

Here's from ORWELL, WINTRY CONSCIENCE OF A GENERATION, by Jeffrey Meyers page 292:

"As Orwell risked his life to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four, he also entertained unrealistic hopes for the future. In October 1948 he hesitantly told Julian Symons: 'I could go abroad perhaps, but the journey might be the death of me, so perhaps a sanatorium might be best.' Writing to Richard Rees a few months later, he finally admitted that he'd been unwise to stay on Jura: 'I must from now on spend my winters within reach of a doctor - where, I don't know yet, but possibly somewhere like Brighton.' ... The ominous progression of his wasting disease - he suffered loss of weight, emaciation, high fever, night sweats, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pains, severe coughing, frequent colds and spitting blood - finally forced him to leave the island in January 1949..." [end of quoting from OWCOAG by Meyers]

and from GEORGE ORWELL, A LIFE by Bernard Crick, page 385:

By now everyone, including himself, faced the fact that he would die if he did not surrender himself, for a while at least, to a sanatorium. He had at last found one [near London in the Cotswolds]. Even the journey had complications and could have proved fatal. Bill and Avril were to drive him down to spend the night at the hotel in Craighouse before catching the morning boat. Starting rather late in the day the car slipped in the dusk into an enormous pot-hole. On a wet and bitterly cold night, leaving him in the car to comfort Richard, Bill and Avril walked back four miles to Ardlussa to get help. With difficulty and exertion they were pulled out by a tractor, and set on the road again. Ever since that haemorrhage in January 1946, it had been folly for Orwell to live so far from town, however much he loved the country. They met Richard Rees on the mainland, and he accompanied Orwell (whose essays he had first printed twenty years ago) down to Gloucestershire on the train." [end of quoting from GOAL by Crick]




Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
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