New York writer appeals for South Shields’ help in search for answers on George Orwell’s wife

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A NEW York-based writer has asked South Tynesiders to delve into their memory banks to help fill missing pieces in the life of a famous novelist’s wife.

Eileen O’Shaughnessy was born in South Shields in 1905 and went on to have a major influence on some of her husband George Orwell’s most famous books, in particular Animal Farm.

But despite being married to Orwell for more than a decade, very little is known about her or has been written about her life.

Now that is being rectified. For the last three years, Canadian-born writer Sylvia Topp has been researching a book on Eileen, who took her husband’s real second name, Blair. This has included visits to South Shields and Oxford.

But she has yet to interview anyone in South Shields or Sunderland, where she attended the church high school, who actually knew Eileen.

Sylvia said: “I’m asking for any information any local person might have about the O’Shaughnessy family. One of my goals is to find someone who is still alive in South Shields or Sunderland who may remember the O’Shaughnessy family

“They lived in Westgate House, on Beach Road, from 1908 until about 1924 and Eileen’s father, Laurence O’Shaughnessy, was chief customs officer at South Shields throughout those years and her brother, Laurence Frederick O’Shaughnessy, became a famous surgeon, who was unfortunately killed at Dunkirk in 1940. One title for the book I’m thinking of is ‘She Was a Good Old Stick’, a phrase Orwell used to describe Eileen.

“I have written about them as a couple and how Eileen dealt with being the wife of a famous, peculiar, compulsive 

“Eileen went to Oxford University, one of the first women to go there, and she studied psychology before a lot of people were doing that.

“She was born in 1905 and left for Oxford in 1924 and there is no record of her going back to South Shields. She skimped on an operation she needed and had it at a private clinic in Jesmond, instead of London, in 1945.

“She passed away at the clinic while writing a letter to Orwell when he was in France, following the retreat of the German army.

“It would be wonderful to find out more details of the family from anyone who knew them.”

If can help Sylvia, email her at

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul