Blue plaque unveiled to South Shields-born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the writer who married George Orwell and proved an influence on his work

A blue plaque honouring a South Shields-born Oxford scholar and poet who went on to marry famous author George Orwell has been unveiled at her former home in South Tyneside.

Monday, 28th March 2022, 2:56 pm

Eileen O’Shaughnessy met Eric Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, in 1935 and the couple married a year later in Wallington, Hertfordshire.

She is thought to have been a strong influence on Orwell’s style of writing, on Animal Farm in particular in which he credits Eileen for help in planning the book.

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Honouring one of the great women from South Tyneside.

The Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay and Jean Copp unveiled the blue plaque at Eileen’s former family home in Beach Road, South Shields.

They were joined by Eileen and Orwell’s adopted son Richard Blair alongside members of The Orwell Society and the building’s current owner David Harland.

The Mayor said: “It was a real honour to unveil a special blue plaque in tribute to Eileen O’Shaughnessy – a little-known local woman who shaped, supported and likely even saved the life of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

“George Orwell wrote masterpieces in the world of literature, but Eileen’s influence over him and the impact she had on his creative writing is often overlooked. There’s no doubt she was a guiding force in his life, nursing him through injury and illness and playing an influential role in his novels which have continued to stand the test of time.

Mayor of South Tyneside Cllr Pat Hay and Mayoress Mrs Jean Copp unveil a Blue Plaque honouring Eileen Blair, at Westgate House, Beach Road, South Shields, with Orwell Society's Quentin Kopp and Richard Blair.

“It’s particularly fitting that the blue plaque is unveiled during Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contribution to history, culture and society. We hope that this new memorial to Eileen O’Shaughnessy will inspire more people to learn more about her life and inspiration in literature.”

Eileen was born in 1905. She attended Westoe School and was later educated at Sunderland Church High School. She also earned a degree in English Literature at Oxford.

Her father Laurence O’Shaughnessy was Head of Customs in South Shields and the family lived at what they called Westgate House, after Eileen’s mother’s maiden name.

The blue plaque was funded and installed on the property by The Orwell Society.

Mayor of South Tyneside Cllr Pat Hay and Mayoress Mrs Jean Copp unveil a Blue Plaque honouring Eileen Blair, at Westgate House, Beach Road, South Shields, with Orwell Society's Quentin Kopp and Richard Blair.

Quentin Kopp, chairman of The Orwell Society, said: “I am delighted that after the enforced two year delay Eileen has been given great recognition at her family home. The Word has copied of her exhaustively researched biography Eileen, The Making of George Orwell by Sylvia Topp.”

Eileen and Orwell’s son and Patron of The Orwell Society, Richard Blair added: “Sylvia Topp has done so much to highlight the often-overlooked but vital role my mother played in Orwell’s life, not just as a supporter and at times, when he had bouts of illness, a carer, but also as a creative inspiration.

“I am thrilled that we are finally able to celebrate the life of my mother in this way, and the huge amount of work that Sylvia has put in to tell the world her untold story.”

The plaque was originally due to be unveiled in March 2020, marking the 75th anniversary of Eileen’s death in 1945, at the age of 39 during an operation.

Mayor of South Tyneside Cllr Pat Hay and Mayoress Mrs Jean Copp unveil a Blue Plaque honouring Eileen Blair, at Westgate House, Beach Road, South Shields, with Orwell Society's Quentin Kopp and Richard Blair.

However, the covid pandemic led to the unveiling being postponed at that time.

The plaque was unveiled over the weekend to mark the 77th anniversary, coinciding with a special event celebrating the life and work of Eileen O’Shaughnessy at The Word in South Shields.

This included a screening of Wildflower – a short film created about Eileen by local filmmaker Gary Wilkinson, as well as an author talk from Sylvia Topp on her Biography of Eileen and a reading of You, you, you – a poem written about Eileen by Jarrow-born writer Tom Kelly.

George Orwell was born in 1903. He died from tuberculosis in 1950, aged only 46.

Further information about George Orwell and his first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy visit The Orwell Society at www.orwellsociety.com

For more details of South Tyneside’s Blue Plaque scheme visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/blueplaques

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