Orwell’s son visits his mum’s South Tyneside grave for first time

POIGNANT TRIBUTE ... Richard Blair plants a rose bush on his mother's grave.
POIGNANT TRIBUTE ... Richard Blair plants a rose bush on his mother's grave.

THE son of legendary 20th century novelist George Orwell visited his South Tyneside-born mother’s grave for the first time at the weekend – and planted a rose bush upon it in her memory.

Retired engineer Richard Blair, from Warwickshire, was accompanied on a visit to South Shields by eight members of the Orwell Society from across the country.

FAMILY TIES ... Richard Blair's mother Eileen O'Shaughnessy.

FAMILY TIES ... Richard Blair's mother Eileen O'Shaughnessy.

They came on Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary of the death of the wife of the writer responsible for Animal Farm, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Their visit was hosted by borough film-maker Gary Wilkinson, the man behind a documentary about Richard’s mother – and Orwell’s wife – Eileen O’Shaughnessy.

She was born in South Shields in 1905 and went on to have a tremendous influence on her husband’s most famous novels.

The couple adopted the young Richard in 1944, but he was just one year old when his mother died and barely six when Orwell passed away in 1950.  

The Orwell Society and myself are determined to continue with bringing Eileen out of the shadow of George Orwell and making sure she gets the recognition that she deserves.

Gary Wilkinson, filmmaker

Mr Wilkinson, who has pledged to “bring Eileen out of Orwell’s shadow”, took the society members on a guided tour of key locations in her life.

He said: “Eileen O’Shaughnessy was born in South Shields in 1905 and became the first wife of George Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair.

“She was very influential in his later writing, particularly of Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and his last and most controversial novel, 1984.

“On their visit I showed them my film ‘Wildflower’, about Eileen, at the Central Library Theatre in South Shields and then I took the group to Westgate House in Beach Road, where she lived, and then down to Lawe Road, where she was born.

ADOPTED ... the young Richard with dad George Orwell.

ADOPTED ... the young Richard with dad George Orwell.

“We then walked along King Street past the building where her father had an office at number 65, and onto the Customs House, as he worked as a customs collector there.

“On the Sunday we went to Fernwood House in Jesmond, which was the private clinic where she died in 1945, and finally to St Andrew’s Cemetery in Jesmond, where Eileen is buried.

“It was there that her son Richard, who had never visited the grave before, planted a rose bush.

“Finishing the visit at her grave seemed a fitting end, but on reflection I thought it was a continuation of Eileen’s story.

“The Orwell Society and myself are determined to continue with bringing Eileen out of the shadow of George Orwell and making sure she gets the recognition that she deserves.”

Mr Wilkinson revealed he is now planning to place a plaque dedicated to Eileen at one of the locations the group visited South Shields.

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul