The author George Orwell lived in a small cottage at 2 Kits Lane, known as The Stores, from 1936 to 1940, and at occasional weekends (when he was otherwise mainly in London) until he gave up the lease on the cottage in 1947. There is a blue placque on the cottage. Orwell first arrived in Wallington in April 1936, having walked the three miles from Baldock train station across the fields (there being only two buses per week and this not being a bus day) to find the cottage that he had leased, sight-unseen, and in which he planned to write, away from the noise and distractions of London. Orwell had quit his job in a London bookshop earlier that year and headed north to do research for a book about unemployed coal miners, for which he'd been given a 500 pound advance by his publisher. The year from April 1936 was a busy one: Orwell wrote Road to Wigan Pier, got married to Eileen in the St Mary's Church, Wallington, in June, continued his journalism career and wrote Shooting An Elephant. They ran a store from the front room of the cottage and kept chickens, geese and goats.
'The Stores' was originally a two-up, two-down cottage and dates from the late 17th or early 18th century. The name 'The Stores' refers to its long service as the village shop: the Danish company, Agrar Ltd, which bought and managed the farms after the end of the First World War, also owned the shop, then called 'Agrar Stores'. It may have been a shop in earlier times too, as the National Census of 1881 lists a shopkeeper, Maria Perry, as resident. It stocked all the basics: oats, biscuits, bottles, sweets, tobacco, etc. When Agrar went out of business in the agricultural depression, the stores were leased by George Titley for a couple of years before being sold. The buyers, the Smeeton family, continued to run a general shop out of the house until 1935. At some point the house was named 'Monks Fitchett', with references to Monks Manor and the Manor of Montfitchets, although it has no known direct links to either.
In January 1937 Orwell left Wallington for Spain, with Eileen following him two months later. They returned home to Wallington in July 1937 and he wrote Homage to Catalonia. More time away from the village was necessitated when Orwell contracted tuberculosis in the winter of 1938 and spent six months in a sanatorium in Kent. Upon release he and Eileen spent 6 months in Morocco, where he wrote Coming Up for Air, which he gave to his agent in London on his way back home to Wallington.
Through 1939 Orwell carried on writing but when war broke out in Europe, Eileen took a job in London and came home only on weekends. A few months later - after finishing Inside the Whale - Orwell followed Eileen to London and they leased Wallington to friends and relatives.
In London between the autumn of 1943 and April 1944 Orwell wrote Animal Farm with the "Manor Farm" in Wallington as his model, including its farm buildings and big barn, which still stand today. All Orwell did was change Wallington to "Wallingdon" and the people into animals, allegedly keeping many of their names and traits recognizable by the locals.
The following excerpts from ORWELL, THE TRANSFORMATION, by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams describes a typical day Orwell and Eileen might spend in Wallington:
"Very early, and without difficulty, they settled into the pattern of working writer and devoted wife. At 6:30 a.m. the alarm clock pealed through the house, and George got up to feed the chickens. By the time he was done, Eileen had come downstairs to the kitchen and was preparing breakfast: eggs (from the hens), bread (which she would have baked the day before), bacon (bought from neighbours who kept pigs), a pot of steaming coffee with chicory in the mix -- a blend in the French manner Eric had grown fond of in Paris. Then they went their separate ways: he to the typewriter or to work in the garden; she, to wash up the dishes, take care of household chores, think about the next meal. (She once told Patricia Donohue, in a half-joking way, that 'she reckoned there were only 25 minutes between the clearing up of one meal and the start of preparations for another.') But she enjoyed cooking and was very good at it - her apple meringue pie was delicious and memorable. ..."
"There was, it seems, more than enough for each of them to do to fill their days at The Stores. Eric was racing ahead with The Road to Wigan Pier, or reading books sent to him for review by the New English Weekly, Time and Tide, and the Fortnightly. Eileen tended the shop, whenever it needed tending, which was not very often, ....... the most assiduous customers were the village children in search of penny candy. ...Late in the afternoon, smoking furiously, Eileen would walk Mabel and Kate, the goats, along the verges of the common...and 'Marx' the dirty white poodle. Then there were the hens to be taken care of; she gathered the warm eggs to sell in the shop or for their own use; or to exchange with neighbors for bacon and sausage, or for fruits and vegetables they weren't growing themselves...Even though, when a friend came to visit and one tried to describe what one did in Wallington, it seemed that one did nothing -- nothing of importance. And yet the day was full. Before one knew where the hours had gone, it was time to prepare dinner. And after dinner, a stroll in the summer night; then homeward across the fields to bed...."
In 2011 and 2012 the village was involved in the George Orwell Festival, of Letchworth and Wallington.
For more information on George Orwell and his association with Wallington, read the following: 'George Orwell in Wallington. The Original Animal Farm' by Jim Coutts Smith (published 2010, ISBN 978 0 9565052 1 7), and 'Orwell's Life in Wallington. A village and its author' by Dan Pinnock (published 2011, ISBN 978 0 9565052 3 1). Both booklets are available from St Mary's Chrch.
The house, known as 'The Stores' or 'Monks Fitchett", where George Orwell lived between 1936 and 1940, and which he leased until 1947.
The Great Barn at Manor Farm