Former Hertfordshire home of George Orwell and Jack Common for Sale

The Stores, the former Wallington home of both George Orwell and, briefly, Jack Common, has gone on sale. For the not unconsiderable sum of £450,000 you can purchase the cottage in which Orwell resided whilst writing Animal Farm. Common ran the village shop in nearby Datchworth, and in 1938 he and his family moved into the property to take care of it while Orwell spent time in Morocco recovering from ill health.

It had originally functioned as a village shop and Orwell had aspirations to reprise its previous function, hoping to take advantage of his friend’s experience and contacts. It has been noted that he intended not to sell perishables to avoid uneccesary refrigeration costs, nor tobacco, to avoid upsetting the two local pubs.
At an event as part of the George Orwell festival in 2012, Dr Keith Armstrong gave a talk at David’s Boookshop in nearby Letchworth entitled Jack Common and George Orwell in Wallington, which explored the pair’s relationship and saught to explain how a working class lad from Heaton and a middle class Old Etonian fostered a curious friendship that transcended class distinctions.
Floor Plan“A detached two bedroom cottage with a good size garden and a two room studio in the garden with the potential as a self-contained annexe. George Orwell lived in the house from 1936-1940 and this is where he wrote Animal Farm, drawing his inspiration from the village. The cottage is lovely, with a wealth of charm and character with the exposed beams and posts in most rooms, including the dressing room situated between the two bedrooms.
“In the master bedroom is a beautiful exposed brick chimney breast and in the second bedroom a cast iron fireplace. Downstairs, the 25’5″ (7.75m) kitchen breakfast room was created when the Victorians extended the house. The dining room was the author’s writing room and the sitting room with a stunning inglenook style fireplace was once the village shop and home to the village telephone. The train station at Ashwell is 3.9 miles and Baldock train station is 5.5 miles away with a journey time to London of 43 & 37 minutes respectively. The charming cottage is Grade II listed and exempt from the EPC requirement.”

Describing an encounter with Orwell in Hertfordshire when he was living in Datchworth, Jack Common wrote of a rendevouz with a “Don Quixote” in a piece that was eventually to be included in Orwell biographer Bernard Crick’s ‘Orwell Remembered’, a compilation of 57 essays and interviews from Orwell’s family, friends and co-workers:

“…After I had not seen him for some time, I had a letter from him addressed to the Hertfordshire cottage I was now commuting from. He wanted advice. Having himself rented a Hertfordshire cottage, eleven miles north of me, he had the idea of reviving its one-time role as village stores. I had not long given up my own experiment in writer’s income bolstering, a confectioner-tobacconist place in Chelsea, so might I advise him on how to obtain stocks, a licence to sell tobacco, etc?

“Even in those days of carlessness among writers and other proletarians, eleven miles was not all that far away (I walked to his place once), so my reply was an invitation to a meal. He promised to bike over next Sunday morning.

Wallington“As our cottage might be hard to find, I walked out to the brow of the hill north of the church to await the visitor’s coming. He had Datchworth’s oaken spire, today shooting up to a sky of silk and summer, to aim at. I leaned against a three-armed signpost which read To Knebworth, Woolmer Green; To Datchworth Green; To Bragbury End. From that last direction, and very much downhill, there presently appeared a solitary cyclist, a tall man on a tall bike. He could have got off and walked at the worst gradient. Not he. This Don Quixote weaved and wandered this side, that side, defeating windmills of gravity till he grew tall on the hillbrow and tall too was that Rosinante of a bicycle, an ancient Triumph that could have belonged to his father….” 


But the thing I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.’ (George Orwell).

I stood at your door,
knocked in the English sunshine,
bowed to greet you
but could not hear
the chatter
from your typewriter
or the rain pecking
at the tin roof,
only the plummet of the leaves
brushing against my face
and the birds
falling over the fields.

Thought of you and Jack Common,
shaking hands
in open debate,
patched sleeves
damp on the bar counter,
ploughing through
tracts of history,
eyes on the horizon
looking for War
and bombs
over Datchworth’s spire.

This magic morning,
clear sky in our hearts.
No September showers,
only goats bleating,
a horse trotting
down the lane
and, in the day dream,
St Mary’s bells
with Eileen asleep
in the clouds.

What should I say?
We are weak.
I know you were awkward
but, like Jack, full of love.
Out of bullets,
flowers may grow;
out of trenches,
The roses
and acorns of thoughts
you planted
those years ago
in Kits Lane,
nourish us now
in these brief minutes,
from your writing hand
farming for words,
the eggs of essays,
the jam on your fingers.

You were scraping a book together,
smoking the breath
out of your collapsing lungs,
taking the world
on your creaking bent shoulders,
riding across fields
for friends,
bones aching,
fighting to exist
in the cold breeze.

Still the Simpson’s Ale
was good in the Plough,
the old laughter still
flying down this Wallington lane,
with the crackling children
on an idyllic day.

Enjoy this beauty,
it will turn to pain.
Sing your folk songs,
dig your garden,
dance in your brain.
Graft and graft
until all the breath is gone.
Leave a brave mark
in the dust
round Animal Farm.

What a good thing
to be alive
where songbirds soar
and daffodils nod.
Over the slaughter
of motorways,
we are following
your large footprints
into this bright countryside
where good people
adopt another’s children
and still
fall in love
with England.


Keith Armstrong Orwell Cottage


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