Henley's Literary Heroes: from Orwell to Aldin

31st March 2017

From John Piper's little bohemia at Fawley Bottom (John Betjeman liked to call it "Fawley Bum" whenever he visited), to Coleridge nursing a fellow Dragoon at Henley workhouse, a host of authors and illustrators have been inspired by living in or around Henley.  

Visit England's theme for 2017 is literary heroes and to celebrate English Tourism week Henley's bookshops have decked their windows with books, paintings and manuscripts to celebrate the town's literary heroes.

John Piper's Fawley Bottom 
Cecil Aldin, one of the great sporting artists of the early part of the twentieth century, is best known for his keenly observed drawings of puppies and characterful dogs. But it was his love of hunting which encouraged him to move to the country and in 1904 he settled upon a house in Henley on Thames.
“I chose an old house in the centre of Henley-on-Thames; one of those old buildings untouched by the tide of modern architecture and street widening, this had no “modern improvements.” To-day our former garden is completely built over, and a modern post-office stands on the foundations of our first country home.
When we lived in the house it was a little oasis in the town of Henley-on-Thames; with a large garden of three of four acres completely surrounded by trees and a ten-foot wall.’ 
The spot where Aldin’s home stood is now the Royal Mail sorting office on Reading Road and the acres surrounding it are very heavily built up. 
For a decade Aldin enjoyed the country life, riding with hounds as often as his workload allowed and in 1908 he became master of his first pack of hounds, the Peppard Harriers.
Whilst living in Henley Aldin’s work was in great demand, he produced a number of whimsical puppy books, some architectural studies and a popular series of posters, including the one below of Henley Bridge and the riverside pub, The Angel on the Bridge.

Eric Arthur Blair was a 7 year old school boy in the 1911 census. The little boy lived with his mother at 22 Weston Road, Henley and later lived in an Edwardian semi-detached house on St Marks Road, as well as spending a number of years in the nearby village of Shiplake.

1911 census, showing Mrs Ida Blair, Qualified midwife, Eric Blair, school boy.

When Eric Blair was 11 years old his first published piece of writing, a poem entitled, "Awake! Young Men of England," appeared in the The Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard, now known as The Henley Standard.

Blair later turned his hand to novel writing and after discussion with his publisher settled on the pen name of George Orwell. His childhood in the Oxfordshire countryside influences passages in both his novel, Coming Up for Air and one of the most poignant sections of NIneteen Eighty-Four,  when Julia and Winston visit the Golden Country.

Come to the shop to learn more about local connections to Ian Fleming, Elizabeth Goudge and others.

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