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1984 and Animal Farm author George Orwell's connection to Kent and possible inspiration from Preston Hall in Aylesford


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Before it was turned into a luxury housing block, Preston Hall at Aylesford had a long and interesting history.

Built in 1850 as a mansion for the rail entrepreneur Edward Ladd Betts, it was given to the Red Cross by a subsequent owner, H.A.Brassey, for use as a wartime hospital.

Writer George Orwell
Writer George Orwell

Later it was requisitioned by the government for use as a chest hospital and in 1919 was purchased for £30,000 by Industrial Settlements, the forerunner of the British Legion Industries, to provide both health care and re-training and job opportunities for those injured in the First World War.

A major early use was a sanatorium for those suffering from TB, a common complaint from soldiers forced to live in close quarters in the trenches and sailors on-board ship.

One of its most famous patients was Eric Blair - perhaps better known as the novelist George Orwell.

Quite how Orwell qualified for a bed is not clear. Orwell had never fought in the British Armed Services, although he had served for five years as a sub-divisional officer in the Imperial Police Force in Burma (then part of our Indian Empire), a semi-militaristic organisation.

He was admitted to Preston Hall on March 17, 1938, with suspected TB, after returning from six months fighting as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War where he had been injured by a bullet in the throat.

Veterans recuperating at Preston Hall in Aylesford
Veterans recuperating at Preston Hall in Aylesford

Perhaps the fact that his brother-in-law, Dr Laurence O'Shaughnessy, was a consultant at the hospital helped. He certainly seems to have received preferential treatment, being given a private room and being allowed to take his dog, a poodle named Marx, with him.

In any case Orwell stayed five and-a-half months until September 1.

Before he left, Orwell had recovered sufficiently to work in the training farm attached to the sanatorium - and Tim Rothwell, whose father was chief radiographer at Preston Hall when Orwell was there - recalls the farm was named Manor Farm - and may possibly have been the inspiration for Orwell's famous 1945 political allegory Animal Farm (which was called Manor Farm before the animals took over).

It is not the author's only connection to Kent. Earlier in 1931, he had (voluntarily) stayed at the workhouse in West Malling in order to gain inspiration for his novel Down and Out in Paris and London. West Accrington Station in his other novel, The Clergyman's Daughter, is also said to be based on West Malling Station.

Orwell died of tuberculosis in 1950. He was just 46.

Read more: All the latest news from Malling

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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