A commemorative blue plaque honouring a South Shields-born Oxford scholar, who went on to marry famous author George Orwell, has been unveiled at one of Sunderland’s most iconic heritage buildings.
Eileen O’Shaughnessy, born 25 September 1905, met Eric Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, in 1935 and the couple married a year later in Wallington, Hertfordshire.
Eileen, a writer herself, is thought to have been a strong influence on Orwell’s writing style, particularly in his book Animal Farm, which Eileen helped him plan.
It is also thought that Eileen’s futuristic poem, End of the Century, 1984, influenced Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949, four years after Eileen’s death.
Richard Blair, adopted son of George and Eileen, unveiled the plaque at Langham Tower, which formed part of Eileen’s former school, Sunderland Church High School.
They were joined by Sunderland MP Julie Elliott, University of Sunderland Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Young, Quentin Kopp, who is chair of The Orwell Society, and members of The Orwell Foundation.
The plaque has been organised by the University of Sunderland’s SunGen Interdisciplinary Research Network, led by Professor Angela Smith.
Professor Smith, who also attended the unveiling, said: “The blue plaque marking Eileen O’Shaughnessy’s connection with Sunderland will allow us to think more about the people who have done remarkable things and yet have not thus far been celebrated.
“This is one of the aims of the Rebel Women of Sunderland project with Sunderland Culture, which aims to highlight remarkable women who are connected to Sunderland. Few can be seen to be more remarkable – or indeed more hidden – than Eileen O’Shaughnessy.
“In 1934, Eileen wrote her poem End of the Century, 1984 for Sunderland Church High School’s Golden Jubilee, in which she hinted at a dystopian world with a brighter future some 50 years ahead. It is therefore fitting that we have a blue plaque dedicated to Eileen placed on a building that once formed part of that school.”