Monday, 25 June 2018

Orwell centre to open in autumn

A VISITOR centre dedicated to author George Orwell will be open to coincide with the Henley Literary Festival.

A VISITOR centre dedicated to author George Orwell will be open to coincide with the Henley Literary Festival.

Art publisher Peter Burness-Smith has finalised a deal which means he can convert the disused chapel in Fair Mile cemetery, which he hopes will be open in time for the festival in September.

Mr Burness-Smith, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, will pay a peppercorn rent of £1 a year to Henley Town Council, which owns the chapel, for the next 30 years under the terms of the contract.

The centre will be called George Orwell’s Henley and will document what the town was like in the early 1900s. It will be open all year round and be free to visit.

Orwell, who was then called Eric Arthur Blair, arrived in the town with his mother in 1904 and stayed until 1921, when he was 18.

Mr Burness-Smith said: “The lease has been exchanged and signed so we have moved from the point of probability to a point of absolute certainty. It has taken a couple of years but we do now have a confirmed lease to everyone’s approval.”

Plans include the conversion of the chapel’s anteroom into a replica of Orwell’s study at Eton College and a free book exchange. Stained glass windows will be created by illustrator Gerald Scarfe. Two large windows will depict Animal Farm and 1984 while the four smaller windows will honour Orwell’s other books.

Mr Burness-Smith says the centre will have areas to hold debates and meetings rather than being a museum. He also hopes to launch a Saturday morning club for children.

He said: “The purpose is to have something living and breathing as well as holding information about the town at the turn of the century.”

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