GOOD TO KNOW THERE’S STILL A LITTLE MAGIC IN THE AIR

When I was younger in the ’70s the first time I heard the Queen song Brighton Rock it was an absolute humdinger with guitar ‘n’ drums blistering through a tunnel melting me ears – there was magic in the air alright. Reaching that euphoric moment when you want a song to instantly repeat is a fantastic feeling.

Music also has an incredible power to pick you up, light a fire in yer belly and head off any shit storm coming your way. And there are plenty hard times ahead courtesy of the snivelling Tory party shovelling shit hot off the shovel. When are some grown up’s gonna take over?

But how has music affected me ? Music has always been there it’s been a constant through my life. Looking back my early listening days were a great comfort and education. My first lesson was hearing my mams Country & Western records on the stereo in the sitting room.

I have two older brothers and a sister, one brother was an apprentice chippie (joiner) and our house needed extra room so his woodworking skills created a partition to make extra bedrooms where they would turn on and turn up their record players for my second lesson.

The eldest brother would be playing Dylan or Neil Young, the chippie would be Queen or Elvis Costello, and coming out of my sisters room was a collection of pop singles  – I would sit on the stairs and listen to an eclectic mix of music for young ears.

Fast forward to today where I don’t download music, for my fix I visit the South Shields market and charity shops who have an ever increasing stock of cd’s. There’s a buzz to who you might find. The latest booty has included Country & Western compilations. One day when I was searching through a rack there was an old feller next to me, I said to him…

‘These aren’t in alphabetical order so hopefully I might hit lucky and find something by Tammy Wynette’, he shot back ‘Best get the ferry over to North Shields there’s plenty of Country and Western in their charity shops, they love their twang’.

Would the music of today provide an education as strong as those bands I listened to back in the day ? In 30, 40 or 50 year time would Ed Sheeran and all the others who, make radio adverts sound interesting, be remembered ?

It’s said that some things are best left broken, I can agree with that, but in times of extreme worry or stress it’s comforting to know that music is always there in the background ready to step in if needed – it’s good to know there’s still a little magic in the air.

Alikivi  September 2022.

ST BEDE’S JUNCTION RAIL DISASTER with researcher, John Caffery

John with a photo of his Grandfather Thomas Caffery.

The last post highlighted the work of the Hive Storytellers who are based in Jarrow. It featured a story that group member John Caffery came across when he was researching his family tree.

“Thomas Caffery my Grandfather was born in Hartlepool in 1886, and I came across his army service records. They revealed he suffered leg injuries in a serious train disaster at Jarrow. I enquired more about this and searched through old copies of the Evening Chronicle to see if there were any reports”.

”I found there was a communal grave and headstone in Harton Cemetery, South Shields for the passengers of the train who were killed in the accident, but no names for them. They were buried with three named soldiers and remembered on a Commonwealth War Grave. My curiosity got the better of me and I uncovered full details of the accident and confirmed the identity of 17 people killed.”

Disaster at St Bede’s Junction, Jarrow.

Reports tell us that the 17th December 1915 was a cold, damp, foggy morning and a coal train was pushed out of Tyne Dock and up the steep track by a banking engine joining the South Shields to Newcastle line at St Bede’s Junction, a signal box controlled the area.

As visibility was worsening with weather conditions and heavy industrial smog, the banking engine had finished assisting the coal train and waited for the signal to let him know he can return back to Tyne Dock.

A passenger train heading for South Shields passed by as the banking engine driver waited patiently for the signal.  After waiting 5 minutes he sent his fireman to the signal cabin to notify them of their position. Sadly this delay proved disastrous as a Newcastle bound passenger train ploughed into the stationary banker train derailing them both, and damaging two carriages.

Shortly after, an empty goods train heading for South Shields also collided into them and was derailed. The carriage’s wooden construction and gas lighting fuelled horrific fires and damage.

Evening Chronicle newspaper report of St Bede’s Rail disaster.

John added “I found in the newspaper reports that the noise from one steam engine was deafening and carriages of the train were a mass of burning wreckage. One engine driver had a remarkable escape as he was thrown yards away from his engine which had overturned and rolled over the embankment into a field. Men were lying on the ground receiving first aid, screaming was coming from the carriages as one train was on top of the other”.

“Despite heroic efforts of ambulance men from Palmers shipyards, soldiers from Durham Royal Engineers and Tyneside Irish, and a number of railway and policemen plus nearby residents, rescue was practically impossible”.

William Dunlop, the guard, and William Rowe, fireman of a train nearby, ran over and uncoupled the other carriages before the fire spread. Another man who helped to recue injured passengers was Samson Tolliday. Samson was an off duty engine driver who lived near Tyne Dock station. He was travelling in the passenger train when the accident happened.

At the official enquiry in Newcastle he told the inspector that ‘the first outbreak of fire was from a gas jet. If I had been able to get saws I might have got more passengers out. All water tanks on the engine were broken and water was not available’.

The Chief Constable of South Shields made an official statement reported in the Evening Chronicle 18th December 1915 ‘It is impossible to identify the remains of any of the victims, and only a small proportion of the property found at the scene can be traced to the possession of any of the missing passengers’.

John talked about finding more newspapers reports

“There was over 200 people on the passenger train, that early in the morning they would have been going to work, among them there was an accountant, cabinet maker, a tripe preparer, and my Grandfather was going up to Newcastle for some army training. The people that were tragically killed were buried on Christmas Eve 1915. I felt strongly that they should have their own headstone with all their names on”.

The new headstone in Harton Cemetery with the names inscribed, the original headstone on the left.

With a combined effort from local company HVR Electrics, who are based next to Bede metro station where the accident happened, A19 Model Railway Club, Bede Memorials and South Tyneside Council Cemeteries Department, John ensured that an appropriate memorial headstone was installed in Harton Cemetery.

Alikivi   September 2022

SEARCH FOR THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER – South Shields connection to the Boer War

Ladysmith St, South Shields.

Stories are worked on for days or weeks, and some films took months. To knock it into shape there’s always a lot of pushing and pulling, but when they drag on you know it’s time to think about letting go and finding something new.

But sometimes a story just lands in your lap and quickly comes together without too much work, this is one of those rare moments.

Walking along Ocean Road I was stopped outside The Marine pub by a good friend of mine who told me an interesting story about a connection between a South Shields street and a British soldier from the town who fought in the Boer war 1899-1902.

“He is buried in Westoe Cemetery near Ladysmith Street and there’s an inscription on the headstone. Unfortunately I can’t remember his name, it was a while ago when I saw the grave, but I think it was near the main gates” said 60 year old Sand dancer (native of South Shields) and musician Rob Atkinson.

Rob had just come out of the pub and had a few sherbets so I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my chain but it was a story that peaked my interest as I didn’t know much about the Boer war.

After a quick search the name Ladysmith was revealed as a city in South Africa that was a bloody battleground between British and Boer forces, it was reported thousands of British soldiers were killed there. Also as Rob mentioned, Ladysmith Street runs parallel with Westoe Cemetery.

In further research I found Devonshire – a street in the Tyne Dock area of South Shields – is another name of an infantry regiment who not only served in the First and Second World War but also in the Boer War.

I contacted award winning journalist and local history author Janis Blower and asked if she heard about the South African connection to a soldier from the town?

“The siege of Ladysmith between late 1899 and early 1900 was one of the key events of the war. A number of South Shields men served, mainly in the Imperial Yeomanry and Durham Light Infantry, with some 107 eventually awarded Freedom of the Borough. It’s likely veterans are buried at Westoe and Harton. Do you know his name?”

Westoe Cemetery, South Shields.

To find the headstone of the unknown soldier I took a walk over to the old Westoe Cemetery with its weather beaten headstones, many buried under a mountain of ivy and some toppled over.

Among the resting, lie famous industrial and political people from the town including Dr Thomas Winterbottom, Robert Ingham MP and members of the Readhead shipbuilding family.

Initially Rob had indicated the area where the grave was and luckily after only a few minutes searching where the headstones were still standing, I found it, as I said earlier this story just fell into place. The grave was a family plot with substantial headstone including our man’s details –

George Shepherd died 6th March 1900 through wounds received Feb 27th at the relief of Ladysmith, South Africa aged 29 years.

The search for the unknown soldier ended there but when researching in the local history library I heard of someone who had been looking into his relations involvement in the Boer war, it sounded interesting so I left a contact.

A day later John Caffery got in touch and we arranged to meet. He has been researching his family tree for nearly 20 years,

“I started after our parents died, my wife Veronica also searches her side. My brother in law showed me a photo of a family member called John Robertson. I went to the library and searched through their archives and found a few pieces of information – he was born on 28 August 1883 and lived in the Laygate area of South Shields – then it just spiralled”.

“In a loft we found a box of certificates, medals and photographs from the First World War and the Boer War, all for John, with me being interested in military stuff this was great. I don’t think many people know about the Boer War which was a disaster for the British army. Through more research I found the Boers were backed by German artillery and officers”.

John Caffery with a framed photo of Private John Robertson who served in the 161st company of the 36th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry.

“Then we found something special, searching through old copies of The Shields Gazette we got to 1902 and found that he was awarded the Freedom of the Borough along with the rest of the Battalion. We’re proud of what he done”. 

Returning to South Shields from South Africa, John married in 1906, lived in South Palmerston Street and found work in the coal pits. But by 1914 the First World War began and he signed up to the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

In 1918 he was wounded and discharged, and after returning home resumed pit work until retirement. Sadly in 1959 John Robertson passed away at 75 year old.

John Robertson’s medals from the First World War.

As John Caffery told me this moving story he expressed only pride and respect for a brave young man who after fighting in one war, signed up to serve in another.

John has worked on a few Tyneside history stories which he will be sharing in the coming weeks plus he told me what he is working on next.

“I’ve been looking into the rest of the soldiers who received the Freedom of the Borough, there was over one hundred, and as always you go off on a tangent and taken down another path where I’ve come across some letters from soldiers and their families from the Northumberland Fusiliers who survived the First World War – some of them break your heart to read”.

“They’ve never been published or displayed and with me being involved with Hive Radio storytellers on Tyneside, we are looking to read them out on a podcast on Remembrance Sunday, November 11, 2022. I think they would like that”.

For more info contact:

Hive Radio :

Hive Radio Storytellers Share Love by Hive Radio Storytellers Podcast (anchor.fm)

Readheads shipbuilders contact:

Tyne Built Ships & Shipbuilders

Alikivi   September 2022.

PHOTO ARCHIVE: CHANGING FACE of SOUTH TYNESIDE 2010-20

Search the Alikivi photo archive on South Tyneside History website for nearly 2,000 images including Haven Point, Mill Dam, The Word, Seafront, Holborn, Market, North Marine Park & more of the changing face of South Tyneside 2010-20.

ALIKIVI COLLECTION – South Tyneside Libraries (southtynesidehistory.co.uk)

pic. in 2012 the now demolished Wouldhave House, Market, South Shields, today the site of The Word library.

SUMMER MUSIC ON THE TYNE

Mouth of the Tyne Festival, Tynemouth Priory 2022 pic. Paul Appleby

Well that wasn’t a bad place to do some filming. The past couple of years I’ve not been ‘on the tools’ doing as much camera work as I used to but this month was working on two video screen camera set up’s with the first at Mouth of the Tyne Festival at Tynemouth Priory where Keane headlined to a sell-out crowd (2019 pre covid was The Proclaimers and Rik Astley) plus at South Shields Bents Park on Sunday 10th July was Beth Macari supporting Will Young to an estimated 20,000+ crowd.

Will Young at Bent’s Park, South Shields pic. Lee Davison

Both were captured by stunning drone shots which pictured the scale of the events held next to the coastline and on the North and South of the Tyne, plus the huge audiences soaking up the music and sun on a blistering hot summer weekend. Lee Davison was at Shields (with his pics making The Shields Gazette) and professional photographer Paul Appleby was at Tynemouth.

Keane at Tynemouth Priory pic. Paul Appleby

Check out Paul’s work at:

https://www.facebook.com/PaulApplebyPhotography

Alikivi   July 2022

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #6

The continuing search for author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)

For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Avro Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.

Avro’s original name was Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2. This post focuses on Avro and the Second World War and includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character.

In 1938 Gardini was in the UK listed as a Landscape painter living in Machynllech, Wales, and exhibiting his art in galleries including Bloomsbury Gallery in Mayfair, London.

On 10 June 1940 Italy declared war on Britain resulting in thousands of resident Italians being interned, and in Wales, the Aberystwyth police caught up with Gardini. Added to the prisoners of war, another 4,000 Italians were known to be members of the Fascist Party and this increase led to a problem within the UK.

Following offers from Canadian and Australian governments, more than 7,500 internees were shipped overseas aboard SS Ettrick, Duchess of York, Dunera and Arandora Star. Gardini left port on 3 July 1940 onboard the Ettrick bound for an internment camp in Canada.

Record of transfers overseas of aliens and prisoners of war.

Eight month after arriving he suddenly returned to the UK aboard the S.S. Georgic, then two month after that in May 1941 he was released as a ‘special case without restrictions’. A number of questions arise about this period.

Why did he return to the UK from Canada, where was he for the two month before release and why was an Italian who was looked upon as an enemy deemed ‘a special case’ four years before the war ended ?

There is a report that Gardini worked with British intelligence during the Second World War – was he recruited in the internment camp in Canada ? Was this the ‘special case without restrictions’?

Previously Gardini was imprisoned in Italy for refusing to swear to the Fascist oath, I imagine he would have rejected his Italian citizenship and was in hiding from any fascists still living in the UK, we can only speculate until concrete evidence turns up for this period.

During research there has been reports that have been misleading, especially the number of titles on his gravestone. But one he received was confirmed by a reputable organisation.

Listed on his headstone is the title Knight of Malta, reported to be awarded by the British Government for work during the war. To check whether he received this title, I got in touch with Debretts of London – if you’ve got a gong, you will be listed with them.

Friday 7 August 2015 email from Debretts.

I’ve been able to find very little about Baron Manhattan with only the Maltese decoration accredited and recorded – quite rightly too, given his admirable behaviour during WW2. Other than that I’m sorry not to be more help – I was hoping to discover something far more mysterious about him!’  

Debretts, 16 Charles Street, Mayfair, London.

After the war Avro didn’t return to Italy, he settled in the UK and on 3 October 1949 took an oath of allegiance and became a British National. The certificate read – Teofilo Lucifero Gardini, also added was Avro Manhattan, born in Milan, Italy, 6th April 1910 – although on his death certificate in 1990 he was 76. It wasn’t until December 1953 when he was living in Wimbledon, London that he officially changed his name by Deed Poll.

If you have information about Italian born artist, author & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to film:

South Shields, Italian born Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – doc.film (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER – The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi  April 2021 & update April 2022

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #5

The continuing search for author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)

For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.

Avro was originally named Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2. Looking for Lucifer #5 includes extracts from diary entries and notes taken when talking to his friends and neighbours which helped script the first documentary.

Avro & Ann Manhattan November 1986.

Friday 12 June 2015

I asked an auld fella who was walking near the house where Avro last lived in South Shields “You didn’t know The Baron did you”? He turned as he was shutting his gate, “Yes, Avro”. I introduced myself and told him what I was doing.

Mr H told me “We regularly talked with him. He was a good talker, friendly, interesting in conversation. We think he had money in Russia, he couldn’t bring it into Britain so spent it there, Ann came back with all these fur coats and hat’s. When he died he left money to put students through college in U.S.A.”

In the photo of Avro and Anne’s wedding in November 1986 at Kensington & Chelsea Registry Office, Anne is wearing furs – are these from Russia as Mr H said ?

After checking the American college link there was a Bob Jones University in Greenville where four scholarships in history, humanities or political science were available at $2,500 paid by the Baron Avro Manhattan Trust Fund.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Mr & Mrs M were Avro’s neighbours, they talked about how the couple loved entertaining and had champagne cocktails at their parties and barbecues.

“He was interested in what you were saying and would never try to belittle you. He wasn’t a name dropper, a gentleman through and through. He spoke good English with a little Italian accent, didn’t drink much, had a little wine, he did like the Broon Ale though” said Mr M.

Mrs M added “We think he liked it here because he could concentrate on work, go for walk’s and relax. But sadly he died in their home. We went to the funeral at St Aiden’s, there was a Princess there, she looked like Jackie Onassis, very glamourous.”

Lord Weymouth opening an art exhibition in South Shields by Avro Manhattan in 1983.

Saturday 27 June 2015

A phone call back from Mr C (who I contacted earlier in the week) he said he and his parents got to know him through various social gatherings.

“We got to know them around the 1980’s, they were an eccentric couple, she was well dressed and he always wore his suit and bow tie. We always enjoyed each other’s company, I found him very charming, charismatic and witty”.

Mr C recalls the death of Avro “He died in the passageway of the house, just dropped down with a heart attack. Although after reading some articles about his book about the underhand dealings of the Vatican I’m not sure”.

Mr C had a few calls from an Englishman living in France who was investigating Avro.

“He was very persistent, obsessed. This was after his book ‘The Vatican’s Billions’ was released, and apparently the Baron was going to release more revealing information about the Catholic Church. He was implying that there was a conspiracy against him. It was all very weird”.

Avro Manhattan & Northern Ireland’s loyalist politician Ian Paisley.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Mrs A, 91 years old, kindly gave me one of Avro’s paintings she had. The signed artwork is titled ‘Chelsea Embankment’. Mr and Mrs A knew the Manhattan’s socially. She recalls that Avro corresponded with Lord Weymouth and Ian Paisley from Northern Ireland

He didn’t brag about it, he was fairly modest really, but he was very anti-establishment”.

In 1983 Viscount Weymouth of Longleat opened an art exhibition by Avro at the Metal Art Precinct in South Shields, Ian Paisley and Avro had their photograph taken after discussing ‘Terror in Ireland’ authored by Manhattan in 1970.

Sadly Mrs A was at the Manhattan’s house the night he died, 26 November 1990, and added that sometime before this Avro had a stroke. “It’s like being imprisoned in your own body” he told her.

If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to film:

South Shields, Italian born Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – doc.film (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER – The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi  April 2021 & update April 2022

.

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #4 – The Scientist Marie Stopes & continuing search for Italian born author, artist & historian Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90)

For a number of years I’ve researched the life of Baron Manhattan, who I first came across in 2012, he spent his last years living in a terraced house in my hometown of South Shields. ‘Secrets & Lies’ documentary was produced in 2018, a link is at the end of the post.

Avro was originally named Theophile Lucifer Gardini, the name change is looked at in post #2 (June 2021). Looking for Lucifer #4 includes research used to script a second documentary about this fascinating character.

Lately I’ve come across some of his books and art being sold on EBay, Jonathan Frost Rare Books Limited of Liverpool had a book for sale ‘The Dollar & The Vatican’, inside it’s inscribed by the scientist Marie Stopes:

‘To Harry Stopes-Roe with love from his mother, Marie C. Stopes. To be published in September 1956’.

Rare Books added a description of the sale:

‘Marie Stopes formed a close friendship with Avro Manhattan during the last years of her life, and he scattered her ashes with Harry her son after she died in 1958. Tucked into the book is a promotional leaflet, a copy of ‘The Vigilant’ from December 1956, which contains a review of the book which has been annotated by Stopes, and a two page draft letter from Avro Manhattan to ‘The Editor of The Times’ on the subject of the U.S.A.’s military and colonial ambitions, which has also been corrected and annotated by Stopes’. 

Author/Artist Avro Manhattan & the scientist Marie Stopes

Avro met Stopes in 1952 at an exhibition of his paintings in London and they got on well with strong rumours of a love affair. At the time Avro was thirty nine, Stopes was 72.

She wrote in her book…

“Truly I was afraid to see your pictures but the reality was so glorious. I’m looking forward to making a bonfire and dancing with you, could you arrive prepared for staying the night and for dancing in the house. My heart is still beating extra hard with the joyous excitement of all the beauty you showed me……you are a genius…..dearest, most precious one, all the gods and angels guard you”.

I contacted Rare Books on Merseyside and asked if they had more information to add about the sale of the book. Jonathan Frost replied…

‘He’s quite an elusive character. Stopes and Manhattan were close for quite some years I believe, which makes sense, there was plenty of crossover in their interests’.

If you have information about Italian born artist & author Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Link to film:

South Shields, Italian born Baron Avro Manhattan – SECRETS & LIES – doc.film (Alikivi,12 mins 2018). – YouTube

Check the other posts about Baron Avro Manhattan :

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #3 – Art for Sale. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER #2 – Ciao, Avro. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

LOOKING FOR LUCIFER – The continuing search for author & artist, Baron Avro Manhattan (1914-90) | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi  April 2021 & updated April 2022

UNDER HER SPELL : Eileen O’Shaughnessy (1905-45)

Memories of events years ago can sometimes be sketchy but after checking my diaries and emails it was March 2012 when I was shown a South Shields birth certificate for Eileen O’Shaughnessy by the Local History Librarian Ann Sharp.

We bumped into each other near South Shields Registry Office where I was going to collect a family research certificate. The Orwell connection peaked my interest but was more intrigued when I noticed her birth address was Park Terrace, now re-named Lawe Road – just two minutes from where I live.

I wasn’t a fan of Orwell’s writing then, I heard about him – who hasn’t? Over 20 year ago I went to see a theatre production of 1984 at Newcastle Playhouse, and have since read 1984, Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London plus selected essays and journalism but it was more from a local history angle that I first approached this story.

In May 2012, May being Local History month in South Tyneside, a display appeared in South Shields Library and an earlier blog from October 2018 mentions this –

There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. In the middle was a large black and white photograph with about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front, obviously a war image. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer and got goose bumps’.

Who was this woman who was born in South Shields married to one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century, buried in Newcastle and had a photo taken on the front line of a war ?

Ann mentioned that Eileen had been to the Spanish Civil War explaining the photograph, also “an American lady has been in she is researching for a book about Eileen”. That was Sylvia Topp and she left note looking for any help searching locations where Eileen lived.

Sylvia Topp outside The Customs House, South Shields 10 May 2012 (pic Alikivi collection)

We arranged to meet and I took Sylvia down to South Shields riverside and The Customs House where Eileen’s father worked as a Customs Collector, then into the town centre where he had an office then onto her childhood home in Beach Road.

Afterwards we had a meal in the Italian Restaurant on Winchester Street and left it where I would look into Eileen’s North East life. This proved difficult because there wasn’t much information out there about Eileen.

As the months passed the research grew and in the blog Oct. 2018 –

There wasn’t much information out there just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details.

Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One led to another, and another. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. I never came across any obstacles, everybody asked wanted to be part of the documentary and were only too happy to help’.

I remember the time I was filming in Sunderland Church High School where Eileen was a pupil. I phoned reception who passed on my number to former Head of English, Sylvia Minto. Next day she rang and we arranged to meet at the school.

We filmed in the main hall where the walls were full of honours boards with names of pupils who went onto higher education. Eileen read English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford and her name was on a board. That same board is now in a room in my house.

A couple of years ago the school was closing down and the receptionist remembered me and got in touch – “of course I’ll have it” not realising the sheer weight and size of the board at 5ft x 3ft !

Someone else who was also captivated by Eileen was South Shields born Professor Robert Colls who had just published his book George Orwell – English Rebel.

pic courtesy of The Shields Gazette

Then teaching cultural history at De Montfort University, Leicester, Colls featured in an article in The Shields Gazette (25 October 2013) by local journalist Terry Kelly.

Colls said “One of the pleasures of writing about Orwell was not only getting to know him, but getting to know Eileen. The evidence is sparse but I really like her and Orwell’s spirit was lifted after meeting her. Her letters show great fun and sharp wit. Getting to know Eileen was an unexpected treat”.

In the October 2018 blog I finished off with –

‘Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking how did I get here. It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place’.

Link to a short edit of the film ‘Wildflower’  

George Orwell’s first wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy (Alikivi, 11mins edit) – YouTube

To find out more information or how to join the Orwell Society check the official website:  www.orwellsociety.com

Alikivi  March 2022.