This week our guest blogger is George Orwell, whose The Road to Wigan Pier was published in 1937. Part social reportage, part political essay, it sought to expose the working and living conditions of the economically deprived North of England, and investigate what improvements socialism might bring to these. Orwell researched the book during a stay in Wigan and South Yorkshire from 31 January to 30 March 1936. Over the next two months The Orwell Prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for political writing, is reproducing Orwell’s diary entries, day by day, exactly seventy-five years after they were written. By permission of the Orwell Prize, below are the entries from 3 and 4 February.

 

3.2.36

Left 9 am. and took bus to Hanley. Walked round Hanley and part of Burslem. Frightfully cold, bitter wind, and it had been snowing in the night; blackened snow lying about everywhere. Hanley and Burslem about the most dreadful places I have seen. Labyrinths of tiny blackened houses and among them the pot-banks like monstrous burgundy bottles half buried in the soil, belching forth smoke. Signs of poverty everywhere and very poor shops. In places enormous chasms delved out, one of them about 200 yards wide and about as deep, with rusty iron trucks on a chain railway crawling up one side, and here and there on the almost perpendicular face of the other, a few workmen hanging like samphire-gatherers, cutting into the face with their picks apparently aimlessly, but I suppose digging out clay. Walked on to Eldon and lunch at pub there. Frightfully cold. Hilly country, splendid views, especially when one gets further east and hedges give way to stone walls. Lambs here seem much more backward then down south. Walked on to Rudyard Lake.[1]

Rudyard Lake (really a reservoir, supplying the pottery towns) very depressing. In the summer it is a pleasure resort. Cafes, houseboats and pleasure-boats every ten yards, all deserted and flyblown, this being the offseason. Notices relating to fishing, but I examined the water and it did not look to me as though it had any fish in it. Not a soul anywhere and biter wind blowing. All the broken ice had been blowing up to the south end, and the waves were rocking it up and down, making a clank-clank, clank-clank – the most melancholy noise I ever heard. (Mem. to use in novel some time and to have an empty Craven A packet bobbing up and down among the ice.)

Found hostel, about 1 mile further on, with difficulty. Alone again. A most peculiar place this time. A great draughty barrack of a house, built in the sham-castle style – somebody’s Folly – about 1860. All but three or four of the rooms quite empty. Miles of echoing stone passages, no lighting except candles and only smoky little oilstoves to cook on. Terribly cold.

Only 2/8d left, so tomorrow must go into Manchester (walk to Macclesfield, then bus) and cash cheque.

Distance walked, 12 miles. Spent on conveyances 1/8. On food, 2/8.

 

[1] Rudyard Lake: Orwell had to make a detour to walk by Rudyard Lake. Dr Robert Fyson has shown why Orwell did this. In 1863, Lockwood Kipling and Alice Macdonald had a picnic here. They married two years later and when their first child was born they gave him the name Rudyard. Rudyard Kipling died on 18 January 1936 and Orwell had written an appreciation of him published on 23 January in New English Weekly (CW, X, pp. 409-10). In this he wrote ‘now that he is dead, I for one cannot help wishing that I could offer some kind of tribute – a salute of guns, if such a thing were available – to the story-teller who was so important to my childhood’. This detour, in the bitter cold, was his tribute. (Note by Peter Davison)

 

4.2.36

Got out of bed so cold that I could not do up any buttons and had to [go] down and thaw my hands before I could dress. Left about 10.30 am. A marvellous morning. Earth frozen hard as iron, not a breath of wind and the sun shining brightly. Not a soul stirring. Rudyard lake (about 1½ miles long) had frozen over during the night. Wild ducks walking about disconsolately on the ice. The sun coming up and the light slanting along the ice the most wonderful red-gold colour I have ever seen. Spent a long time throwing stones over the ice. A jagged stone skimming across ice makes exactly the same sound as a redshank whistling.

Walked to Macclesfield, 10 to 11 miles, then bus to Manchester. Went and collected letters, then to bank to cash cheque but found they were shut – they shut at 3 pm here. Very awkward as I had only 3d in hand. Went to Youth Hostel headquarters and asked them to cash cheque, but they refused, then to Police Station to ask them to introduce me to a solicitor who would cash a cheque, but they also refused. Frightfully cold. Streets encrusted with mounds of dreadful black stuff which was really snow frozen hard and blackened by smoke. Did not want to spend night in streets. Found my way to poor quarter (Chester Street), went to pawn-shop and tried to pawn raincoat but they said they did not take them any longer. Then it occurred to me my scarf was pawnable, and they gave me 1/11d on it. Went to common lodging house, of which there were three close together in Chester Street.

Long letter from Rees advising me about people to go and see, one of them, luckily, in Manchester.

Distance walked, about 13 miles. Spent on conveyances, 2/-. On food, 10d.

Three Questions for Nicole Krauss
Bilal Tanweer | Interview