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“I was working in Southwold, but my home was at Bedford. What we used to do mostly was to go for long walks, talking – discussing books, like Ulysses, and he would rail against Roman Catholicism … He really felt he ought to get down and really know what life was like without anything so he became a tramp and walked about; one time he turned up at my home at Bedford in the morning, having stayed in the local workhouse. We gave him a bath before he came to breakfast.”
                                                                                                              Brenda Salkeld (1900-1999)

George Orwell visited Brenda Salkeld at 71 Goldington Avenue in Bedford during the early 1930s. This was prior to the publication of his first book, Down and Out in London and Paris (1933) when the unknown writer – although ostensibly passing through town with the purpose of conducting firsthand investigations into the lives of ‘down and outs’ – was pursuing the intelligent young schoolteacher romantically. They had been introduced by his sister, Avril Blair, when Salkeld was employed as a Physical Training mistress at St Felix’s, a school in Southwold. The famous pseudonym had not yet been dreamt-up and he was still just Eric Blair. Understandably, Brenda’s family were vastly amused by this odd young man and his strange behaviour:

We said, ‘You go up and have a bath.’ And while he was up there we said, ‘I hope he’s not using my loofa!’ Our family laughed. They thought this was priceless. He just came in for breakfast and then went off being a tramp again.

Salkeld, thought to be the genesis of Orwell’s third book, A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), rejected Orwell’s proposal of marriage. The biographies of Orwell usually describe her father as a Bedfordshire vicar but Frederick Charles Salkeld (1864-1904) died just prior to the family moving to Bedford. The Salkelds were Anglo-Indians with ties to Ceylon where Brenda’s mother and grandmother had been born. Olga, her eldest sibling, who was deeply involved in the Bedford Arts Scene and active in the West End Theatre, had been born in India while their father was serving as a missionary (during a cholera epidemic) in 1893. His health was ruined by the experience.

The Salkelds were not Orwell’s only connection to Bedford. It has been long-forgotten that the maternal side of Orwell’s family were locals and that his mother had been educated in this historic market town which had a very large population of Anglo-Indian families.

The Limouzins & Hallileys

Orwell’s mother, Ida Mabel Limouzin (1875-1943), was one of the eight children that Francis ‘Frank’ Limouzin (1835-1915) had with Theresa Catherine Halliley (1843-1925). Frank had originally emigrated to India from Bordeaux with his mother, Élisabeth Supeau (1814-1866). They alighted at Calcutta in 1842 and joined his father, Jean Eugene Limouzin (1808-1847) in the scenic Burmese city of Moulmein soon after. Frank’s cousin, Guillaume Eugene Limouzin (1823-1863), also travelled with them to India. He was a shipwright, like Frank’s father and grandfather. Theresa was Frank’s second wife. Eliza-Emma Fallon (1842-1865), who was also English, and two of their three children died tragically in Moulmein during a cholera epidemic.

Theresa Halliley’s family had a tradition of imperial service. Her father, William Agar Halliley (1816-1886), retired after a lengthy career in the Ceylon Civil Service (1842-1883) as a highly respected Principal Collector of Customs. All his children, except for the youngest (born in Bedford in 1865), had been born in Ceylon. It is important to know that until 1911, ‘Anglo-Indian’ was the term used by the British to describe those who spent much of their lives in India serving in the civil and military services, or working as professionals, merchants, traders and planters. This terminology changed officially for the 1911 Census of India. Children born of European fathers and Indian mothers and those born of their offspring, were officially labelled as ‘Anglo-Indians’. Previously, this group had been more commonly known as ‘Eurasians’. The Limouzins and Hallileys were Anglo-Indians in the pre-1911 sense of the term (which was still common parlance during Orwell’s lifetime). However, it is also the case that the Limouzin clan included children who had Burmese mothers. More on this later.

While researching Orwell’s mother’s French ancestry it became apparent that English relatives played a more significant role in her upbringing than has been previously understood. It has always been assumed that Theresa and Frank raised their family in Moulmein, where all the children, except for Ida Limouzin, were born. Frank (22nd June 1915) and Theresa (3rd August 1925) both died in that Burmese city. Ida, their fifth child together, had not been born in Moulmein but at Penge, in Surrey, while they were living with Halliley relatives in 1875. It seems that they stayed for some time as a patent is listed, in The Midland & Northern Coal and Iron Trades Gazette on the 1st March 1876, from an ‘F. Limouzin, Oakfields Road, Penge, Surrey’. The Limouzin children were predominantly educated, as was the way of Anglo-Indian families, in England.

The Halliley family played a crucial role in the upbringing and education of at least five of the Limouzin children. Orwell’s mother was educated in Bedford where the Halliley family had resided since the middle of the 19th century!

Bedford

There were several important factors – educational opportunities, health benefits from the pleasant climate and natural surrounds, excellent railways, a supportive social environment (the companionship of like minds), affordability and historical ties – which made Bedford an attractive and practical choice for Anglo-Indians in the late 19th century. However, the main reason Bedford developed into such a thriving centre for Anglo-Indians was predominantly because of their need for high quality and comparatively inexpensive schooling. The Harpur Trust – founded in 1566 by Sir William Harpur to educate poor children and provide dowries for ‘poor maids’ in Bedford – had a long history in the town. When the purchase of Army commissions ceased in 1871, access to the prestigious military schools or various branches of the civil service became extremely competitive. In 1873, the Harpur Trust commenced restructuring secondary schooling to reinvigorate local educational standards. By 1882, the Trust provided financial provision for schooling girls. These strategies successfully encouraged families, who had served their country in India in one way or another to choose Bedford. The newcomers appreciated the affordability of the town and built houses ‘large enough to accommodate an Edwardian number of young’ while endeavouring to ‘make ends meet with dignity’. In 1871, there were 3,614 houses for 16,851 residents. The population only increased by a few thousand in the next decade but during the 1880s there was spectacular growth. By 1891, Bedford had 5,546 houses for a population of 28,023. St Peter’s Anglican Church was no longer large enough for these burgeoning numbers and new churches were needed. These Anglo-Indian homes, ‘crammed with Benares tables, strings of little carved elephants, placid Buddhas and malevolent gods’ and mothers who ‘made good curries’ significantly changed the character of the historic market town.

By January 1884, Charles William Limouzin (1868-1947) and Frank Edmond Limouzin (1869-1908) had enrolled at Bedford Grammar School, one of the oldest educational institutions in England (established in 1552). Ellen Kate Limouzin (1870-1950); Blanche Evelyn Limouzin (1872-1903); and Orwell’s mother, Ida Mabel Limouzin, were registered at Bedford High School in September 1886. Theresa’s brother, Charles Bailey Halliley (1852-1934) – listed on the admissions register as ‘Solicitor, Bedford’ – was their guardian. William Agar Halliley had died in Bedford on the 26th March 1886. In his obituary, it is mentioned that Charles was the only one of Theresa’s siblings, who had all been born in Ceylon, currently residing in England. Uncle Charles and his wife Emma (Le Mesurier) lived at ‘Redlands’ 1 Chaucer Road when the five Limouzin siblings were being educated in the town and it is likely they resided with their guardian (as no records of them boarding at the two schools have been located). In 1887, C.B. Halliley and family moved across the road to number 26 (now listed as 34), a more spacious residence. There is a blue plaque in recognition that this address was the birthplace of the well-known actor, John Le Mesurier (1912-1983). Both are big Victorian style residences, characteristic of much of North Bedford, popular with Anglo-Indians looking to settle in England.

High Schools

The three Limouzin sisters attended Bedford High School when Miss Marian Belcher (1849–1898) was the principal. Miss Belcher was formerly vice-principal at Cheltenham Girls School prior to being appointed. Dorothea Beale, the influential headmistress of Cheltenham since 1854, was an important influence on Belcher and they enjoyed a lifelong professional association. By the end of the century, Beale had encouraged more than forty of her staff to seek promotion to other schools, many becoming headmistresses. It was evident to many before the First World War, that the wealthier civil service people retired to Cheltenham, the poorer to Bedford. Some considered Bedford High School the second-best girls’ school in the country, only behind Cheltenham, in late 19th century England.

By the time the Limouzin sisters enrolled at the school in 1886, all subjects were being offered for public examination. This was largely due to Miss Belcher, who was committed to rigorously high academic standards. She believed philosophically that public duty came before private affairs and encouraged former pupils to carry the principles and duties imbued at school into the wider world. Perhaps it was not what Miss Belcher intended but Ellen (more commonly known as Nellie) became an actress, Esperantist and very active suffragette with great determination to affect social change. Aunt Nellie was a significant source of encouragement, practically providing many literary connections for her nephew, George Orwell. Although she was austere, discouraging sentimental attachments between teachers and students, Miss Belcher, while encouraging fine examination results also radiated enthusiasm for the young women in her care becoming cognisant of the beauty in the world around them. The school was closely associated with St Paul’s Church, located nearby.

Source: Wells (1883)

Primary sources for the Limouzin sisters are few and far between but The Bedfordshire Times and Independent noted that ‘among the visitors’ at the Bromham Flower Show – a village about three miles west of Bedford’s town centre – held on the 28th July 1887 were ‘…the Misses Limouzin (2)’. Blanche and Nellie departed Bedford High in 1887. Ida concluded her time at the school in 1888. Further research is required but it seems likely they were educated in one of the many local training institutions for teachers. An advertisement for the Bedford Training College mentions their guardian:

‘Ladies above 17 trained in the K.G. system…readily obtain salaried appointments – prospectus from C.B. Halliley, Solicitor, Bedford.’

Considering that Nellie and two of her siblings – Nora Grace Limouzin (1866-1945) and a half-sister, Alice May Limouzin (1864-1941), along with Elizabeth Austin Halliley (1868-), the daughter of Theresa’s eldest brother, George Frederick Halliley (1839-1918) – were listed as scholars at Carshalton Boarding School on the census taken in 1881, it would seem highly unlikely that she (or any of her siblings) would have returned to Burma during the intervening years except possibly for relatively brief visits (until the early 1890s). Passenger records often list the Limouzins but it is challenging to identify individuals. Alice, who was the eldest and the only surviving child from Frank Limouzin’s first marriage, was married in Moulmein during 1885. On the 20th January 1893, The Home News lists several of the family – Alice May (now Mrs D.G. Mcleod), ‘Mrs Limouzin and two daughters’ – returning to Rangoon aboard the Lancashire, a Bibby Line vessel. The pattern for Anglo-Indian families usually reveals lives lived on two continents.

Source: Wells (1883)

Ida’s male siblings – Charles William Limouzin and Frank Edmond Limouzin – attended Bedford Grammar School (where Charles B. Halliley had also been a student between 1865-1870). This uncle maintained a long association with the school and was often an office holder for an active alumni group, the Old Bedfordians. He became one of the most respected, influential solicitors in the town and a very important Member of the Borough Council. Frank E. also stayed connected with the school long after departing. In March 1906, he contributed to a comparatively lengthy piece about South Africa for ‘The Journal of Bedford Grammar School’, The Ousel. The editor mentions that ‘Mr Limouzin is willing to teach pupils trading, the Kaffir language, agriculture, and the hundred and one tips which can only be learnt by experience in the country, and eventually to advise and assist in purchasing property’ providing his address in South Africa for further correspondence. Frank outlines the types of boys who may be suited, providing practical information:

‘Boys with a taste for natural history and botany combined with agriculture would be best suited for this life, also with some knowledge of carpentering, gouge work, &c. Having had 13 years experience of agriculture in India and the Far East, and four years in South Africa, I am absolutely confident that for a man with moderate capital, determined to succeed, and not afraid of hard work, these territories offer the greatest possibilities. Trading stations are sold from £500 upwards, but a fairly good stand certain to increase in value can be got for £700, more or less. Cattle are now £ 8 to £ 1 0 per head, except good milch cows, which fetch up to £ 2 0 ; horses from £ 1 2 to £30, sheep £ 1, goats 10s. Native labour—men 15s. to 30s. a month, women 10s. to 20s., and good serviceable youngsters from 5s. to 10s.’ .

Charles W. departed the school in December 1886 and Frank the following year! On the 9th December 1886, The Ousel recorded that C.W. Limouzin passed in ‘Freehand and Model Drawing, second grade’. Frank, his father, was also considered a dab hand at drawing. Three educational records pertaining to Charles W. show that he passed his law examinations in 1890. C.B. Halliley was his employer and Limouzin is listed at three different addresses on these documents: Warden Lodge, Spenser Road, Bedford; Southview Cottage, Stanley Street, Bedford; and, 2 Sea View, Felixstowe, Suffolk.

By 1895, Charles W. is working as a teacher of modern languages at The Stevenage School in Hertfordshire and is subsequently employed at St Vincent’s School, in Eastbourne, around 1900. He was married in 1904 and the certificate lists the school as his address. Charles W. was a member of the Eastbourne Wanderers Cricket Club, liked rowing and was a superb golfer. He also appeared in amateur theatricals. Limouzin was considered a brilliant bridge player and a gifted raconteur. Once he offended the Archbishop of Canterbury and was forced to resign his position as the Secretary of the Royal Hoylake Club. Charles W. could boast playing over 300 golf courses during his lifetime. He was skilled at designing courses, especially bunkers, which he described as ‘imagination, involving a sense of the artistic’. He recommended St Cyprian’s, a snobbish school in Eastbourne, to Ida as a good choice for his nephew. Charles knew Mr Wilkes, the headmaster, through their mutual association with Royal Eastbourne Golf Club, where Limouzin had first won competitions in 1903-1904. Eric was enrolled in 1911 for reduced fees and with financial support from his uncle. This was a significant milestone in Blair’s childhood as this school was considered a successful ‘scholarship factory’ and prepared the future George Orwell for admission as a King’s Scholar to Eton College. Charles W. was a feature of Eric’s childhood and continued to be a presence at the family homes in Southwold during the 1920s and 1930s.

Courtesy of Eastbourne Local History Society

The pattern of life on two continents continued with Ida Limouzin and her children. Orwell’s mother married 40-year-old Richard Walmsley Blair, (1857-1939) on 15 June 1897 at Naini Tal, a popular hill station with the rare attraction of a natural lake, 345 km northeast of New Delhi. Their only son, Eric Arthur Blair, was born in sight of the Himalayan Mountains at Motihari, on the 25th June 1903, the village his father was stationed. Their three-room bungalow was conveniently located near a large warehouse used for storing opium before it was processed and exported to China. Ida must have been saddened that Blanche, the only relative who had attended her wedding, died of pneumonia while working at a school in Mussoorie, just months before Eric was born. Young Eric spent less than a year in India before escaping the plague sweeping Bihar with his mother and sister to England. He would return to the subcontinent, in late 1922, serving with the Indian Imperial Police.

Orwell’s birthplace in Motihari

George Orwell was an Anglo-Indian on both his maternal and paternal sides of the family. His second wife, Sonia Brownell (1918-1980), was also from an Anglo-Indian family. She and her mother were born on the sub-continent, where her father had died, probably by his own hand!

There are many clues to the fundamental importance of this Anglo-Indian heritage to his identity. The dust jacket of his essay, The Lion and the Unicorn (1941), emphasises that ‘GEORGE ORWELL was born in 1903 into an Anglo-Indian family…’ and his novel, Burmese Days (1934) is described as ‘one of the few outstanding novels of Anglo-Indian life’. It is also important to note the ongoing connections his employment by the BBC provided, in the early years of World War II, while broadcasting propaganda to India. The fact that at the end of his life Orwell was drafting A Smoking Room Story – ‘a nouvelle of 30,000 to 40,000 words’ which he intended to be ‘a novel of character rather than of ideas, with Burma as background’ – indicates the sub-continent was never far from his mind. He endeavoured to return to India in 1938 to work on The Pioneer (Rudyard Kipling had commenced his career on this newspaper) and at the end of World War II had been in communication with his friend and newspaper editor David Astor about working as a correspondent in Burma.

The reasons why Orwell decided to join the Indian Imperial Police in 1922 have been widely discussed but never settled. However, biographers and academics never realised that another uncle, George Alfred Limouzin (1881-1977) joined the police in Burma, as a cadet in 1902. His service lasted for about 5 years before he emigrated to South Africa in 1906 where he reconnected with his brother, Frank E. Limouzin, who we now know had been educated in Bedford with most of his siblings. Frank E. had a daughter, Kathleen Iris, born in 1899 to a Burmese mother,  Ma Hlaing, whose name has been a source of confusion. One biographer (Bowker) calls her Mah Hlim and a primary source document lists Mah Hline (which is not a Burmese surname) but a phonetic translation of Hlaing. It is unclear when he emigrated to South Africa he left them both behind in Moulmein. It should be noted that Orwell gave the name Ma Hla May to the native mistress of his tragic hero John Flory, in Burmese Days, and that one of the Eurasian characters is named ‘Francis’. It has been speculated that Orwell met Kathleen c. 1924 and another Eurasian relative, Aimee Jane (1862-). She was the daughter of the relative who had travelled with Ida’s father to India in 1842, Guillaume Eugene Limouzin (1823-1863), with Ma Soe (Sooma). Orwell, according to a letter written to his biographer, Bernard Crick, also had a child to a Burmese domestic servant. The correspondent was reporting family gossip which has never been confirmed.

Orwell’s biographers never managed to uncover that the maternal side of the family were deeply connected to the town of Bedford, an important bastion of Anglo-Indian culture and educational opportunity. Ironically, Orwell’s ‘French’ mother and family had very ‘English’ Anglo-Indian upbringings!

Bedford Grammar School c. 1875

REFERENCES

Bedford High School Archives

Bedford Trade Protection Society, Bedford Town and Bedford Schools, 1913

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 30th July 1887

Bell, Patricia, ‘Aspects of Anglo-Indian Bedford’ in Worthington George Smith and Other Case Studies, Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 1978. pp. 194-217

Bowker, Gordon, George Orwell, London: Abacus, 2004

Coppard, Audrey & Crick, Bernard, Orwell Remembered, New York: Facts on File, 1984

Godber, J.; Hutchins, I. (eds), A Century of Challenge: Bedford high school, 1882 to 1982, privately printed, Bedford, 1982

Hunt, Felicity, “Belcher, Mary Anne [Marian] (1849–1898), headmistress.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, September 23, 2004. Oxford University Press, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-48640

Keeble, Richard, ‘Letters from Paris Throw New Insights on Orwell’, George Orwell Studies (2022) Vol. 6, No. 2 pp. 3-8

Moore, Darcy, ‘Orwell’s Rats’, George Orwell Studies (2022) Vol. 7, No.1 pp. 92–101

Stewart, Trevor, ‘The Legacy of the Le Mesurier and Halliley Families to Bedford 1834–1927’, History in Bedfordshire, Vol. 8, No. 12, Summer Special, 2020

The Guardian, 28 Dec 1898

The Midland & Northern Coal and Iron Trades Gazette, 1st March 1876

The Ousel, 9 December 1886

The Ousel, 21 March 1906

Wadhams, Stephen, Remembering Orwell, Penguin, 1984

Wells, George, The Educational Advantages of Bedford as a Place of Residence: the Schools, the Town, and Neighbourhood, Beford: Self-published, 1883

Westaway, K.M ed., A History of Bedford High School, Bedford, 1957

ACKNOWEDGEMENTS
Warm thanks are owed to Trevor Stewart, Emma McKenzie, Michael Ockenden, Stephen Buckley and Phillipe Maudet.

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Comments(3)

    • Richard Lance Keeble

    • 2 months ago

    You continue to make important and fascinating discoveries about Orwell’s family background – missed in the conventional biographies. Sincere congrats Darcy.

    • Douglas Kerr

    • 1 month ago

    Well done Darcy, Another large piece of the early-Orwell jigsaw. This one is a helpful reminder that the Anglo-Indians were as much a recognisable tribe in England as in the East, and indeed I wonder if a person could be thought an Anglo-Indian even if they had never been east of Suez (if they came from an identifiably A-I family).

    Footnote: Kipling worked on the Pioneer at Allahabad 1887-89 and was its assistant editor. (See a useful article on Kipling’s Indian journalism by Thomas Pinney in the Kipling Society website at https://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/readers-guide/rg_journalist.htm.) ‘In July 1933, The Pioneer was sold to a syndicate and moved from Allahabad to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh’ (Wikipedia). Its English editor Desmond Young, who invited Orwell to join the staff, told him it was ‘today the property of landlords & vested interests’ (CWGO XI:120). I don’t know why this move happened, or whether after its sale and move to Lucknow it was recognisably the newspaper that Kipling had written for. The Kipling link must have intrigued and perhaps troubled Orwell if he knew about it, though there is no mention of it in his letter to Alec Houghton Joyce at the India Office (CWGO XI:121-2).

      • Darcy Moore

      • 1 month ago

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Douglas. I spent a couple of days reading copies of the ‘The Pioneer’ c. 1895-1898 in an effort to understand the goings on in Nainital. It told me so much more than I expected about life in the town generally (especially the life of the schools). Letters to the editor were a good insight into the attitudes about Opium Agents too. More on this later!

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