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Senate House Library

Building Literary History


Written by
Rebecca Simpson

Seventy years ago, on the 8 June 1949, George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published here in London. Over the years, the imaginative dystopian world created by Orwell would have a huge influence on our language and become an important part of London’s literary history.


Not only does Senate House Library have a rare first edition of the book in its collections but there are further historical links to the novel. As The Times journalist Dominic Maxwell describes “Senate House is a 19-storey art deco building with historical muscle of its own”.


Designed by Architect Charles Holden and built in the 1930s, the building was used as the headquarters of the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, where George Orwell’s wife, Eileen Blair, worked. Through this connection, Orwell used Senate House as the vision for the Ministry of Truth where the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith, works as an editor revising history to suit the party lines. And in case you were wondering…yes, there is a Room 101 in the building. Thankfully it’s now used to house small exhibitions as part of wider events held at the university.


Writing in Times of Conflict

When Senate House returned to its original purpose as a Library and the central building for the University of London, the Ministry of Information gave the library a photostatic copy of the ‘Nazi Black Book’ from the US Army microfilm of the Sonderfahndungsliste GB produced by the SS. It contains material proposed for the invasion of England, originally published in Germany in 1940. It includes a ‘Wanted List of Great Britain’ with nearly 3,000 people to be detained who were a mixture of prominent British figures and notable non-British residents such as Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, Vera Brittain, Sylvia Pankhurst, Aldous Huxley, Sigmund Freud (who was already dead by then), Noel Coward and Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

The ‘Nazi Black Book’ will be one of over 80 items on display at Senate House Library’s next exhibition Writing in Times of Conflict (16 July – 15 December 2019) where you can explore the power of words as a means to achieve peace and reconciliation in response to conflicts over the last 100 years. It is free and open to the public - we look forward to welcoming you to the exhibition on the fourth floor of this stunning Grade II listed art deco building and literary history hotspot.