IN SEPTEMBER 1911, sickly eight-year-old Eric Blair arrived at St Cyprian's School.

When he departed the Eastbourne public school five years later, the boy left with a profound hatred of aristocratic society and boarding schools.

But years after Eric adopted his pen name George Orwell, the influence of his stay in Sussex was still with him. His 1945 book Animal Farm was based in a fictionalised version of Willingdon, a village not far from Eastbourne.

Sam Brooke explores the author's time at St Cyprian's and his refusal to visit Sussex as an adult.

“EXCEPT upon dire necessity I would not have set foot in Eastbourne.”

Writer George Orwell was most famous as a scathing critic of authoritarian governments, most notably in his 1949 novel 1984.

The Argus: Mr Orwell did not enjoy his time at St Cyprian'sMr Orwell did not enjoy his time at St Cyprian's

But shortly before writing his most famous work, the author is thought to have completed Such, Such Were The Joys, an unfavourable account of his childhood studying at St Cyprian’s School in Eastbourne.

Naturally, most of it was not fit for print due to libel laws.

The essay was only published in its unredacted form after the deaths of headmaster Vaughan Wilkes and his wife Cicely and long after Mr Orwell’s lifetime.

It revealed the writer’s hatred of his school years, an emotion which extended to public schools as a whole and even the entire county of Sussex.

“As an adult I have only once been in Sussex, on a short visit,” Mr Orwell wrote in the essay.

The Argus: St Cyprian's School closed in 1943. Photo: elisa.rolleSt Cyprian's School closed in 1943. Photo: elisa.rolle

The diatribe critiques the school in minute detail. School porridge “contained more lumps, hairs and unexplained black things than one would have thought possible”. The author wrote of dreaded winter outings to the Devonshire Baths “on which I once saw floating a human turd”.

But the worst criticisms were left for Mr and Mrs Wilkes, authority figures Mr Orwell hated but never questioned.

The writer, then known as Eric Blair, was just eight when he arrived at St Cyprian’s in September 1911.

His mother had insisted he receive public education despite his middle-class family not being wealthy enough to afford it.

So uncle Charles Limouzin persuaded headmaster Mr Wilkes to help the boy earn a scholarship, charging lower fees to the Blair family.

But little Eric’s first weeks at St Cyprian’s were plagued with a bout of bed-wetting, treated with beatings from the headteacher.

On one day after a caning from Mr Wilkes, the boy told a friend: “It didn’t hurt.”

Mrs Wilkes overheard and ordered Eric to report himself for another beating.

“The double beating was a turning point, for it brought home to me for the first time the harshness of the environment into which I had been flung,” Mr Orwell later wrote.

The Argus: Mr Orwell later wrote an autobiographical essay on his time at St Cyprian'sMr Orwell later wrote an autobiographical essay on his time at St Cyprian's

As a scholarship student, Eric was worked hard to ensure he brought honour to St Cyprian’s by securing a place at a prestigious college.

“Our brains were a gold mine in which (Mr Wilkes) had sunk money, and the dividends must be squeezed out of us,” the author wrote.

Boys who dared to answer a history question incorrectly were treated with a few raps on the head with Mr Wilkes’s silver pencil.

Through this Eric not only grew to resent his headteacher, but also the aristocratic boys who were treated far better than he was.

“St Cyprian’s was an expensive and snobbish school which was in process of becoming more snobbish, and, I imagine, more expensive,” he later wrote.

“(Mr Wilkes) did, towards the end of my time, succeed in getting hold of two boys with real English titles.

“One of them was a wretched drivelling little creature, almost an albino, peering upwards out of weak eyes, with a long nose at the end of which a dewdrop always seemed to be trembling.

The Argus: Mr Orwell developed a hatred of boarding schools from his time at St Cyprian'sMr Orwell developed a hatred of boarding schools from his time at St Cyprian's

“Once, I remember, the little fair-haired boy had a choking fit at dinner, and a stream of snot ran out of his nose on to his plate in a way horrible to see. Any lesser person would have been called a dirty little beast and ordered out of the room instantly.”

But it was not all bad.

In the essay, Mr Orwell wistfully recounts hikes to Birling Gap and bathing among the boulders at Beachy Head.

Yet when Eric left the school in December 1916 for Eton College, he described it as “escaping from bondage”.

Once Mr Orwell’s critical essay was published long after his death, some of his fellow pupils thought he had been a little harsh.

Cyril Connolly said the Wilkeses were “true friends” while another contemporary, Sir Cecil Beaton, described the essay as “hilariously funny but exaggerated”.

Though Mr Orwell felt the school had made a negative impact on his life, it had given him inspiration.

His wildly successfully 1945 book Animal Farm is set in the village of Willingdon, a real village near Eastbourne which was connected to St Cyprian’s by a track.

The Argus: The Red Lion, mentioned in Animal Farm. Photo: Andrew HuggettThe Red Lion, mentioned in Animal Farm. Photo: Andrew Huggett

Many believe the fictional Manor Farm is based on Chalk Farm near the village.

And the book mentions a pub called The Red Lion, which still stands in Willingdon.