Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 32 (2001)
On November 22nd 1930 an inaugural supper for the George Eliot Fellowship was held at the Newdegate Arms in Nuneaton, at which Sir Francis Newdegate GCMG of Arbury Hall presided. He told the assembled company that it was high time that those who lived Nuneaton should pay every honour they could to George Eliot. He went on to say 'I cannot myself speak of her writings as an expert, but I do know that she has done a great deal for the neighbourhood in the way she has reproduced Warwickshire as it was 100 years ago and has preserved the characters of many people who lived in the neighbourhood at the time'. Sir Francis ended by saying he hoped the Fellowship would prove successful.
In A Community of Interest - an update of an earlier book published in 1980 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary - Kathleen Adams charts the course of the Fellowship from 1930-2000. She tells us that its Founder, A. F. Cross, a Leicestershire man by birth, had been on the editorial staff of the Nuneaton Advertiser from 1895, and in 1905 had acquired the Nuneaton Chronicle - the oldest established local paper. It took him twenty-five years of hard struggle to overcome the apathy of George Eliot's home town and for his campaign for some sort of memorial to bear fruit. His words written in the Chronicle a week after that inaugural supper, reporting that 'The George Eliot Fellowship will probably develop into an organisation known throughout the world-wide realm of art and literature', have proved prophetic. From those early beginnings in 1930, the Fellowship has seen many ups and downs. The membership has fluctuated, as have the finances, which by 1939 were in the red. The Fellowship was re-formed in October 1947 after a break of eight years when the Second World War intervened. In 1950 there were less than fifty members with a total of £4 in the kitty - but the lowest ebb was in 1967 with twenty-one members and five life members.