Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 34 (2003)
The George Eliot Memorial Garden in Nuneaton reached its half century in May 2002. In 1930 several literary men, amongst them George Bernard Shaw, were asked if Nuneaton should erect a memorial to George Eliot. Most of them expressed astonishment that one was not already in existence. They may have been even more amazed to discover that it would be another twenty-two years before one appeared, for it was not until 1952 that the George Eliot Memorial Garden was established.
The Newdegate family at Arbury Hall was one step ahead of Nuneaton as an obelisk had already been erected by Sir Francis Newdegate near to George Eliot's birthplace at South Farm on the Arbury estate. The family kindly gave the obelisk to stand in the new garden in 1952 as a permanent memorial.
The first plans for the garden were discussed in 1947 when a compulsory purchase order was issued to buy land in Church Street upon which 'Dempster House' ('Janet's Repentance ') had stood until it was destroyed in an air raid on 17 May 1941. These negotiations clearly took time for it was not until the beginning of 1951 that an appeal for funds was made by the Mayor, Alderman W. R. Chamberlain and the Fellowship's President, The Hon. Mrs. L. C. S. FitzRoy Newdegate. The total cost was expected to be about £8,000 and the Borough Council had already made what was described as a 'handsome contribution’. Members of the small George Eliot Fellowship contributed almost £600, this having a much higher value than present day inflated figures.
A competition was opened to members of the Institute of Landscape Architects and was won by Miss Mary Braendle, a joint designer with Mr. Ronald Sims.
The appeal was very successful with donations coming from far afield by George Eliot admirers. The Government of Israel gave three almond trees from Jerusalem and these were planted near to the riverside. Altogether about 200 trees and shrubs were planted, many having been given by local associations and individuals.