George Eliot Fellowship

The George Eliot Fellowship

Visitor Centre

Members of the George Eliot Fellowship will be used to reading about this plan which has filled Newsletter space since 2012, and might even now seem a bit tedious.

 Site for GEVCThe outbuilding at the rear of Griff House, midway between Bedworth and Nuneaton, in Warwickshire. Griff House was a large farmhouse on the edge of the Arbury Estate and Robert Evans and his young family moved there from South Farm in the early months of 1820. His youngest child was Mary Ann and she lived there until she moved with her father to Coventry in 1841.

Griff House exterior 1500The house is now the property of Whitbread plc and is used as a Beefeater restaurant and Premier Hotel, the hotel extension having been added in the early 1980s. Eight years ago Whitbread applied for permission to demolish the outbuildings on the grounds of their derelict state. The outbuildings themselves are not Listed, although Griff House is. The Fellowship objected to the proposal on the grounds that the building was part of the original farm, and that Mary Ann Evans would have known possibly, possibly even used it. Our case was strengthened by the fact that J W Cross’s biography of his late wife includes an engraving from a photograph of the building, called ‘The Offices’ taken from the farm yard and showing the oldest part of Griff House in the background.

CC1 J W Cross illus 1500

After much negotiation, discussion and public support for our cause, the local planning authority overturned the recommendation of their Conservation Officer and refused permission for demolition.

The story of the last eight years has been back and forth, with highs and lows which might one day be written up. Suffice to say that we had an ally at Whitbread who a few months later offered the Fellowship up to £80,000 or 50% of the construction costs, although out of that had to come all of Whitbread’s legal fees, surveyor’s fees etc. But it was a generous offer and got us started on the process of raising the money we needed.

We were advised early on that though many of the officers might belong to the Fellowship, we should nevertheless set up a separate body or company to run the Visitor Centre. This was done and we are now registered at Companies House, have a bank account and a board of trustees. A very good local architect offered his services and advice and produced all the paperwork, plans and schedules we required. Planning permission and Listed Building Consent was obtained, funds from our members grew slowly and we decided to apply for Heritage Lottery funding. This long drawn out process eventually resulted in our application being turned down. This was a huge shock and it could have happened that either we gave upon the project or Whitbread gave up on us. Neither happened, except that our ally at Whitbread died and so everything slowed down again for a while.

outline planThe outline plan of the Visitor Centre

We decided to widen our appeal, made renewed appeals to our members, canvassed support from our two local MPs and started the very long process of applying to be a charity, which had to show different aims from the Fellowship, which was already a charity. That took seven months but we succeeded.

The local weekly paper, The Nuneaton News has been a great support throughout the process and in 2019 we had several large donations and support from the Warwickshire County Councillors Grant Fund, in all amounting to over £30,000. In addition the County Council invested £20,000 in a feasibility study from a specialist company which suggested that our proposals were the best way forward.

In October 2019, still in the bicentenary year, we were given £70,000 by a local  benefactor, John Miller, and that meant we had enough to get the scheme under way. But there was then a long gap of seven months when nothing seemed to be happening at Whitbreads to get us started – giving us legal documentation, a lease etc. Eventually a new senior member of Whitbreads took over responsibility and two other new persons from the property company and advisers GeraldEve stepped in and we are now awaiting site visits, legal permissions, start dates etc.

We now have, including Whitbread’s offer, some £190,000, enough to create the building. But inevitably there will be additional costs; there always are. We could do with another £20,000 to ensure that we can afford decent interior fittings, professional displays and stock.

If you wish to support the Visitor Centre, please contact the Treasurer of the Visitor Centre on 07773 413907 or email

The Centre will be setting up a separate website once the building work starts.