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Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
And following on from the Suffields….we must include J.R.R.Tolkien of course. Thanks mainly to Chris Upton, Carl Chinn and all the usual suspects …here's a potted bio...

This first bit covers John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's childhood. From 1895 he lived in Birmingham - in Sarehole, Moseley and Kings Heath - until the family moved to Edgbaston in 1902. These suburbs were then all in north Worcestershire; prosperous businessmen would have their business in the centre of Birmingham, three to four miles distant, then return to their houses there on the edge of the countryside at the end of the day.

Tolkien's parents, Arthur Tolkien and Mabel Suffield, grew up in Birmingham. Arthur Tolkien's father, a music-seller and piano teacher, had moved from London to Birmingham in the early 1840s. The Suffield family had been in Birmingham since 1810. Mabel's father John ran the family drapery and hosiery store in central Birmingham. From 1826 until it was demolished as part of the Birmingham Improvement Scheme in 1886 the business was in Old Lamb House in Bull Street, as we discussed above.
Arthur Tolkien emigrated from Birmingham to South Africa in 1889 to gain promotion at work. He was already engaged to Mabel Suffield; when she reached the age of twenty-one in 1891 her father gave her permission to sail to South Africa to marry Arthur Tolkien.

A Christmas card sent by the Tolkiens in 1892. J. R. R. Tolkien is the baby

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, was actually born in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, an Afrikaans-speaking area of South Africa, on 3 January 1892. In 1895, when Tolkien was three, his mother brought him and his younger brother Hilary back to visit their grandparents in King's Heath and Moseley, Birmingham. Arthur stayed in South Africa for a while to take care of the family's investments; the situation was tense because of growing antagonism between the Boers and the English settlers. He died before he was able to join his family in England, Tolkien's only memory of his father was of him closing the family's trunk and painting their name on it.

In the summer of 1896 Mabel Tolkien and her two young sons settled at 5 Gracewell, now 264 Wake Green Road, a cottage in the hamlet of Sarehole in the north Worcestershire countryside close to Moseley, Birmingham.

Wake Green Road, Sarehole, circa 1900

Most of the area was still farmland. When Tolkien refers to a 'great mill' in The Hobbit he was probably remembering Sarehole Mill on the River Cole. From 5 Gracewell the boys and their mother could look across the water-meadow to the mill. Tolkien mentioned the miller and his son, George Andrew senior and junior, in the Foreword to The Lord of the Rings. It is perhaps understandable that the miller shouted at him and his younger brother when they played in the mill-yard, as they were very small and there was dangerous machinery there!

Tolkien was close to his brother Hilary who was two years younger than him. Hilary attended the same school, King Edward's in the centre of Birmingham. However he was not academic by inclination. He became a farmer, and ran a fruit-farm near Pershore for many years.
Up the road from the cottage they played in a deep sandpit lined with trees. This is on the edge of Moseley Bog, woodland through which streams run to feed the millpond and the River Cole. Some rare plants grow there; it may be recalled in The Lord of the Rings as the 'Old Forest'; last of the primeval woods, where Tom Bombadil lived. And a mile along the River Cole is Trittiford - then Tritterford - Mill Pool, perhaps a model for the Long Lake in The Hobbit.

As children Ronald and Hilary were taught at home by their mother, Mabel. Her sister Jane had gained a degree in science, and was a teacher. She also coached Ronald for the entrance exam for King Edward's School, Birmingham.

After Ronald started at King Edward's in September 1900 the family moved several times. First to 214 Alcester Road, Moseley, directly on the tram-route into the city so that Ronald could go to school by tram. The steam-tram was noisy and smelly, so after a few months the Tolkiens moved again, to a house in Westfield Road, on the new Grange Estate in King's Heath.

Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
In 1902 the Tolkiens moved across Birmingham to a house in Edgbaston to be near the Oratory church. To save money Tolkien was removed from King Edward's, he and his brother Hilary were enrolled at the school attached to the Oratory, St. Philip's, in April 1902. Ronald was only there for one term. With coaching from his mother he gained a scholarship for free tuition at King Edward's, and returned there in January 1903. The Tolkiens had little money, Mabel had a small income from South African shares left to her by Arthur. Her brother-in-law Walter Incledon had given some help, but he stopped when she converted to Catholicism in 1900.

Perhaps because of stress caused by money worries Mabel developed diabetes late in 1903. There was no effective treatment in those days, and she died in November 1904.
She and the boys had been staying at the postman's cottage in Rednal, next to the Oratory Retreat in the Lickey Hills on the southern edge of Birmingham. Mabel had appointed Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a priest of the Oratory, to be the boys' guardian. In December the boys stayed with a Tolkien uncle and aunt in King's Norton, Birmingham. In January 1905 Hilary Tolkien started at King Edward's School. For the next three years the brothers lived in Stirling Road, Edgbaston, with their aunt Beatrice. She was the widow of William Suffield, Mabel's younger brother, he had also died in 1904.

From early 1908 the brothers moved a short distance to lodge at the Faulkners, 37 Duchess Road, Edgbaston. Tolkien commented many years later that the duchess was rather decayed! They were close to Edgbaston Canal Reservoir, set in a large park where there were entertainments, and sailing on the lake. On the way from Duchess Road to the park there are two towers, the Waterworks Chimney, and Perrott's Folly.

Perrott's Folly was built in 1758, possibly as a hunting-lodge. It is 96 foot high, and offers an excellent view for miles, of Birmingham's hills and trees, and beyond. From 1884 until the 1970s it was used as a weather observatory, and the brothers could have seen the equipment on top. It has been suggested that Perrott's Folly and the Waterworks Chimney may have inspired the title of The Two Towers. For more about this see: The Two Towers

In 1908 Tolkien met and fell in love with his future wife, Edith Bratt. She was also lodging with the Faulkners; like the Tolkien brothers she was an orphan. One afternoon late in 1909 they cycled out to the Lickeys and had tea in Rednal. 
Father Francis Morgan heard about this excursion. He disapproved of the relationship as he considered Tolkien should be devoting all his time to his studies; it was essential that he win a scholarship if he wished to go to university. Father Francis forbade Tolkien to see or contact Edith for the next three years, until he came of age. From January 1910 the brothers lived in new lodgings in Highfield Road, very close to the Oratory. Eventually Ronald and Edith got married in 1916, just before he left to fight in France.

King Edward's School was of fundamental importance to Tolkien's future life and career. Eventually in December 1910 Tolkien gained an exhibition - a form of scholarship - to study classics at Exeter College, part of the University of Oxford. He stayed at school until July 1911, and left Birmingham for Oxford in October.

Tolkien was an enthusiastic participant in various activities organised by the School Club. He became captain of his house rugby team, and wrote an epic poem about one match in February 1911 for the school magazine. As Secretary of the School Debating Society he was described in the school magazine as 'ever-active' and 'ingenious', and accused of 'highwaymanism'. He also enjoyed acting. He was one of the school librarians, he and his friends would meet in the school library to have illicit picnics, brewing tea over a small stove. They then started to go to the cafe over Barrow's Stores in Corporation Street at lunchtime.

After Tolkien had left this was described jokingly by Christopher Wiseman, one of his friends, as the T.C.B.S. - Tea Club Barrovian Society. The friends would discuss language, literature, mythology as well as music, art and current affairs. To discover more about them select Tolkien and his Circle here....

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Master Barmy
Today is the 25th March, Tolkien Reading Day, the day in Lord of the Rings that the Dark Lord Sauron was finally defeated and his fortress, Barad-dûr, destroyed.

Big Gee

master brummie
Ian Hislop, in 'Olden Days' last night, was in Tolkienland. Which, in Tolkien's day, was almost totally rural - but not now. Interestingly, Sarehole Mill, which Tolkien described as the Mill in Hobbiton in Lord Of The Rings, was anything but agricultural.

I've lost count of the number of times I've read LOTR. It's become a habit of mine to re-read it around the end of summer, not really sure why. I haven't quite learned it off by heart, but I'm getting there! I think this must go back to my hippie days of the Sixties. It is, essentially, about the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil, and Living Happily Ever After, but I've never been really sure if that actually applies to life as we know it. Maybe, maybe not. But there is no doubt that J R R Tolkien has given an incalculable amount of joy to an incalculable number of people, and I hope that like Frodo and Gandalf he himself sailed from the Grey Havens to the Blessed Realm.



Master Barmy
I am not a great reader of fiction, but have read the Lord of the Rings twice. With the current lockdown I am reading it in Portuguese.

I remember after the first time I read it, I was talking to a late friend of mine and gave him the book. I told him to stick with it and judge it from the start of the journey. The next time we were having a pint he he just reached that stage, and the next week he said he just could not put it down!

I have not seen the film, but my old mucker said that he enjoyed it, but it was not as he had imagined in his mind's eye.

Big Gee

master brummie
I have the film on DVD - like most cinematic productions of fantasy fiction it goes over the top. None of the characters were really how I imagined them from reading the book. There was an earlier, semi-cartoon film of LOTR which was made in the 1970's, and this was even worse - more of a caricature than a rendering of the book.

I first read the book in 1968, although it was published in about 1955. The Hippie Culture was really responsible for it taking off big-time, which it did. Someone I knew had his Citroen 2CV re-painted and decorated with LOTR runes, and re-christened 'Shadowfax' - which was a joke as it never reached more than about 40 mph.