J.R.R. Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892. However in 1895, Mabel Tolkien brought her two sons Ronald (J.R.R.) and Hilary to England , they were never to see their father again as he died soon after their departure. The family went to King's Heath, just outside of Birmingham , where Mabel's parents lived. Between 1895 and 1911 Tolkien grew up around Birmingham .
J.R.R. Tolkien went on to write some of the most popular and best known books in the world, and he is best remembered for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien himself admitted that some of the places he had grown up around in Birmingham had influenced his writings a great deal. Many of these places still exist today.
Just a short walk from where the Tolkiens lived on Wake Green Road is Sarehole Mill. Ronald and Hilary played in this area as children. They gave the nickname of; "The White Ogre"; to the miller's son who chased them away.
The mill is now a museum with free admission, owned and operated by Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery . It is open from late March to October, Tuesday to Sunday 12.00-4pm (closed Mondays, except Bank Holidays). Sarehole Mill is an excellent starting point for a walk around Moseley Bog and other parts of 'the Shire' and occasional guided tours start at the mill. In September a coach tour visiting Tolkien's Birmingham departs from the Mill. For more information about Tolkien related events please ring the mill on 0121 7776612.
Each year in May alongside the mill, in the Shire Country Park , a Middle Earth Weekend is held to celebrate Tolkien and the area.
The Shire Country Park
A number of areas in the park, close by to where Tolkien lived, offer a fantastic array of wetlands, grasslands, woodland and heath. All can be visited by the public and offer a great insight into how the Shire may have been imagined in Tolkien's mind. To find out more about the Dingles, Trittiford Mill Pool and John Morris Jones Walkway contact the Ranger's Office on 0121 702 2739.
Moseley Bog (also part of the Shire Country Park ) can be accessed by an entrance on Yardley Wood Road , or on foot via Wake Green Playing Fields. This local nature reserve was just across a field from where Tolkien lived as a boy. This area may well have inspired Tolkien in his writings about the marshes, streams and thick woodland of Middle Earth.
In 1900 Mabel Tolkien converted to Catholicism. The family moved to Edgbaston shortly after and attended the Oratory in Edgbaston. In 1904 Mabel died following a diabetes illness. Father Francis Morgan, an Oratory priest, became the boy's guardian. The Oratory can be visited by appointment, call 0121 454 0496.
Tolkien fans will be familiar with the Two Towers . It is believed that they were inspired by two local buildings - Perrott's Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower . Tolkien would have seen them regularly, as he lived in nearby Stirling Road for a time. Perrott's Folly is a 96 foot tower and was built in 1758. It is now owned by Trident Housing who have a website for the site with more information ( www.perrottsfolly.co.uk). Edgbaston Waterworks Tower is close by and this grand Victorian building, which is actually simply a chimney, can be seen clearly from Waterworks Road .
Tolkien left Birmingham in 1911 to study classics at Exeter College , Oxford . He did return in 1916 whilst on leave from the army. He stayed at the Plough and Harrow Hotel on the Hagley Road , with his new bride Edith. A blue plaque on the building records their short stay.
For more information on Tolkien's life in Birmingham visit this excellent webpage -; http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/tolkien.bcc or read Robert S. Blackham's book The Roots of Tolkien's Middle Earth, published by Tempus.