JRR Tolkien (1892-1973)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa to English parents, Tolkien’s mother returned to the UK to give birth to her second son Hilary. While she was away, her husband contracted yellow fever and died. Not wanting to remain in South Africa, Mabel Suffield Tolkien returned to the area of her native Birmingham to bring up her two young sons.

Tolkien’s formative years were in Birmingham, initially in what was then a rural village just outside the city and later in the city, he went up to Oxford in 1911 and the places in he lived and played as a child, later gave inspiration for his writings.

Initially, on her return to Birmingham, Mabel rented a cheap cottage on what was then in the countryside on the outskirts of the city at Sarehole where the boys could roam free, they remained there for four years in what is now Wake Green Road in Hall Green, a suburb of Birmingham and nearby was Sarehole Mill (The Shire in the Hobbit), an old sandpit and an area known as the Moseley Bog.

Mabel’s task of bringing up the children was not helped by the fact that she had in 1900 converted to Roman Catholicism which outraged both Mabel’s Unitarian family and her husbands Baptist family, as a result, with the exception of one uncle, she along with the boys were treated as outcasts.

In September 1900 in order to be closer to the tram route to allow the young Tolkien to reach King Edwards School the family moved to a property in Alcester Road in Moseley Village which is one of several “villages” within the City of Birmingham. Here Tolkien lived within sight of a Dovecote.

The family had moved on to Westfield Road in Kings Heath by March 1901, here,the family home backed onto railway lines and it was the Welsh names on coal trucks which interested Tolkein through his love of words.

In order to give the boys a Christian upbringing, Mabel moved to Oliver Road in the suburb of Edgbaston, to a house next to the Birmingham Oratory.

Having worked hard to bring the boys up, Mabel died while the boys were still young, Ronald was only 12 when she passed away suffering from diabetes in 1904, there being little medicine could do for the condition in those days. Mabel passed away at Fern Cottage at Rednal, next door to the Oratory Retreat. Mabel’s early death had a marked affect on the young Tolkien, and whilst he kept his religion he felt that nothing would ever be safe, and although outwardly he remained a normal young man, he became a pessimist in outlook.

The orphaned boys grew up under the guardianship of Father Francis Xavier Morgan, they were both alter boys but were not totally closeted and Ronald took up Rugby in addition to painting and a love of books. The young Tolkien preferred tales of dragons rather than run of the mill children’s fare.

Initially, the boys lived close to the Oratory in Stirling Road in Ladywood with the widow of Mabel’s brother, a woman called Beatrice; it is close to here that there are two structures of interest as it is believed that they inspired the “Two Towers”, these structures being the Waterworks Chimney and Perrott’s Folly. Close by was Edgbaston Reservoir.

From 1908, both of the young Tolkiens lodged in Duchess Road, not far from Stirling Road. It was in these lodgings that Tolkien met Edith Bratt when he was 16 and she was 19. Father Morgan, having heard of the budding romance ordered Tolkien away from the boarding house, and when they continued to pass notes Morgan ordered Tolkien to have nothing more to do with Edith for three years by when he would be of age.

In an effort to help Ronald concentrate on his studies the Tolkien brothers were moved to new lodgings in Highfield Road.

Tolkien attended King Edwards School and mastered both Greek and Latin before going up to Oxford in 1911. Tolkien obeyed Morgan but after the time limit was up he contacted Edith and later married her. Soon after marriage Tolkien was called up for war duties but contracted Trench Fever and was returned home.

The Tolkiens began a family which consisted of three sons and a daughter and by age 32 Tolkien had become Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College in Oxford.

A Story written for Tolkien’s children was published as a book in 1937 – The Hobbit - The book became a bestseller and the publishers asked for more. It was not until 1954 that the next three volumes, being The Lord of The Rings Trilogy were published. Reviews were mixed, but the reading public were caught up, buying in their thousands, so that at the age of 60 Tolkien became a celebrity and with celebrity came wealth. Tolkien gave generously both to his children and also his local Parish Church.

The Tolkiens moved to the Bournemouth area to live, having taken early retirement where he became inaccessible to all but his friends. Edith died in 1971 and Tolkien himself died on 2 September 1973 he was then aged 81, both are buried at Wolvercote cemetery in Oxford.

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