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Author's inspiration as shire turned to smoky city.

JRR Tolkien's parents both came from Birmingham but his father, Arthur, who was a bank clerk, moved to South Africa in the 1890s in the hope of bettering himself.

Upon his death in 1896, the family once again settled back in the Second City, which itself would have a big influence on Tolkien's writing.

He later wrote: "The country in which I lived my childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten."

Initially the family lived in the then rural Moseley and Hall Green area, widely thought to be the inspiration for Hobbiton and the Shire. The nearby Sarehole Mill which features in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings owes much to Sarehole Mill, which is now a museum run by the city council.

The Victorian waterworks tower at Edgbaston Reservoir and nearby Perrot's Folly are other landmarks believed to have been the inspiration for the Two Towers part of the trilogy, too.

The young Tolkien went to King Edward's School, Edgbaston, from the age of eight, travelling in on the tram from Moseley. Moseley Bog is again said to provide inspiration for some of the trilogy's settings.

Life for a widow with two sons at the turn of the 20th century was not easy, and the family led a nomadic existence, later moving to Kings Heath.

In 1904, when Tolkien's mother died from diabetes, he and his brother were orphaned. The family were devout Roman Catholics, and the priest at Birmingham Oratory became their guardian.

The boys lodged nearby in Duchess Road, where Tolkien - who was only 16 at the time - first met Edith, three years his elder, who was staying at the same boarding house.

She was born in Gloucester on January 21, 1889, to single mother Frances Bratt, the 30-year-old daughter of a local shoemaker. The name of her father is not listed on her birth certificate, although he is now believed to have been Birmingham paper dealer Alfred Warrilow, who had previously employed Frances as governess to his daughter.

When Warrilow died in 1891, he named Frances as his sole executrix in his will.

Edith was brought up in Handsworth by her mother and cousin, but Frances died when her daughter was just 14.

The young girl was sent to the Dresden House boarding school in Evesham, where she became a fine pianist. After leaving, she moved in to Mrs Faulkner's boarding house at 37 Duchess Road, Birmingham.

It was, she later recalled, "a gloomy, creeper-covered house, hung with dingy lace curtains".

She first met Tolkien early in 1908, when he and his younger brother Hilary were moved into the house by the Oratory's Fr Francis Xavier Morgan. "Edith and Ronald took to frequenting Birmingham teashops, especially one which had a balcony overlooking the pavement," a biography states. "There, they would sit and throw sugar lumps into the hats of passers-by, moving to the next table when the sugar bowl was empty.

"With two people of their personalities and in their position, romance was bound to flourish. Both were orphans in need of affection, and they found that they could give it to each other. During the summer of 1909, they decided that they were in love."

Viewing Edith as a distraction from Tolkien's schoolwork and bothered by her Anglican religion, Fr Morgan forbade any contact between them until Tolkien became an adult at the age of 21.

He grudgingly obeyed this instruction to the letter while Fr Morgan's guardianship lasted.

But on the eve of his 21st birthday, Tolkien wrote a letter to Edith, who had since moved to Cheltenham, asking her to marry him.

She replied, saying that she was already engaged because she thought Tolkien had forgotten her. Within a week, she broke it off, and they were engaged. Following their engagement, Edith announced that she was converting to the Roman Catholic Church - causing some friction in her Anglican community.

They were married in the Catholic Church of St Mary Immaculate in Warwick on March 22, 1916. Three months later, he was at war.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Lancashire Fusiliers, transferring to the 11th (Service) Battalion, part of the 25th Division, with the British Expeditionary Force, he arrived in France on June 4, 1916, later recalling: "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."

Tolkien's service during the Battle of the Somme was difficult for Edith, who feared that every knock on the door might carry news of her husband's death.

To get around the British Army's censorship, the couple exchanged coded letters so she was able to track his movements on a map of the Front.

Fighting in the Somme offensive of 1916, he contracted trench fever and was shipped back home.

He spent some time being treated at a hospital in Birmingham before being invalided out of active service.

After Tolkien's return from France, their first child, John Francis Reuel, was born in Cheltenham. They had three more children - Michael Hilary Reuel, Christopher John Reuel and Priscilla Anne Reuel.

One day he wrote a story to entertain his children. More followed, an early version of The Hobbit among them.

Tolkien's professional academic career at the universities of Leeds and Oxford resulted in the family moving to those cities and, after he retired in the 1960s, to a village near Bournemouth.

Edith died on November 29, 1971 at the age of 82, and was buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

Tolkien was buried with her when he died 21 months later.


JRR Tolkien and Edith in later life, and, left, Perrot's Folly
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 25, 2019
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