J.R.R. Tolkien's Birmingham Connection

Tolkien is probably more popular as a writer today than ever before thanks to the success of Peter Jackson's film adaptations of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings."

J.R.R. and his brother Hilary were both born in the Orange Free State in South Africa, but as the climate did not suit their mother the three of them came to England in April 1895.It was while they were staying with their mother's family in King's Heath near Birmingham that  word came through of the death of their father who was still in South Africa. Instead of returning to Africa as had been originally planned the family found themselves  staying in Birmingham.

To being with Mrs Tolkien rented a small house, but eventually she and the boys moved into the Warwickshire countryside. The boys were ready for educating and their mother taught them herself. Things changed when Mrs Tolkien and the boys started going to St. Anne's Church which was on the site of the original Birmingham Oratory which had been founded by John Henry Newman.

In September 1900 J.R.R. passed the entrance exam for King Edward's School in Birmingham. He was able to take his place with the help of a relative and the family started renting a small house in Moseley. It was around then that the family began going to the Birmingham Oratory where they were befriended by Father Francis Morgan.

When monetary problems forced J.R.R. to stop attending King Edward's Father Francis found him a place at the Grammar School which had been founded by the Oratory. Yet again the family moved but the accommodation was not ideal and J.R.R. was not finding the academic standards of the Grammar School challenging enough for him. With the help of his mother J.R.R. returned to King Edward's in the autumn of 1903 with a Foundation Scholarship. On his return he developed an interest in English Literature thanks to one of the schools assistant masters.

His mother's health was not good and her greatest fear was to leave the boys orphans. She made the boys wards and made Father Francis their guardian.

J.R.R. and Hilary moved in with an aunt who lived in Stirling Road, Edgbaston but as far as they were concerned the Oratory was their home.

J.R.R. lived in Stirling Road between 1905 and 1908 and during that time he must have seen two landmarks. One was a folly, the other a dark red and blue Neo-Gothic structure in the local waterworks. The locals called them "the twin towers." There must be every possibility that the "towers" influenced the second book in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

The brothers moved in with a Mrs Faulkner in 1908 and she gave them board and lodgings. J.R.R. grew close to another lodger Edith Bratt, but Father Francis found out and disapproved of the relationship. In 1910 Edith moved to Cheltenham, but three years later the couple were reunited and eventually they married. John Francis, J.R.R.'s first son, was named after his father's former guardian.

In 1935 Father Francis dying leaving £1000 each to J.R.R. and Hilary.

Oratory House still has some of the relics Tolkien left behind after the time he spent there.

(c) 2015 Tracey Wickham