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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 06:47 GMT
England's 'hidden' Tolkien history
Stonyhurst College, where Tolkien wrote the draft of Lord of the Rings
JRR Tolkien wrote much of the trilogy in Lancashire
Wellington in New Zealand will be renamed "Middle Earth" for a week, in honour of being the filming location for Lord of the Rings. However, JRR Tolkien did not look further than England for inspiration. Away from the hype, BBC News Online's David Schaffer traces some of the places that led to the story in the first place.

As tourism incentives go, it seems JRR Tolkien will not necessarily prove a draw for holidaymakers to visit the UK, despite the new, hugely hyped, trilogy of movies.

Tolkien's fantasy world, etched out in minute detail in the Lord of the Rings, could lead towns across the country to miss out on opportunities to cash in.

In the fickle world of following in the footsteps of the famous, the fact that the likes of Lancashire's Ribble Valley and Perrots Folly in Birmingham are far removed from what movie fans will see in the films, could mean no invasion by hordes.

Although they are two identifiable locations said to have inspired John Ronald Reuel Tolkien to put pen to paper, they are unlikely to be high on a fame-finder's trail.

It's a huge thing with the three films coming out, and there will be interest in the Tolkien connections in Birmingham

Photographer Jonathan Berg
To make matters worse, tourism bosses in Bournemouth say Tolkien is not the sort of image they want to promote - despite the fact the author and his wife lived and holidayed in the south coast town.

A spokesman told BBC News Online: "Tolkien is not exactly attractive to the young these days. We're much more likely to promote the fact footballer Jamie Redknapp comes from Bournemouth."

In Essex, where a housing estate's roads are named after Lord of the Rings characters, there are attempts to jump on the publicity bandwagon, even though Tolkien has no connection there.

'Good idea'

Recent reports have conjured up images of Tolkien fans descending on South Woodham Ferrers, to steal road signs bearing names like "Gandalfs Ride" and "Great Smials".

"But I don't think there is any likelihood of fans stealing them," said a local council spokeswoman.

"The reason why the estate's roads were named like this has nothing to do with Tolkien.

Sarehole Mill in Kings Heath, Birmingham
Sarehole Mill: Open this Christmas
"In the 80s when the estate was built, the council had to think of a set of names for the roads, and when someone mentioned Lord of the Rings it was considered a good idea."

For diehard fans, such a misconceived legend about the respected Oxford professor might draw them to an area he never visited, but at least the local authority will not be wasting promotional cash to attract the wider film-going public.

Nevertheless, while the hype is concentrated on the other side of the world, it has not stopped Birmingham - where Tolkien spent his early years before going off to fight in World War I - getting in on the act.

For the first time, Sarehole Mill, close to one of the homes where he lived, is to be open to the public for Christmas.

It is said to be one of the earliest locations to inspire Tolkien, who was born in South Africa in 1892 but was brought back to his mother Mabel Tolkien's native Birmingham in 1895.

Tolkien Trail

According to city photographer Jonathan Berg, who is to include a chapter on Tolkien in his book Positively Birmingham, the young writer would have seen the mill from his bedroom window at 264 Wake Green Road, Kings Heath.

264 Wake Green Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham
The house where Tolkien lived with his mother
It is reputed to be the location for what became "The Shire" in the trilogy, with the mill close to Bilbo Baggins' home at "Bag End".

Mr Berg points out that with Birmingham's proximity to Stratford-upon-Avon, there will be tourists who will want to go on the "Tolkien Trail".

"It's a huge thing with the three films coming out, and there will, come next spring, be interest in the Tolkien connections in Birmingham," he says.

However, while Sarehole might be accessible, one of the inspirations for "The Two Towers", the second of the three novels, will not be quite as welcoming.

"This is Perrots Folly, in Edgbaston, which is closed at the moment, and there are bids to try and raise money to make it safe," said Mr Berg.

Vivid imagination

"I went down to take a photograph and although I was on a public road, a security guard tried to stop me taking it. Imagine what it will be like when the coachloads start turning up."

Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire's Ribble Valley is, however, not a quick coach journey from Stratford.

For avid fans it is rich in Tolkien's life history, according to Jonathan Hewat.

Mr Hewat, who teaches at the connected St Mary's Hall preparatory school, said Tolkien penned much of Lord of the Rings, while visiting one of his sons who was a pupil there.

He said: "The area is dotted with names that are familiar from Lord of the Rings - Shire Lane in Hurst Green, for instance, or the River Shirebourn."

The historical connection has led to the building of the Tolkien Library at St Mary's Hall, which is due to open in the coming months.

Tolkien's vivid imagination undoubtedly sparked the enduring popularity of Lord of the Rings and the creation of "Middle Earth" at a cost of millions, in New Zealand.

However, without the more humble locations that inspired him, the film Tolkien "would have hated", would never have been made.

Despite that, unless the public is prepared to put in more effort than simply parting with their cash at the cinema box office, those "fantasy" locations will go largely unnoticed.

Click here to go to BBC Birmingham Online

Click here to go to Lancashire
See also:

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31 May 01 | Entertainment
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