From the Twin Towers to the Two Towers

From the Twin Towers to the Two Towers: Tolkien’s Birmingham Connection

Tolkien’s Birmingham Connection

J.R.R. Tolkien was a literary scholar and novelist. Over the last few years his books have become even more popular due to Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

I moved to the Birmingham area, in the West Midlands of England a few years ago, but it was only last year that I discovered Tolkien’s connection to the area and how it featured prominently during the early years of his life.

Arthur Tolkien travelled to South Africa, prior to his marriage, and took up the position of a manager of a branch of the Bank of Africa. Both J.R.R. and his brother Hilary were born in the Orange Free State, but in April 1895 J.R.R. came to England with his mother and brother, as the South African climate did not suit his mother. While staying with her parents in King’s Heath near Birmingham, the family received news Arthur had gone down with rheumatic fever and had also had a severe haemorrhage from which he never recovered. As you can imagine this changed the family’s lives forever as they would not be returning to South Africa as they had planned.

Both boys would soon need to be educated and J.R.R.’s mother rented a small house before moving into the Warwickshire countryside. Mrs Tolkien educated the boys herself. But things soon changed when Mrs Tolkien took the boys to St Ann’s church which was on the site of the Birmingham Oratory which had been founded by John Henry Newman.

In September 1900 J.R.R. passed the entrance examination for King Edward’s School in Birmingham. With the help of a relative J.R.R. took his place and the family rented a small house in Moseley. The family then started attending the Birmingham Oratory and they were befriended by Father Francis Morgan.

It was Father Francis who found J.R.R. a place at the Grammar School the Oratory had founded when he was forced to leave King Edward’s School for financial reasons. The family moved again, but the accommodation was not idea and the academic standards of the Grammar School weren’t challenging enough for J.R.R. Thanks to his mother he went back to King Edward’s as a Foundation Scholar in the autumn of 1903. J.R.R. developed a deep interest in English Literature thanks to one of the assistant masters.

His mother’s fear of leaving her son’s orphans made her make the boys wards and Father Francis their guardian.

J.R.R. and Hilary then went to live with an aunt in Stirling Road, Edgbaston, but to the boys the Oratory was home.

The Two Towers in Stirling Road

Twin Towers

The boys lived in Stirling Road between 1905 and 1908 and during that time J.R.R. would have seen two landmarks. One was a folly and the other a dark red and blue brick Neo-Gothic structure which was part of the local waterworks. Locally they were called “the twin towers.” There is every possibility that these “towers” influenced the second book of “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.”

In 1908 the brothers moved in with a Mrs Faulkner who gave them board and lodgings. J.R.R. became close to another lodger Edith Bratt. Father Francis disapproved and in 1910 Edith moved to Cheltenham. Three years later the couple were reunited and eventually they married. J.R.R.’s first son John Francis was named after his former guardian.

When Father Francis died in 1935 he left £1000 each to J.R.R. and Hilary.

Some relics of J.R.R.’s association with Birmingham Oratory are still at Oratory House.
I was thrilled to find the link between Tolkien and the area that I live in as I love his books. Whether you have read his novels or not I hope you have found his connection to Birmingham interesting.

Tracey Wickham (c) 2015

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Images used for this article include:
By User Oosoom on en.wikipedia (en.wikipedia) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Perrots Folly
"Tolkien 1916-2" di Tolkien_1916.jpg: Unknown, changes based on: work: Merrinen - Tolkien_1916.jpg. Con licenza Pubblico dominio tramite Wikimedia Commons - Tolkien_1916

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