"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

On the Trail of Tolkien: Sarehole Mill

On Sunday I gave Emily a lift to Moseley in Birmingham and, as I had an hour to spare before picking her up, I decided to pop along to Sarehole Mill which was only five minutes away.

Two of my all time favourite books are "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" by John Ronald Reuel (JRR) Tolkien. Tolkien spent part of his childhood in this area of Birmingham and lived at 5 Gracewell Cottages (now 264 Wake Green Road), Sarehole, between 1896 - 1900, when he was aged four to eight. His house was only around 300 yards from the mill.

Sarehole was then a small rural hamlet on the edge of Birmingham surrounded by farmland and countryside and it is believed that the Mill and the local area provided Tolkien with inspiration for his books. The Shire may even have been based on Sarehole.

The mill is situated by Shire Country Park and, as this information board in the car park shows, there are several walks in the area.

It has been suggested that the Great Mill that Bilbo runs past in "The Hobbit" was based on Sarehole Mill.

Tolkien and his brother often visited the Mill and played in the courtyard (see photo above) and they were often chased away by the Miller who they nicknamed the "White Ogre". It is said that Tolkien based bad-tempered Ted Sandyman (the Miller in "Lord of the Rings") on the Sarehole Mill Miller.

The Mill pond to the left and Mill to the right.

The Mill Pool, which normally has moorhens, mallard and grey herons and the occasional visit from a kingfisher, has been drained to allow for maintenance work to the sluice gates and dredging of the heavily silted pool.

You can follow a path around part of the tree-lined pool

Scattered all over the ground in one little clearing was a sprinkling of "Elf Dust"! If you enlarge the photo you might just be able to make this out.

This tree looks as though it has come straight out of a Tolkien tale.

Sarehole Mill which stands on the River Cole is one of only two surviving water mills in Birmingham (more than 750 were once found on river banks in the City). There has been a working mill at Sarehole for at least 460 years and this particular mill was built in 1765. Although it was built as a corn grinding mill it has also been used for rolling sheet metal, grinding blades and wire rolling. Matthew Boulton one of the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution leased it for a while.

During the 1960's Tolkien gave money to a public appeal to restore Sarehole Mill which had become derelict. It is now a museum run by Birmingham City Council.

I had a quick look round the inside of the Mill.

Since I last visited (we took the children when they were little as David was - and still is! - entranced by "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings") a permanent exhibition "Sign-posts to Middle Earth" has been set up which explores the area around the Mill and how it inspired Tolkien.

One interesting point mentioned in the Exhibition and the Tolkien Trail leaflet relates to the name Sam Gamgee who in "Lord of the Rings" is Frodo's friend. A Birmingham surgeon Dr Joseph Sampson Gamgee (1828 - 86) invented cotton wool. In Birmingham cotton wool was called "gamgee" - a word that the young Tolkien would have heard. Sam marries a Rose Cotton at the close of "Lord of the Rings" linking gamgee and cotton!

There are a couple of other places nearby connected to Tolkien - Moseley Bog and the Two Towers - which I will try to visit later in the year.


Toffeeapple said...

Always something interesting on this blog, thank you!

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - many thanks - that's very kind of you to say :)

I haven't forgotten the blue tit picture - I will hopefully post one tomorrow.

kirstallcreatures said...

Looks like an hour well spent Caroline, an interesting spot to visit.

Ragged Robin said...

KirkstallCreatures - Thanks Linda. It made a nice change as I normally sit in the car reading for an hour :) I hadn't realised the Mill was so close.

Niki said...

Interesting. I especially enjoyed the bit about Samwise Gamgee and Rosie Cotton. :-) I look forward to reading your future blog entry about Moseley Bog and the Two Towers.

Ragged Robin said...

Hi Nikki - Thanks so much for commenting. I'm so glad you found the post interesting - I was fascinated by the Gamgee and Cotton bit too as I hadn't heard that before.

Omi said...

Love this post, Caroline. My son, Tom, is a Lord of the Rings fan too and would enjoy a visit to this mill. As would I! It's a shame the ponds were dry when you visited, but it looks wonderful all the same.

ShySongbird said...

An excellent way to while away the time. It certainly looks an interesting place especially for Tolkien fans.

The Mill Pool sounds like it would be interesting when inhabited especially if there are visits from Kingfishers!

Ragged Robin said...

Omi - Many thanks. It is a shame about the pond but I spent a lot of time wandering around expecting a hobbit to leap out of the undergrowth :) David loved it there so I am sure Tom (and you :)) would too!

ShySongbird - Many thanks. I'll go back one day when they have refilled the mill pool!

Rohrerbot said...

LOL!!! I was just thinking about heading over to your blog and you had already posted!!:) I'm sorry for not getting back to you sooner. It has been a whirlwind here and I saw your post, but wanted to sit and absorb it all in without people talking around me etc. The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit is serious business. What a fantastic idea for a post! This is another cool journey.....and I love the pics and history that inspired Mr. Tolkien. These are also my favorite books and I look forward to the Hobbit this December. You are so fortunate to live in such historical areas. Yes Arizona is cool as well, but the gardens and places you visit are literary cool....I can see the Elf Dust and I can see where he may have come up with ideas for his book.....the Mill! It's what I pictured in the book. Now when you write about the Shire...I believe I'm from the Shire:) My hometown in certain areas look exactly like places where hobbits would live....My Dad even looks like a hobbit! It's the feet and I don't want to go there. Disgusting! But the people sure drink like Hobbits over there as well. Love your takes and historical walks....keep them coming!

Ragged Robin said...

Chris - Many thanks for your lovely comment :) I remembered you were a huge fan of Tolkien when I was preparing the post! Please don't worry about any delay ever in reading or commenting - I often don't get chance to catch up with people's posts for a day or so!

I can't wait for the Hobbit film either - I really loved the LoftheR films which was great as sometimes films don't live up to the book. But many of the characters and places were just as I imagined them!

I would love to see your hometown and I did have to laugh about your dad's resemblance to a hobbit :) I am just about to start reading the first Game of Thrones book!