"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

Friday, 22 June 2012

On the Trail of Tolkien Part 2 - The Two Towers

I happened to be near the Edgbaston part of Birmingham on Monday morning so I decided I'd go along and have a look at the two towers that it has been suggested, (though I have to say not proven!), may have given J R R Tolkien inspiration for "Minas Morgul" and "Minas Tirith" - the Two Towers after which the second volume of Lord of the Rings is named.

The two towers in Edgbaston are Perrott's Folly and a nearby Victorian tower which is part of Edgbaston Water Works. Tolkien would have seen these towers on a regular basis as for while in the early 1900's he lived nearby for a time in Stirling Road and also Oliver Road, he attended the Oratory following his mother's conversion to Catholicism and also visited a local pub "The Ivy Bush".

Perrott's Folly

This tower is 96 feet (30 metres) tall and is named after John Perrott who built it in 1758. This gothic tower contains 7 rooms and there are 139 spiral steps.

Over the years it has been used for many purposes, for example, a country hunting retreat and a weather station.

Today there is a medical practice on one side and a car park on the other!

It is a Grade 2 listed building and is, sadly, in need of restoration. I believe it is now owned by the Trident House Association. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public on a day to day basis and this little garden was overgrown and the entry shut and padlocked.

Apparently the door from the top room onto the tower roof is only 3 feet high - hobbit height!

The other tower is Edgbaston Waterworks Tower - which is in fact a chimney!

A not so romantic view showing the entrance to the waterworks in the foreground

I stopped off at the Oratory (I was running out of time by now so this is just a poor view of the side of the building). Mabel Tolkien (Ronald's mother) together with her sons attended here when they lived nearby. A Father Francis Xavier Morgan became the boys' guardian and helped the family and offered support during Mabel's illness and subsequent death.

I ought perhaps to mention that, although Tolkien lived in Birmingham from 1896 to 1911, in later life he lived in various other parts of England - Leeds and Oxford and also fought at the Battle of the Somme in France, so I am sure there are claims from many other places to have inspired Tolkien in his writings.


Rohrerbot said...

I really can see how these could be considered the two towers. The opening shot made me think of LOTR right away. Thanks for the tour. I hope they do restore the building as it would be a sad loss. And I like your captures of forgotten or secret gardens. Very interesting spaces. Thanks for your fun and educational posts on past authors and their haunts. Hope you have a good weekend!

Dartford Warbler said...

Very inspiring Gothic towers!

Tolkein`s last days were, I believe, spent in a bungalow not far from the sea in Bournemouth. We went to look at it years ago. A very ordinary bungalow but only ten minutes walk from the beautiful beaches and woody chines at Canford Cliffs. I think the bungalow has now been replaced by a modern, designer house.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris - Many thanks. It was the first time I had seen these two towers but, as you say, they are very "Lord of the Ringish". I would have loved to have been able to enter the secret garden! Have a good weekend too!

Dartford Warbler - I bought a small book on Tolkien when I was at Sarehole Mill and noticed he had retired to Bournemouth with his wife. Dreadfully sad though if his bungalow has been replaced by a modern house. Somewhere I have a biography and other books on Tolkien but they are buried somewhere in one of many storage boxes as I ran out of bookcases!

Rob said...

That's a grand folly, Caroline. I can think of numerous examples of high-rise structures built in all seriousness in recent years which have proved real follies - office blocks, mostly, standing empty.

Some modern industrial buildings would look better if they followed the example of that Victorian waterworks, too.

ShySongbird said...

Hi Caroline, I have to be honest and say this post was a bit of a problem for me. I'm sure you will think me completely mad but those towers and others like them give me the heebie jeebies!! I wouldn't say it's a phobia but I definitely feel very uncomfortable with such structures. Silly, I know and I have no idea why. However, I enjoyed the Tolkien connection and also had a look at Wiki before commenting and was enchanted by the story of his and his wife's courtship which I am sure you are familiar with. The story of them throwing sugar lumps from the tea shop into the hats of passers by made me smile ;-)

Ragged Robin said...

ShySongbird - I don't think your dislike of towers is silly at all -and it was good of you to read the post anyway. I hate "white" clowns so I know exactly what you mean! Also there are a few places I know that give me the complete creeps - when I was little if my dad was late picking me up from horse riding I used to walk along the lane (rather stupidly with hindsight!) to meet him and I would pass a wood which to me had a horrible atmosphere as though something nasty had happened there. I love woods generally but not this one and even today when I occasionally drive past I get the "shudders".

I've just, at long last, found my biography of Tolkien by H. Carpenter, and found the sugar lump incident in there :) Their courtship was so romantic as you say :)

Rob - Many thanks - I really agree with your comments - so much modern architecture is awful and when buildings (especially when built on sites that were good for wildlife) remain empty it makes it even worse.

Central Birder said...

Hi Caroline, how interesting, good stuff!

Ragged Robin said...

Central Birder - Many thanks - glad you found it interesting. Although if I'm honest I would rather have been wandering around Brandon Marsh :). Hopefully, life will be less hectic in a few weeks and I'll have time to go over there!

Omi said...

Fascinating read! It would be hard not to be inspired by the towers, especially the first - such a fairy tale appearance.

Ragged Robin said...

Omi - Many thanks! The architecture of the towers is rather superb. I'd never seen them before and was pleasantly surprised at how inspiring they were!