rating button
Tolkien's early years | About J.R.R. Tolkien | Birmingham City Council

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check out the latest advice, service disruptions, information and support about Coronavirus (COVID-19) Latest updates

Tolkien's early years

Tolkien's parents, Arthur Tolkien and Mabel Suffield, grew up in Birmingham. Arthur Tolkien's father, a music-seller and piano teacher, had moved from London to Birmingham in the early 1840s. The Suffield family had been in Birmingham since 1810. Mabel's father John (John Suffield) ran the family drapery and hosiery store in central Birmingham. From 1826 until it was demolished as part of the Birmingham Improvement Scheme in 1886 the business was in Old Lamb House in Bull Street. Arthur Tolkien emigrated from Birmingham to South Africa in 1889 to gain promotion at work.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was born in Bloemfontein, an Afrikaans-speaking area of South Africa, on 3 January 1892. His father had become a bank manager there. In 1895, when Tolkien was three, his mother brought him and his younger brother Hilary back to visit their grandparents at Ashfield Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham. They never saw their father again; he died of typhoid fever in February 1896.

In 1896 Mabel Tolkien and her two young sons settled at 5 Gracewell Cottages, now 264 Wake Green Road, a cottage in Sarehole village. Though only four miles from the centre of Birmingham Sarehole was then in the north Worcestershire countryside.

The most exciting thing for a young boy to see in the village of Sarehole was Sarehole Mill, which he refers to as 'the great mill' in The Hobbit. It stands on the River Cole, which rises near King's Norton and runs close by. It is said that Tolkien based the bad-tempered miller in The Lord of the Rings on the miller there. The Mill is now run as a museum by Birmingham City Council.