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Tolkien's youth | About J.R.R. Tolkien | Birmingham City Council

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Tolkien's youth

The family moved several times in the next few years, first to 214 Alcester Road, Moseley to be closer to a tram route into the city after Ronald started at King Edward's School, They were not in Moseley for long. By March 1901 they were living in Westfield Road, Kings Heath.

The family moved again in 1902, to a house in Oliver Road, Edgbaston. This was near the two towers in Edgbaston - Perrott's Folly and the Waterworks Chimney. Mabel had converted to Catholicism in 1900. Some of the family disapproved strongly and withdrew financial support to her and the children. To save money the brothers were enrolled in the Oratory School, St Philips. However with coaching from his mother, and her sister Jane Suffield, Ronald won a scholarship to King Edward's and returned there in 1903. King Edward's School was then in New Street in the centre of Birmingham. He played rugby for the school, and was also an enthusiastic member of the school Debating Society. With friends he had a club that met to talk about literature and current affairs after school in the school library, or over lunch in the new cafe at Barrows Stores in Corporation Street. Several of Tolkien's relatives also attended King Edward's School; one younger cousin had a volume of poetry published after his death in the First World War.

Perhaps because of financial stress Mabel developed diabetes in spring 1904. There was no effective treatment in those days, and in November 1904 she died at Rednal in the Lickey Hills. She had appointed Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a priest of the Birmingham Oratory, to be the boys' guardian.

In December 1904 the boys stayed with a Tolkien uncle and aunt in King's Norton, Birmingham. In January 1905 Hilary Tolkien started at King Edward's School. For the next three years the brothers lived in Stirling Road, Edgbaston, with their aunt Beatrice. She was the widow of William Suffield, Mabel's younger brother, who had also died in 1904. From early 1908 the brothers moved a short distance to lodge at the Faulkners, 37 Duchess Road, Edgbaston. Tolkien commented many years later that the 'duchess was rather decayed!' They were close to Edgbaston Canal Reservoir, set in a large park where there were entertainments, and sailing on the lake. On the way from Duchess Road to the park there are two towers, the Waterworks Chimney and Perrott's Folly.

In Duchess Road Tolkien met his future wife, Edith Bratt, who was also lodging there. They became fond of each other. Sometimes they would go and have tea and cakes in Birmingham cafes. One afternoon in late 1909 they cycled out to the Lickeys and had tea in Rednal village. Father Francis Morgan heard of this meeting. He disapproved as he considered that Tolkien should be devoting all his attention to his studies and forbade him to contact Edith before he had come of age. Ronald and Hilary Tolkien were moved to different lodgings in Highfield Road in 1910.