03 January 2014


John Ronald Reuel TOLKIEN was born in Bloemfontein on 03 January 1892, the son of Arthur Reuel TOLKIEN, an Englishman who had taken up a position with the Africa Bank Corporation, and his wife Mabel SUFFIELD (1870–1904). Arthur arrived in Cape Town in 1890, and in 1891 he was transferred to Bloemfontein. He sent for his fiancée, Mabel, and they were married on 16 April 1891 in the St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town. In 1895 when JRR was three years old, his mother took him and his brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel (born 17 February 1894) back to England. During their absence, Arthur fell ill with rheumatic fever and died of severe brain haemorrhage on 15 February 1896. Arthur's funeral service took place at the Anglican Church in Bloemfontein, and he was buried at the President Brand Cemetery on the corner of Church and Rhodes Avenue.

Handwritten Christmas card photo of the Tolkien family, sent by Mabel from Bloemfontein to her relatives in Birmingham, on 15 November 1892. Mabel is seated, the nanny is holding baby JRR then ten months old. The cook and a servant are also included. The original photo was sepia, Mabel had coloured in some sections and added the writing.
In 1992, Arthur's grave was located after a long search made difficult by the lack of a gravestone. Sarel THERON, who worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation in the Boemfontein Municipality, eventually found a burial register for the President Brand Cemetery. Together with Frans VAN DER WALT, who was responsible for the cemeteries, they located the grave using three registers that finally showed the grave was in Block D, Row 3, Grave number 20. A new tombstone was placed on the grave in 1994 by the Tolkien family and and the South African Tolkien Society.

Arthur Tolkien's grave in Bloemfontein
Arthur was born in Handsworth, Stafford, England, in 1857, the eldest child of John Benjamin TOLKIEN and Mary Jane STOWE (circa 1834, Birmingham; died 13 February 1915, Newcastle upon Tyne). His father had previously been married to Jane HOLMWOOD (circa 1806, Fareham, Hampshire; died 1854, Worcester) with whom he had four children:

1) Jane (born circa 1836, Marylebone, London)
2) Emily (born June 1838, Marylebone, London)
3) Louisa (born June 1840, Marylebone, London)
4) John Benjamin (born March 1845, Birmingham, Warwickshire; died 1883, London)

He married Mary on 16 February 1856 at All Saints Parish Church, Birmingham, Warwickshire. They had the following children:

1) Arthur Reuel (born 1857, Handsworth)
2) Mabel (born 1858, Handsworth; died 1937)
3) Grace Bindley (born 1861, Handsworth; died 1904, Kings Norton, Worcestershire)
4) Florence Mary (born 1863, Birmingham)
5) Frank Winslow (born 28 July 1864, Birmingham; died 24 April 1867, West Bromwich)
6) Howard Charles (born 27 December 1866, Birmingham; died 27 October 1867, West Bromwich)
7) Wilfrid Henry (born 1870, Handsworth; died 08 August 1938, Essex)
8) Laurence George H. (born 1873, Moseley, Worcestershire)

John Benjamin was born in 1807 in Middlesex, London. He died on 01 August 1896 in Kings Norton, Warwickshire, England. He was a piano maker, teacher, and tuner. Arthur did not follow in his father's footsteps into the family trade in pianos, instead he became a bank clerk.

The Africa Bank Corporation was a double-storey sandstone building on the corner of Maitland and West Burger Street. The family lived in the top floor. The building later became a Bradlows furniture store. The building was demolished in 1933 and replaced by an Art Deco building that is still there. A bronze plaque was placed on the building in 1984, but was stolen in 1997. Thanks to an alert policeman, it was recovered a few days later, and is now kept at the Hobbit Boutique Hotel in President Steyn Street.

After Arthur's death, Mabel had no income, so she moved back in with her parents in Kings Heath, Birmingham. In 1896, they moved to Sarehole, a Worcestershire village. Mabel taught her two children herself, teaching them art, calligraphy, maths, science, English literature, and reading Latin and French. JRR liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were languages.

Mabel became a Catholic in 1900, despite her Baptist family's protests. This led to her family stopping financial assistance to her. In 1904, when JRR was 12, Mabel died of acute diabetes at Fern Cottage in Rednal. She was buried at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. The young boys stayed with their aunt, Beatrice SUFFIELD, for a short while. Prior to her death, she assigned guardianship of her sons to her close friend, Fr. Francis Xavier MORGAN of the Birmingham Oratory. After her death, JRR grew up in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham and attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, and later St. Philip's School. In 1903, he won a Foundation Scholarship and returned to King Edward's where he was one of the cadets from the school's Officers Training Corps who lined the route for the 1910 Coronation Parade of King George V.

JRR was known as Ronald by his family, and had the nickname Tollers. While in his early teens, JRR's cousins, Mary and Majorie INCLEDON invented their own language called Animalic. Mary and others, including JRR, went on to invent a more complex language they called Nevbosh. His own first invented language was Naffarin.

The 1901 England Census shows JRR living in Kings Norton, Kings Heath, Worcestershire, with his mother and brother. The 1911 England Census shows him boarding at 4 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, with his brother Hilary (occupation: hardware merchant's clerk).

In 1911, JRR went on a summer holiday to Switzerland. In October 1911, he began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed his course in 1913 to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours. At Oxford he was friends with Clive Staples LEWIS, who went on to write the Narnia Chronicles. Every Monday morning the two would meet to read each other's writings. They later formed a group of writers called The Inklings.

At the age of 16, JRR met Edith Mary BRATT, when he and his brother moved into the boarding house where she lived. She was also an orphan, and a Protestant, which did not please Fr. MORGAN who forbid JRR from having contact with her until he was 21. He obeyed this prohibition, with one early exception, over which Fr. MORGAN threatened to cut short his university career. The day he turned 21, JRR wrote to Edith, asking her to marry him. Edith replied that she had already agreed to marry another man, thinking he had forgotten her. They met up, after which Edith returned her engagement ring and accepted JRR's proposal. She reluctantly converted to Catholicism, after which her Protestant landlord evicted her. They couple were married at St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church, Warwick, on 22 March 1916. Mary was born on 21 January 1889 in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, and died on 29 November 1971 in Poole, Dorset. She served as the inspiration for his fictional character Lúthien Tinúviel, an Elven princess and the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar. The couple are buried side by side in Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford; below the names on their grave are the names Beren and Lúthien: in Tolkien's legendarium, Lúthien and the Man Beren were lovers separated for a time by Lúthien's father King Thingol.

Edith and JRR
JRR and Edith had the following children:

1) John Francis Reuel (16 November 1917 - 22 January 2003). Became a Catholic priest in 1946.
2) Michael Hilary Reuel (22 October 1920 - 27 February 1984)
3) Christopher John Reuel (born 21 November 1924). He married Faith FAULCONBRIDGE in 1951. Their son Simon Mario Reuel was born in 1959. They separated in 1963 and divorced in 1967. He next married Baillie KLASS (born 1941, Winnipeg, Canada) in 1967. They have two children: Adam Reuel (born 1969) and Rachel Clare Reuel (born 1971)
4) Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel (born 18 June 1929)

JRR in World War I
When World War I broke out, JRR did not immediately volunteer for the British Army as he was completing his degree. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1915, after graduation. After training as a Signals Officer, he was sent to the Somme. In between terms behind the lines at Bouzincourt, Tolkien participated in the assaults on the Schwaben Redoubt and the Leipzig Salient. JRR and Edith developed a secret code for his letters home so that Edith could track his whereabouts on a map of the Western Front. In October 1916, as his battalion attacked Regina Trench, JRR came down with trench fever and was invalided to England on in November. By 1918 all but one of his close friends were dead.

In 1921, while teaching at Leeds University, the University of Cape Town offered him a position. However, Edith was still recovering from the birth of their son Michael in 1920, and JRR turned the offer down. In 1922 he became a Professor of English at Oxford.  He became a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945, and then Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College, Oxford from 1945 to 1959.

He started writing The Hobbit in the early 1930s. It was published on 21 September 1937. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, he started writing The Lord of the Rings, taking 12 years to complete. It was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. The three volumes were titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Sir Stanley UNWIN, his publisher, said of The Lord of the Rings: ''a book for all times which we will be selling long after my departure from this world... a great work''. The Lord of the Rings was released as a film in 2000.  After he retired, JRR started work on completing The Silmarillion, which was inspired by his relationship with Edith. It was only completed after his death by his son, Christopher, and published in 1977. JRR died on 02 September 1973 at Bournmouth, England. He was buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

JRR at the Botanical Garden, Oxford. This is probably the last photograph of him, and was taken by his grandson Michael George in 1973.
In 2003, Bloemfontein launched a Tolkien Route. Sights on the tour included Arthur's grave, and the St. George' Anglican Cathedral where JRR was baptised on 31 January 1892, and a bronze plaque can be seen next to the baptismal font. This was followed by a visit to where the Africa Bank Corporation building stood. The tour ended at the Hobbitt Boutique Hotel in President Steyn Street, where each of its seven rooms is named after one of the hobbit characters in The Hobbit. The privately owned Hobbit house has hosted dignitaries, including the Duke of Kent, and JRR's daughter Priscilla. It is owned Jake UYS, who was chairman of the Haradrim Society, a Tolkien society for Afrikaans speakers in South Africa founded in 2000 and now defunct.

It is often claimed that the Amatola Mountains in Hogsback, Eastern Cape, served as inspiration for JRR's stories, and that his family visited the area when he was a baby. No factual evidence has been found for this claim. It is said that while serving in the Royal Air Force, JRR's son Christopher was stationed in nearby Queenstown and visited Hogsback several times. He sent his father sketches and descriptions of the mountains and forests, which might be the root of this claim. Christopher drew the original maps for his father's The Lord of the Rings, which he signed C.J.R.T.

I have not found reference to him being in Queenstown. Christopher enlisted in the Royal Air Force in late 1943 and was sent to South Africa for flight training at 7 Air School in Kroonstad, and 25 Air School in Standerton. He was commissioned into the general duties branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 27 January 1945 as a pilot officer on probation. He transferred to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on 28 June 1945, and promoted to Flying Officer on 27 July 1945.