Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tolkien's House For Sale

So,  if you're a Tolkien fan and happen to have one and a quarter million pounds lying about, here's something you can do with it: buy Tolkien's home.

Thanks to friend Jeff for passing along the news (and the link) that Tolkien's house in Sandfield Road, where he lived 1953 through 1968 -- that is, from just before THE LORD OF THE RINGS was finally published to the point where he had to leave Oxford to escape his too-attentive fans.*

Of all the places Tolkien lived after he left Birmingham, three have achieved legendary status in the mind of his admirers: the house on Northmoor Road where he wrote THE HOBBIT and most of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; the house on Sandfield Road, where he was living during the years when he became a world-famous author; and the apartment provided by Merton college where he spent the last two years of his life, when he had already become something of a legendary figure. The house on Sandfield Road, near that of his friend and fellow Inkling Humphrey Havard, is where Tolkien lived in retirement. And it's the background against which many of us imagine him, largely because that's where he was living when visited by Clyde Kilby, Arne Zettersten, W. H. Auden,** and others who who later set down accounts of their visit: one such visit famously forms the opening chapter of Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography.

This is also where the Pam Chandler suite of photos were taken, showing Tolkien in his office and also out in his garden. I've only seen it once myself, during my first visit/research trip to Oxford in 1981, when I borrowed a bicycle from the people who ran the b&b I was staying at*** and made my way out first to Sandfield Road and then on to see the Kilns (both of which I cd only see from outside at the side of the road, both at that time being private homes). In the part to the left in the picture on the real estate agent's website (see the link above) is the converted garage that served as Tolkien's study. Over the arched doorway can be seen the fieldstone plaque identifying this as Tolkien's house -- not one of the official blue historical markers (one of which I think is on the Northmoor Road house) but an attractive carving of of Tolkien's long sinuous dragons, The Hill, and the words 'J. R. R. Tolkien lived here 1953-1968'.  There's also a floorplan, thoughI get the impression the house has been built onto and gentrified; certainly the garage-office seems to have now been fully integrated into the house as a whole.

The most surprising change is that the front yard has been paved over with bricks (or, in English parlance, the garden has been turned into a yard) and there are no trees, only two or three shrubs -- though the floorplans show both a conservatory and a garden at the back of the house. To get some idea what it looked like when the Tolkiens lived there, see the photos of Tolkien in his garden that appeared on the cover of the Zettersten and Dickerson-Evans books:



It'll be interesting to see if this gets bought by someone who turns it into A Tolkien House, in the way that The Kilns now provide housing for people dedicated to CSL's life and work, or if it remains a house like any other on its street aside from the plaque marking it as having once been the home of someone extraordinary.

--John R.

*there are stories of people coming up to the windows and taking pictures of him inside eating breakfast -- which is pretty much exactly what you don't want in a retirement home.

**Auden afterwards described it in public as 'hideous', which rather hurt Tolkien's feelings; Auden is said to have later apologized.

***the O'Shea's Cotswold House, which became the standard against which I've measured all other B&Bs henceforth


Trotter said...

The current owner's wife was not keen about the concrete slab on the wall.

"When retired IT consultant Mr Bougourd’s late wife first viewed the house, she was not keen on the concrete plaque erected by the previous owner.

He recalled: “She told me ‘It has this big slab on the wall and we have got to get rid of that’.

“'I don’t know who this Tolkien person is.'”

He added: “I persuaded her it should stay."

John D. Rateliff said...

Thanks for the anecdote and the link, Trotter.

Also thanks to friend Charles N., who points out that in the film TOLKIEN IN OXFORD Tolkien can be seen briefly in front of this house, going in out of the rain, at about the two-minute mark.

--John R.

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