The text explaining Tolkien's connections with Tunstall Hall will hopefully be added over the Easter break
[compiled from Phil Mathison, Tolkien in East Yorkshire & Hammond & Scull, Chronology, and augmented by my own research]
19 April Tolkien posted to Hornsea Musketry Camp. He joins 3rd Reserve Battalion.
1 May Tolkien attends a medical board examination. Tolkien at Hornsea Musketry camp.
5 May Edith lodging at 1 Bank Terrace on this date. Tolkien posted to Thirtle Bridge, but is actually based at Hornsea
12 May Tolkien declared fit for home service.
c.10-31 May Edith Tolkien dances and sings in a glade of Cow Parsley near Roos.
1 June Tolkien found fit for general service during a medical board examination. Edith still at 1 Bank Terrace,
2 June Edith leaves 1 Bank Terrace, Hornsea.
c.2 Jun-11 July Tolkien may have been able to lodge with Edith for 6 weeks near Roos??
12 July Edith lodging at 76 Queen Street, Withernsea by this date.
13 July Tolkien at ‘Waverley’, Cliff Road, Hornsea on route for Dunstable.
14-21 July Tolkien sits a signalling exam at Dunstable.
31 July Brooklands Officers’ Hospital opens with 3 patients.
1 Aug Tolkien attends annual Minden Day dinner at Thirtle Bridge or Tunstall Hall?
13 Aug Tolkien admitted to Brooklands Officers’ Hospital by this date.
21-4 Aug Edith leaves Withernsea for Cheltenham sometime about this date.
22 Aug Zeppelin raid on Hedon, but there are no casualties.
25 Sept Zeppelin raid on Hull.
16 Oct Tolkien leaves Brooklands Officers’ Hospital for Thirtle Bridge.
16 Nov Tolkien attends a medical board examination. His address is 9th Royal Defence corps, Withernsea.
He still requires some indoor hospital treatment. John Francis Reuel Tolkien born in Cheltenham.
19 Nov Tolkien’s address is 9th Royal Defence Corps, Kilnsea.
24 Nov Tolkien promoted to Lieutenant.
Dec?? Edith & baby move to Roos or Easington?? [now seems doubtful Edith ever returned to E.Yorks]
19 Jan Tolkien attends a medical board examination & is still based with 9th Royal Defence corps at Easington.
19 Feb Tolkien attends a medical board examination.
7 Mar Soldiers at Easington were entertained by the Grimbarians concert party at Y.M.C.A. hut.
10 Mar Zeppelin raid on Hull – a woman died of shock 2 days later.
19 Mar Tolkien attends a medical board examination. 9th Royal Defence corps is disbanded & Tolkien is to be based
at Thirtle Bridge.
10 April Medical board decides JRRT fit for general service.
10-28 Jun Tolkien at Penkridge Camp & Brocton Camp, Cannock Chase.
29 June Tolkien succumbs to gastritis at Brocton Camp.
12 July Tolkien back at Brooklands Officers’ Hospital by this date. He develops his Qenya & Goldogrin lexicons &
brushes up his Italian & Spanish.
26 July Tolkien ordered to embark for Boulogne, even though still in hospital.
4 Sept Tolkien attends a medical board examination & is considered 100% disabled after losing 2 stones in weight.
11 Oct Tolkien is released from Brooklands Officers’ Hospital and transferred to Blackpool Savoy Convalescent
[19 Nov Tolkien is in Oxford on this date.]
[Although Spurn Lighthouse would have been visible from Kilnsea there is no evidence Tolkien travelled down the peninsula to the point. What follows must remain highly speculative unless any further evidence comes to light].
From Kilnsea Tolkien would have been able to see Spurn Lighthouse three miles to the south. Spurn is such a unique geographical feature that if Tolkien was as close as Kilnsea, it would be very surprising if he had not visited the peninsula if he was given the opportunity. As a signalling officer his duties may have caused him to take the special military train from Kilnsea to Spurn, as it is pretty certain that in a time of war purely sight-seeing trips were prohibited. At the present time there is no documentary evidence that Tolkien actually travelled any further south than Kilnsea, but there are some similarities between Holderness’ darkest lighthouse and aspects of two dark towers in Tolkien’s fiction. The present Spurn lighthouse, which is the one Tolkien could see from Kilnsea was constructed in 1895. It is 128 feet high, so is just one foot higher than Withernsea’s, but its light had an identical range of 17 miles. However, as with Withernsea it is extremely likely that in wartime Spurn’s light would have been doused apart from specific occasions of guiding out particularly important vessels. Unlike Withernsea’s completely white appearance, it is believed that Spurn Lighthouse was always painted black around the base, and again directly under the light, with a contrasting, and therefore distinctive, broad white middle section. Some coloured postcards of Spurn exist which depict the lighthouse as red and white, but it is believed that the colourist wasn’t actually familiar with the location. In addition to the standard white light from the top of the building, Spurn, rather unusually, also had the ability of showing other lights. One of these lights, which was RED, shone at a height of 60 feet and with a range of 13 miles over some dangerous shoals to the south-east. This light would only have been visible to those out at sea, and possibly by people directly under the lighthouse on the few feet of shore to the south-east of the lighthouse. A contemporary newspaper report makes it clear that for his Watchman’s Badge a boy Scout among many other attributes “must know: the beacons, storm signals, coastguard stations, steam tugs, lifeboats, and rocket apparatus, the nearest telegraph offices, telephones, and addresses...and the mercantile code of signals.” So, although it is not stipulated in the Imperial Army’s Official Signalling book, Tolkien, as a signaller in the only too real arena of a country on a war footing may have witnessed, or at least been aware of, the various lights emanating from a dark tower on the edge of the German Ocean!
If one ascended the lighthouse in 1917 or 1918 one could see through one of the windows the foundations of the former Smeaton lighthouse, which was painted completely black with its surrounding surviving outbuildings bounded in by a circular wall. A photograph from later in the twentieth-century illustrates this scene perfectly, and the circular structure and outbuildings survived Smeaton’s black lighthouse by many years, although the ‘ghost’ of the dark tower of the lighthouse may be discerned in the photo. This is reminiscent of the situation of another dark tower of Tolkien’s imagination: “One who passed in...beheld a plain, a great circle, somewhat hollowed out like a vast shallow bowl: a mile it measured from rim to rim. Once it had been green and filled with avenues, and groves of fruitful trees...But no green thing grew there in the latter days of Saruman. The roads were paved with stone-flags, dark and hard...Many houses there were, chambers, halls, and passages, cut and tunnelled back into the walls upon their inner side, so that all the open circle was overlooked by countless windows and dark doors...Shafts were driven deep into the ground...The shafts...by many slopes and spiral stairs to caverns far under; there Saruman had treasuries, store-houses, armouries, smithies, and great furnaces.” Spurn Point has never been filled with green avenues of trees, but before the lighthouses were built the area would have held the prickly green shrubs of Sea Buckthorn, which in the Autumn are covered in their bright orange fruits. The circular wall is common to Spurn and Tolkien, and the circular area was paved with stone flags, and as you can see the windows and doors did open out towards the site of the tower, but the scale was enormously transfigured in Tolkien’s fiction. Until this spring I was unaware of yet another similarity: the subterranean passages. On a guided walk in April 2015 I learnt that a few metres to the north of the present lighthouse there are a series of underground tunnels and rooms.
One thing worth mentioning is that whenever a claim has been made for towers which may have influenced Tolkien they always stop at two: the childhood Edgbaston ones and the recent claim on Channel 5 about Colchester castle and the White Tower of the Tower of London are examples which immediately spring to mind. However, as Tolkien’s letters show even he was unsure just which two towers the title referred to and there are many more than two mentioned during the course of The Lord of the Rings: Orthanc, Barad-dûr, Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul, Cirith Ungol, the two towers of the Teeth at the Black Gate, and of course the white Elven Towers to the west of the Shire. Similarly, there are more than two towers Tolkien will have seen during the course of his period in the relatively open landscape of East Yorkshire. We know he had to pass the Black Mill at Waxholme, and he couldn’t ignore the white spire of Withernsea Lighthouse, and he must have seen Spurn Lighthouse and Rimswell’s Water Tower, and even the hospital at Godwin Battery had two observation towers on either side of it, but there is another so close to Roos, that it would be very surprising if he didn’t see it on his walks in the area: Admiral Storr’s 64 feet high brick Tower at Hilston. When he was hospitalised at Kilnsea he would also have been able to see the unusual tower across the Humber at Grimsby Docks. It should be remembered that Tolkien wrote about towers long before The Lord of the Rings, and as he worked on projects like The Book of Lost Tales in the immediate aftermath of his time in Holderness, it is just as likely that some of them may have been in the leaf-mould of his mind when he was conjuring up images of towers in his fiction.
Spurn Point is the southernmost extremity of East Yorkshire, and arriving there marks the end of this journey following Tolkien’s physical association with the area. Although Tolkien ‘endured’ two holidays from the University of Leeds in the 1920s at the more northerly resort of Filey and a visit to Whitby in 1945, they are the only known further visits to the Yorkshire coast. I hope I have shown that the 18 months Tolkien spent in Holderness in the latter stages of WW1 and the early period of his marriage continued to reverberate in his imaginative fiction in the ensuing decades. If not, I trust I have made this neglected corner of Yorkshire a little better known to Tolkien enthusiasts than it was before, and that its importance as an inspiration to Tolkien may be more significant than hitherto supposed.
My thanks to Marcel Aubron-Bülles, Jerry Aurand, Jan Crowther, Chris Delworth-Kerr, Barbara English, Linda Flowers, John Garth, Andy Gibson, Andy Mason, Irina Metzler, Dave Mitchell, Phil Mathison, Charles Noad, Harm Schelhaas and Tony Simpson, who I was able to consult on various aspects of my research while I was writing these articles.
On the 16th of October 1917 Tolkien was discharged from Brooklands for the first time and he returned to Thirtle Bridge. When trench fever or other illnesses returned over the winter of 1917/18 he was sent to Kilnsea for treatment at the hospital at the Godwin Battery. This House of Healing was very different from the other in the quiet leafy suburbs of Hull. At that time it was approximately 300 yards from the sea, and, it being winter, some of Tolkien’s visits must have coincided with pounding waves. Tolkien as far as his memory went back could remember a “terrible recurrent dream” of a “Great Wave, towering up, and coming ineluctably over the trees and green fields.” Although Tolkien’s nightmare predated his internment in Kilnsea hospital it was probably intensified by his proximity to what had until relatively recently been called the German Ocean. The Godwin Battery hospital as is evident from contemporary aerial photographs was built very close to North Marsh Lane, and at the southern end of the lane about 550 feet away from the hospital is the Blue Bell pub, which had a very clear proof embedded in its side of the destructive power of the sea. The plaque states that the pub was built in 1847, and at that time was 534 yards from the sea. When Tolkien was there in early 1918 he would have been able to calculate, should he have wanted to, that the inn was only approximately 250 yards from the sea.
As Tolkien made clear in his interview with Denys Gueroult he was always historically minded, and he would no doubt have heard of examples of the destruction of historical artefacts. The tower of Old Kilnsea church was finally swallowed up by the sea in 1831, and earlier an old ornate medieval cross was removed inland to safety in 1818. This cross is thought to have either commemorated the landing of the future Henry IV at Raverspurn in 1399, or the arrival of the “Return of the King”, Edward IV from exile in 1471. Photos survive of Easington being almost submerged by severe flooding in 1906, and it is very possible the flooding would have been brought to Tolkien’s attention.
The pounding of the waves wasn’t the only sound that Tolkien would have heard when he was hospitalised at Kilnsea. The Godwin Battery of which the hospital was a part comprised two 9.2 inch guns mounted 100 yards apart, and at either side of them were battery observation posts, which were still standing when an aerial photograph was taken in 1964. Meanwhile there were also barrack blocks, which may have housed up to 1,000 men. Since the 1964 photograph was taken the erosion seems to have accelerated. Now both gun emplacements lie on the beach, and the remains of the sea wall in Tolkien’s time may only be glimpsed at extremely low tides. The recurrent great wave dream continued to haunt Tolkien until he managed to exorcise it from his system by writing the ‘Downfall of Numenor’ in the 1930s.
In Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion when Tolkien mentions the Beacons of Gondor, which were lit to summon aid from Rohan, the authors quite rightly note that: “almost every English man, woman, and child would immediately think of the beacons lit in 1588 to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada.” The authors go on to mention earlier beacons in antiquity, but they fail to refer to Tolkien’s personal association with a beacon during World War One. The Kilnsea Beacon was originally erected in Napoleonic times and was constructed of wood, but when Tolkien was in Holderness it had been moved westwards from its earlier location on a hill, because otherwise it would have been lost to the sea many years earlier. By Tolkien’s time the wooden beacon had been replaced by a rather unusual metal structure. The Kilnsea beacon during World War One was situated north of the Godwin Battery nearer the battery than Easington. It was finally dismantled in the Second World War, as it was thought to be a too readily identified landmark for enemy planes!
When Tolkien was in the Humber Garrison he travelled to Dunstable to sit a signalling course exam in the second half of July 1917. Were Tolkien’s duties as a signalling officer connected in any way with one of the most striking surviving remnants of the Great War in the area? In 1916 an Acoustic Sound Mirror was erected at Kilnsea to listen out for approaching aircraft, which at that time really meant Zeppelins. The sound was focussed by the concave dish to the “collector’s head” mounted on the metal pipe still visible in modern photographs, on which was mounted a rudimentary microphone. Wires from this led down into a trench in which an operator with headphones would listen for approaching aircraft, and would provide an early warning – actually of only four minutes – some things don’t change! We will probably never know if Tolkien was one of these “listeners”, but even if not, when he was in the Kilnsea area he could not have failed to see this brutal, monumental structure. Incidentally, this 16-feet high piece of concrete remains the only listed building in Kilnsea!
After I gave an abbreviated version of this talk in Leeds on 4th July 2015, Irina Metzler, one of the delegates, explained that correspondences could be drawn between the Kilnsea Beacon and the Acoustic Mirror and Tolkien’s Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw. She pointed out that the Acoustic Mirror is very ear-like and was obviously designed to hear approaching aircraft, whilst the beacon was originally placed on a high point and was meant to be seen from afar. Of course in The Lord of the Rings Amon Hen is the Hill of Seeing and Amon Lhaw is the nearby Hill of Listening. As with so many things in Tolkien if indeed he did have these two nearby structures as an inspiration they were utterly transformed in his fiction.
When not hospitalised at the Godwin Battery Tolkien lived for at time, presumably around this period, according to a note on a manuscript of ‘Elf Alone’ (formerly entitled ‘The Lonely Harebell’) at a “farmhouse near Easington.” In addition one of the manuscripts of what became ‘The Song of Eriol’ includes a later note, which says “Easington, 1917-18.” One of the largest landowners in the area was a Robert Walker who owned a substantial property, called The Tower in Easington, which has changed very little since 1918. Walker, who left diaries, which have been examined, is known to have rented out some of his properties to army personnel, but it isn’t known for certain if one of these was Tolkien.
As a man steeped in history, Tolkien was almost certainly aware that at the time of the Domesday Book most of the land around Easington, indeed the whole of Holderness, which wasn’t owned by the church, belonged to the Earl of Holderness, a certain Drogo! It is rather surprising that he would choose Frodo’s father’s name from a hated Norman overlord. Tolkien is on record as blaming the Norman conquest for depriving England of many of its Anglo-Saxon (native) oral myths and legends before they could be written down. Whether Tolkien recalled this name when he was writing The Lord of the Rings and selecting a name for Frodo’s father is debatable. However, Holderness contains both North and South Frodingham, so there does appear to be at the least a tenuous link between these two members of the Baggins family in the landscape of the East Riding.
While Edith was still lodging beneath the shadow of the white tower of Withernsea Lighthouse, her husband had a recurrence of trench fever and was sent to the first of the two Houses of Healing he would become acquainted with in East Yorkshire: Brooklands Officers’ Hospital on Cottingham Road in Hull. This ten-week stay was the first of two long stints lasting in total for around 22 weeks at this convalescent home, and his time spent there was extremely productive. In the first instance he was able to spend long periods working on the building-blocks of his emerging language, known at the time as Goldogrin. There have been many writers who have attempted to follow Tolkien in writing fantasy narratives, but none of them have matched his care in creating grammars and languages. For Tolkien language was the key-spring of the imaginative process, the language, as he often attested – words or names came first – and stories followed afterwards. In addition to the time spent on the foundation of his lexicons, vocabularies, and grammars Tolkien also wrote down for the first time the earliest versions of two stories which he continued to write, rework, and re-imagine for almost the whole of his writing life: ‘The Tale of Tinúviel’ and ‘The Tale of Turambar’. The central importance of Lúthien Tinúviel is exemplified by his placing of the fictional name Lúthien under his wife’s name on their gravestone more than half-a-century later. Meanwhile Christopher Tolkien carefully adapted and edited the various strands of the Turambar narratives written mainly in the 1950s in an attempt to create a cohesive whole for what in effect became Tolkien’s final published posthumous ‘novel’, The Children of Hurin in 2009.
Brooklands was operated by Margaret Strickland-Constable (née Pakenham), who was actually the commandant, not the matron as stated by some earlier researchers. The matron was actually a Mrs B. Hyde, of whom nothing more is known at present. Margaret Strickland-Constable was soon to be a war widow, as her husband killed himself in a London hotel on his return from the front in December 1917. Brooklands was only officially opened as a hospital for officers as late as 31st July 1917 by Major General Sir Stanley von Donop. On completion accommodation was provided for only 17 patients, and on the opening day three were installed, to be joined by Tolkien only a fortnight later. So, if his trench fever had returned 3 weeks earlier than it had, he may well have been shipped to a hospital much further afield. Brooklands enjoyed a good reputation amongst local officers, as an overheard comment by Margaret’s brother, which Strickland-Constable proudly included in her diary, implies: “What you want to do is arrange to have a good crash, so as to get sent to Brooklands.” Likewise, Tolkien found the surroundings congenial, and surviving ordnance survey maps from 1910 show that the substantial grounds contained several mature trees. Cottingham Road itself was at that time a fairly quiet leafy-lined thoroughfare, and on the other side of the road was the recently-founded municipal college, later the university campus, but in 1917 that area consisted mainly of large open fields.
Are there any similarities at all between the fictional Houses of Healing and Brooklands, which Tolkien found himself enduring for 22 weeks in total in 1917 and 1918? Well, Kingston-upon-Hull and Minas Tirith-upon-Anduin are both described as cities, but the associated landscapes could hardly be more different. In 1917, as now, Hull was a city of the plain barely rising above sea level, whilst Minas Tirith was carved into a spur of Mount Mindolluin and enjoyed the health benefits of mountainous airs. Minas Tirith was constructed from stone, indeed it was known as the Stone-city. In contrast, there is very little local stone around Hull, and many of the surviving medieval buildings including Holy Trinity Church are largely constructed of brick.
There are two short descriptive passages of the environs of the Houses of Healing in The Lord of the Rings. In the first Gandalf escorts the bier of Faramir to them for treatment, where we are informed:
about them was a garden and greensward with trees, the only such place in the City. There dwelt the few women that had been permitted to remain in Minas Tirith,
since they were skilled in healing or in the service of the healers.
In Brooklands hopefully there were also nursing staff who were skilled in the service of the healers! Yes, Brooklands also had a greensward, or a lawn, as we would call it, and trees, and unlike the nearby “Cedars”, the ones in Brooklands were largely of deciduous trees. In the second extract Merry, Pippin, Legolas and Gimli are discussing their adventures after the Battle of the Pelennor:
For a while they walked and talked, rejoicing for a brief space in peace and rest under the morning high up in the windy circles of the City. Then when Merry became weary,
they went and sat upon the wall with the greensward of the Houses of Healing behind them; and away southward before them was the Anduin glittering in the sun,
as it flowed away, out of the sight even of Legolas, into the wide flats and green haze of Lebennin and South Ithilien.
Hull is renowned by its students as a windy city, but not because of its altitude. In winter when the wind is from the east it blows straight from the cold continent and seems to penetrate every corner. In relation to Brooklands the Humber does flow to the southward, and it does widen as it reaches the wide flats of Sunk Island and South Holderness, but because Hull is so flat the Humber cannot be glimpsed from Brooklands, and its alluvial nature means it does not often glitter unless the light is just right in relation to the viewer! The Anduin flows west to the sea, but the Humber flows eastwards.
As mentioned earlier Strickland-Constable’s diaries for the time survive, and although she does not mention Tolkien by name we do know that he was in Brooklands for the second long period when the Zeppelin raid of 6th August 1918 took place in Hull. She mentions two majors with neurasthenia who hid under their beds when the bombardment took place, but the remainder, including Tolkien were said to be “quite calm.” Although Tolkien shared some of his time at Brooklands with an officer friend, and was able to produce some good work on his emerging mythology, it seems the diet he ‘enjoyed’ there could have been a lot more nutritious. On 11th of October 1918, precisely the same day Tolkien left Brooklands for the final time Colonel Easton wrote to the local newspaper asking for presents of game (presumably birds like Pheasant, and possibly venison) to be donated to the institution, which he pointed out was the only officers’ hospital in Hull and the surrounding district. A medical report notes Tolkien lost 2 stone in weight after his attack of gastritis and during his second stay at Brooklands, so some of this may have been due to insufficient nutritious food.
At the end of the mystery six week-period mentioned earlier Edith moved into lodgings in Withernsea. We know she was installed there by 12th July. Phil Mathison has shown that Edith’s lodgings in Withernsea were at 76 Queen Street on the corner of Queen Street and Hull Road, which is now the Lifeboat café. The back of this property may still be seen from the top of Withernsea lighthouse. John Garth has shown that Withernsea had a temporary significance in Tolkien’s developing mythology. In a Gnomish lexicon he was compiling he wrote under the title and the name of Eriol, the mariner, the words “Tol Withernon (and many places besides), 1917.” Eriol is significant because in some respects he can be seen as a self-portrait, and in early versions of the legendarium his arrival in Eressëa provides the framing-story of The Book of Last Tales. Unfortunately, for East Yorkshire Tol Withernon (almost certainly inspired by Withernsea) was never mentioned again.
Edith’s lodgings at 76 Queen Street are only about 200 yards away from Withernsea’s only monolithic structure, the lighthouse completed in 1894. The lighthouse is 127 feet high (39m) and is at least three times the height of any of the surrounding buildings. The lighthouse is a striking structure in what is an otherwise unremarkable town made even more so by being painted brilliant white. The lighthouse is unusual in being built well inland from the sea, and Edith’s lodgings were slightly nearer to the lighthouse than the sea. Today the white tower is surrounded by domestic dwellings, but in 1917 the adjacent area was much less cluttered, as an early postcard shows. Since completion it has always dominated the surrounding town and countryside.
When the light was working the beam could be seen for a radius of 17 miles, but even unlit as it is today, the lighthouse as a structure may still be seen from the southern edge of Roos. The road leaving Roos undulates slightly, so in the hollows the lighthouse is lost to sight, but it comes back into view again as soon as one gains height. The lighthouse would have been visible to Tolkien from the camp as long as the sightlines were not blocked by the temporary camp buildings.
Shortly after the outbreak of war the Hull Daily Mail reported that Withernsea lighthouse had been in darkness for a fortnight, so when Tolkien was in Holderness three years later the light would still have been doused for most of the time. There were exceptions though, and the light was permitted to glow again during World War Two if a special convoy needed escorting through the hazardous shallows off the Yorkshire coast. The evidence is lacking for World War One, but the Withernsea Museum assumes that the situation would have been almost identical during the earlier conflict.
Although Tolkien explicitly states in his interview with Denys Gueroult that he did not think in symbols, when he caught sight of the brilliant white lighthouse from anywhere in Holderness, surely he would be reminded of Edith, especially while she was lodged virtually at the lighthouse’s foot? Indeed, it seems (highly) probable that even after Edith left for Cheltenham that this striking white structure would still remind Tolkien of his wife’s former sojourn in the town.
There is only one direct route Tolkien could have used from Thirtle Bridge to Withernsea when he wished to visit his wife or when he needed to catch a train to Hull for monthly medical examinations or visits to hospital, and that is the twisting, undulating road now known as the B1242. Initially, only the summit of the white tower of Withernsea Lighthouse can be glimpsed, but as one nears Withernsea it becomes a dominant looming presence. For over a mile after leaving the camp there would hardly have been a single man-made structure visible between Thirtle Bridge and Withernsea in what was, and still is, a completely rural landscape. However, 1¼ miles south-east of Thirtle Bridge on the edge of a small settlement called Waxholme is a hill, on the summit of which is a ruined mill, variously called Withernsea Mill, Waxholme Mill, Owthorne Mill, and more often simply the Black Mill.
The mill last ground corn in 1892, and its sails were removed in 1904. In 1917 the black-painted windmill was still at its full height of approximately 40 feet, and was being used as a watch-tower by the army. It can safely be assumed that on the summit some guns were mounted as a defence against low-flying Zeppelins. Only a few years ago the family who owned the mill discovered a box of World War One ammunition in its foundations from its time on the frontline. As the road from Thirtle Bridge approaches the mill it dips into a deep depression, so the final ascent to the mill becomes quite steep, and the black mill on the hill would have loomed larger than if it had been approached on the level. In 2015 the ruined mill is just a presence on a hazardous bend, but in 1917 and 1918 as a contemporary newspaper report makes clear, the whole coastal road running from Easington to Skipsea was under military control, so there would have been a series of road blocks at significant junctions, and one of the most prominent was at this point. Local women complained about the barrier in Waxholme Road because the warehouse in which they had to sign before continuing on their way was over 2 feet above the ground, and many of them had to be helped over it. One Waxholme resident stated she would remain at home for ever rather than be subjected to manhandling over the stride up to the warehouse!
From the Black Mill it is possible to see both the white spike of Withernsea lighthouse over a mile away in a south-easterly direction, but also a quite different white tower about 1½ miles away to the south-west. The latter was virtually brand new when Tolkien was in the area – the gleaming white water tower of Rimswell, completed in 1916. As far as I am aware this bears no similarity to any tower in Tolkien’s fiction!
I am not suggesting that any towers in East Yorkshire directly inspired those in The Lord of the Rings, but when we are considering what towers may have been in the leaf-mould of his memory, then some of these should be considered as possible candidates. Apologies to any Midlanders who are reading this, but these two specifically-coloured towers of Withernsea Lighthouse and the Black Mill in a relatively uncluttered wartime landscape seem to me to be more credible than two structures from an urban cluttered landscape in Tolkien’s peaceful childhood? Additionally, Tolkien encountered these two towers just as his fictional landscape was starting to coalesce in his imagination.
I admit that there aren’t too many similarities between Withernsea lighthouse and Pippin’s initial impression of the Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith which he saw “shimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze.” However, the later description when Denethor retreats to his chamber at the summit of the tower to consult the palantír is faintly reminiscent of the function of a partially-used lighthouse: “many who looked up thither at that time saw a pale light that gleamed and flickered from the narrow windows for a while, and then flashed and went out.” Withernsea Lighthouse has the town of Withernsea lying around it, but it is not physically in the centre of the town as the tower of Ecthelion is in the centre of Minas Tirith. In some of the early pictorial representations of the towers, Tolkien’s sketches can look remarkably like lighthouses. One example is the rejected cover illustration for The Two Towers.
As this depicts Minas Morgul (formerly called Minas Ithil), which was originally the sister city of Minas Tirith, and which was constructed by the same regime, it may well have had some design similarities to the white tower of Minas Tirith. So, does Withernsea lighthouse have a sister lighthouse which Tolkien also saw? The nearest candidate is Spurn lighthouse, which is visible from Kilnsea, which we know he visited when undergoing hospital treatment. However, the possible ramifications of Spurn lighthouse will be featured at the very end of this piece!
After the idyllic period in Roos it is believed Tolkien returned to Thirtle Bridge Camp, which is approximately 1¼ miles south-east of Roos. On some detailed old maps Thirtle Bridge is marked, but no one lived there before World War One, it was simply a bridge over the Tunstall drain on the road to Withernsea. The nearest place of habitation before the war was an isolated farmhouse at Renish. However, for the duration of hostilities a temporary camp was installed on the higher ground above Thirtle Bridge catering for 1,500 men. A rough idea of what was present at Thirtle Bridge during Tolkien’s time may be gleaned from a local paper which advertised the auctioning off of “the whole of the existing hutments” of both Thirtle Bridge and the smaller Dimlington site, which consisted of: “about 40 sectional wooden huts of various sizes, 50 armstrong sectional canvas huts, bath houses, cook houses, several brick buildings, cooking ranges, boilers, a No. 5.0 Bno independent boiler and connections, and 1.25 inch iron piping.” Very little survives of the camp. However, the southernmost section of the present Mona House is believed to incorporate the Officer’s mess and the footprint of the former cookhouse survives as a corrugated barn. Despite the meagre evidence Dave Mitchell, a model maker, has examined the ground and reconstructed as far as is possible what the camp may have looked like. This model can be found in the nearby Withernsea Lighthouse Museum.
Of course Thirtle Bridge was an army camp, and Tolkien was there at a time of war, but when not actually engaged in repelling Zeppelin attacks or involved in physical activity time hung heavy on the hands of the “inmates,” so Tolkien almost certainly had time to mull over his emerging mythology. The Tolkien Estate informed David Robbie, the Staffordshire historian, that a photograph of Tolkien in an army camp published in The Tolkien Family Album (p.38) has Tolkien’s writing on the back which says: “Self in Hux’s and my cubicle, Withernsea (Thirtle Bridge) 1917”, so this photo actually depicts Tolkien among the inside of a Thirtle Bridge hut! Hux must refer to Tolkien’s long-time comrade and friend Leslie Risdon Huxtable, with whom he had shared quarters on Cannock Chase. Huxtable was another signalling officer, and was believed to be Tolkien’s deputy at one time, ready to take over if anything happened to Tolkien. Garth mentions him as being based at Tunstall Hall after receiving an injury in France, and being at the Minden Dinner with Tolkien on 1st August 1917. Another photograph from the same source revealed its secrets only in November 2015. This photograph on page 41 depicts a very thin uniformed Tolkien on a beach with Edith. When Phil Mathison wrote his book he assumed that this was taken on Hornsea beach. However, on reflection he considered that Withernsea may have been the most likely location, so he wrote to the Tolkien Estate in August 2015. They replied that on the back of the photograph Tolkien had added the following words: “Withernsea/July (?)/1917./ taken by L.R. Huxtable”.
[At the present time it has not been proved that Tolkien visited Halsham. However, its proximity to Roos and its known R.C. connections make this highly probable. What follows must necessarily be more speculative than the other locations mentioned on this site]
Even if Tolkien wasn’t actually living in Halsham, it is likely he would have been drawn to the village in his free time, as it is a fairly short walk of about two miles from Roos across the fields. We must never underestimate the importance of Tolkien’s Roman Catholic faith. According to the Victoria County History, there “is little evidence for Roman Catholicism” in Roos, but Halsham is quite a different matter. In medieval times Halsham was the seat of the Constable family, and after the Reformation the family remained loyal to their Roman Catholic faith, and they kept links to the parish even when they moved to their impressive new Elizabethan Hall on the Burton Constable estate. Halsham had an excommunicated recusant in 1595/6, and there were between 8 to 16 Roman Catholic recusants in the 1660s and 1670s. As late as the 18th-century eight Roman Catholics were still living in the village. For a devout Roman Catholic, such as Tolkien, he would have no doubt been intrigued by the only location in the immediate area which maintained links to his faith down the previous four centuries. There is still visible evidence of the faith in the village. The most striking reminder is the mausoleum of the Constable family. This was constructed between 1792 & 1802, and it had been restored as recently as c.1900. I was reminded of the domed buildings in Rath Dínen, the Tombs of the Dead Kings, in Minas Tirith, but the Tolkien scholar and bibliographer Charles Noad has remarked that it is very similar to Sauron’s temple in Númenor, as it is described in the Notion Club Papers. When Lowdham in The Notion Club Papers sees the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford he is reminded of Sauron’s temple, which apart from the blackened colouration perhaps fits the description of Halsham Mausoleum better than the Radcliffe Camera, although in Tolkien’s fiction the dimensions have become truly monumental: “it was in the form of a circle at the base, and the walls were fifty feet in thickness, and the width of their base was five hundred feet across the centre, and they rose from the ground five hundred feet, and they were crowned with a mighty dome; and it was wrought all of silver, but the silver was turned black.” Tolkien would have known the Radcliffe Camera from his time studying in Oxford, and at that time it was black from industrial soot, so if he saw the Halsham Mausoleum he would have been reminded of the building in Oxford. Of course the dimensions are utterly transformed in Tolkien’s fiction, but in an earlier Old English version of the text there is an aspect which does seem pertinent. This states: “it was built in the midst of the town...on the high hill which before was undefiled but now became a heathen fane.” As mentioned earlier Halsham is a small settlement not a town, but the mausoleum was built on the highest point of land in Halsham. When it was being constructed evidence was discovered of a possible prehistoric site. Would Tolkien have approved of ancient remains being disturbed to construct a Roman Catholic monument to the dead, to such an extent that he would consider it a heathen fane? A clue as to Tolkien’s possible stance may be gathered from a letter in which he discusses the Númenóreans of Gondor’s “great interest in ancestry and in tombs”, which he declares is “proud, peculiar, and archaic.” The implication is that he disapproved of lavish funerary monuments, and he went on to have a simple grave himself.
The original order for Tolkien’s posting to Holderness was made on 27th November 1916 from the headquarters of the Lancashire Fusiliers, which at that time was actually in Halsham. However, by the time Tolkien had arrived only a few months later the HQ had been moved to Tunstall, which was more convenient for Thirtle Bridge Camp. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible that the military maintained some presence in the village. The most likely building in Halsham for the HQ is the largest building, now known as Halsham House (1584), but previously it was a former almshouse and school. When visiting the mausoleum I walked past Halsham House, and noticed a strange alcove built into the side of a wall, possibly at the time of original construction, which contained a small statue. On closer examination this proved to be a figure of the Virgin Mary. The Catholic credentials of Halsham are plain to see after a little investigation, but whether this or a similar statue was present when Tolkien was in the area is probably a question which may never be answered. Last year the Lake Evendim smial went to Burton Constable, which at that time included an exhibition on World War One exhibition. Pat Reynolds (& Catherine Thorn) remembered that during the war the Constable family encouraged Roman Catholic soldiers to join them at mass, so this seems a fruitful avenue of research to discover if it is possible to learn where Tolkien worshipped in the East Riding.