A six-week period occurred when no letters passed between Ronald and Edith, probably because they were living together. This immediately followed the period of May to June 1917, which I contend was when Edith danced for Tolkien among the Cow Parsley (“the hemlocks”). This event almost certainly occurred between 10th May and very early June 1917, which was the inspiration for the dance of Lúthien Tinúviel. Tolkien mentions Roos three times in his published Letters. On the first occasion in 1955 he informed his American publishers: “The kernel of the mythology, the matter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren, arose from a small woodland glade filled with ‘hemlocks’ or other white umbellifers) near [my emphasis] Roos on the Holderness peninsula – to which I occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber Garrison in 1918 [sic].” His 1964 letter to Christopher Bretherton gives a largely similar account, as does his 1972 epistle to his youngest son, Christopher, after Edith’s death. However, there is one subtle difference, because in the final “Roos” letter Tolkien tells Christopher that the woodland glade was “at Roos.” There are a few possible candidates in the Roos area, but it has been generally accepted after John Garth’s identification in Tolkien and the Great War (2003) that the wooded area of Dents Garth behind All Saints’ Church in Roos at the south-eastern edge of the village is the most likely location for Edith’s dance.
Unless further documentary evidence becomes available the absolute certainty of the identification of the woodland will have to remain conjectural, but there are a few striking local landmarks, which would seem to support the identification. Dents Garth and Roos churchyard contain Beech, Horse Chestnut, and all the other tree and plant species mentioned in the various versions of the encounter between Beren and Lúthien. The only exception is a mature Elm tree – Beren leans on a young Elm in the earliest surviving version of the text, but mature examples of this species were probably lost in the devastating effects of the Dutch Elm disease of the 1970s and 80s. A sapling, probably growing from a sucker of one of the original trees may be found just south of the church car park to this day. The continued presence of an active noisy Rookery in Dents Garth would seem to indicate the previous presence of Elms in the woodland, as traditionally this is the tree species in which Rooks prefer to nest. This evidence is bolstered by the nearest property to the church, which in Tolkien’s time, as now, is simply called “The Elms” with “Elm Farm” the adjacent property to the north.
About five metres away from the Cow Parsley in the churchyard is a railed off area, which contains a damp subterranean staircase surmounted by an escutcheon depicting the palm of a hand above three circular features containing wavy lines, which represents water. This is the heraldic device of the Sykes family, (the hand denotes a baronet), who commissioned the exterior stairs down to the crypt probably during the restoration of the church in 1842. Of course, in Tolkien’s mythology Beren had to make the much more perilous journey down to Melko’s underground fortress of Angamandi (later Angband), and his heraldic device, drawn by Tolkien much later, features a hand, because his hand clasping a Silmaril was lost to the ravening wolf Carcharoth.
A further plausible link to Tolkien’s fiction is a three-trunked tree, which is the nearest tree to the south-west corner of the church, between the church and the entrance in the southern exterior churchyard wall. In the earliest-surviving version of Tolkien’s story, Lúthien is imprisoned by her father Tinwelint (later Thingol) in Hírilorn, a mighty Beech tree: “so deeply cloven was her bole that it seemed as if three shafts sprang from the ground together and they were of like size, round and straight, and their grey rind was smooth as silk, unbroken by branch or twig for a very great height above men’s heads.” As John Garth remarked, when I mentioned the finding of this tree, the three-trunked tree “seems such a specific seemingly random detail” of the story, that the finding of such a tree actually in Roos near the genesis of the tale is suggestive. The tree in Roos churchyard, which would have been there in Tolkien’s time, has some similarities to his description, including the cloven bole, the three shafts of equal size, the grey bark, and branches above the height of men, although now there are also some new tiny lower twigs. The fairly smooth bark is now partly obscured by ivy stems, but crucially this tree is a Lime, or more poetically a Linden tree, not a Beech. The tree adjacent to this Lime tree is a Beech! Of course in the poem about Beren and Lúthien in The Fellowship of the Ring, the original version of which dates back to around 1919, Tinúviel’s feet are described as a “light as leaf on lindentree”. The leaves of both the Beech and the Lime would be at their freshest green when the Cow Parsley was in bloom.
On the southern side of the car park to the church is a meagre unimpressive waterway heading south out of the village. This is very hard to see in the summer months as it is concealed by the heavy undergrowth. I have visited this area many times in the summer, but only became aware of its existence during a winter excursion. In Tolkien’s forest of Neldoreth in which the tree Hírilorn grows is a river called Esgalduin. By no stretch of the imagination could the tiny Roos Beck be classified as a river, but the hidden aspect of the beck may have more significance. Apparently, Roos Beck is visible at the North End of Roos (but I have never been able to locate it), and it emerges again south of the church, but for much of its course it is hidden and was until recently neglected as it passed through the bottom of residents’ gardens as it heads towards the church. It was only after torrential downpours in late June 2007 that the hidden Roos Beck caused severe flooding, and was cleaned out, and the course repaired. In Tolkien’s tale there was no tiny hidden stream, but the far more majestic river Esgalduin, which flowed through Neldoreth. The ‘esgal’ element in Esgalduin, means ‘screen’ or ‘hiding’, and Esgalduin actually translates as “River under veil,” so as unlikely as it sounds Roos Beck may have been part of the “cauldron of soup” in the back of Tolkien’s mind when he created the far more magical River Esgalduin.
On 28 May 2016 I led a group of ten members of the UK Tolkien Society around almost all the known locations Tolkien stayed at, or would have known when he was in East Yorkshire. I have been to Roos many times over the past 5 years, but luckily our visit coincided with a day when All Saints’ Church, Roos was actually open to the public. It is not known if the staunch Roman Catholic Tolkien would have ventured inside the church, but the reluctant convert Edith may have been more likely to have entered the church. Here, she would have been confronted with three brightly painted figures on a chancel screen and a wooden Calvary, giving the interior a very High Anglican atmosphere. One of the attendees of our visit, Tony Curtis, is a calligraphic artist, and he was attracted by an item of high-quality calligraphy behind glass on one of the walls. It post-dates Tolkien’s time in the area, but it is of interesting local historical value. This was chiefly a list of all the incumbents of the Roos diocese, but it also included the information that the original spelling of the village name was Ros, and that the name is unusual in the area as being of Celtic origin and means either marsh or moorland. After the Norman Conquest the name of the village was utilised by major landowners, so in c.1158 a Robert de Ros took the title of Baron of Helmsley. The editors of Parma Eldalamberon 11 examined the meaning of ros, and their suggested derivations include the Welsh rhôs, which meant ‘moor, heath or plain’; or the Breton word ros, which meant ‘hillock’, and the Irish word ros, which meant ‘promontory’. This latter definition may have some significance because in notes about the conclusion of The Book of Lost Tales in the Faring Forth Tol Eressёa was to be “uprooted and dragged near to the Great Lands, nigh to the promontory of Rôs”, which was to be followed by the “Battle of Rôs” in which the Elves were to be defeated. Christopher Tolkien proposed that Rôs may be Brittany, but the editors of Parma Eldalamberon postulated that “the promontory of Rôs may have been suggested to Tolkien by Roos”. It could be argued that Roos, which is slightly higher than some of the immediately surrounding area, lies at the head of the promontory of Holderness, which dribbles away to the elongated sand spit of Spurn Point.
Tolkien clearly had a romantic experience in Roos, which remained with him all his life until the event was even obliquely memorialised on his own gravestone. In the more immediate aftermath of Edith’s dance he worked on his Goldogrin vocabularies and grammar and even invented a meaning for ‘ros’, with an exceedingly romantic flavour: “embrace”. However, this may have been an extremely temporary definition. It is known that in due course ‘ros’ evolved in the etymologies to be equivalent to “foam, spindthrift, [and] spray.”
Finally, when I guided the group along the path around the perimeter of the churchyard a very prominent gravestone on the southern edge was noted. It is the only gravestone dating before Tolkien’s time which may be easily read from the path. The sides take the form of ridged tree-trunks, and the apex is formed from the conjunction of two branches. The design is likely to have attracted Tolkien, who had a lifelong interest in trees. This is the memorial to a Victorian physician and surgeon, Edward THEW Turnbull [my emphasis]. Thew is a very unusual Christian name, but may have some personal relevance to the Turnbull family, and used in a similar manner as Reuel was in the Tolkien family? Although in the earliest versions of The Book of Lost Tales, the character who later evolved into Sauron was a cat named Tevildo; before Sauron was eventually settled on as a name for this malignant Maia, the names Túvo, then Tû were utilised. Shortly afterwards Tolkien decided on the longer-lasting Thû, which was used for a considerable period in the 1920s. Was this name originally suggested to Tolkien when he was still wishing to tie in his personal reminiscences of time spent in Roos with his emerging mythology? Once the memory of Roos became more distant was Thû dropped in favour of the far more well-known name Sauron? However, because it is possible to see Thû as natural linguistic development from Tûvo and Tû, this is probably the most likely item in Roos churchyard with possible Tolkien links to be a pure coincidence.
John Garth has kindly supplied another possible link to show Dents Garth may have been commemorated in Tolkien’s linguistic invention. Lúthien’s father’s realm was named Doriath and in the etymologies, published in The Lost Road, Doriath is also known as Garthurian meaning fenced realm. However, it should also be pointed out that Garth is not a particularly rare Northern word, and Tolkien would have come across it before. In The Lord of the Rings garth is used on a couple of occasions by Treebeard. Towards the end of the narrative Treebeard renames the area around Isengard as “The Treegarth of Orthanc,” and earlier when singing of the entwives, their part of the song mentions spring returning to “garth and field.” In Tolkien’s writing garth has positive connotations, as it seems Dents Garth did in Tolkien’s remembrance of his past life with Edith.
The three-trunked tree, the heraldic hand, the former proliferation of elm trees and a single Beech next to a “Linden tree”, the particular appearance of Roos Beck, and the use of the unusual name Thew on a gravestone, which are all within fifty metres of Dents Garth may seem insignificant or coincidental in themselves, but taken in conjunction with his positive use of the word garth, and surrounded by the cow parsley, or the “hemlocks” that Tolkien wrote about, Dents Garth does seem to be a pretty reliable likely venue for the location for Edith’s dance.
So far no convincing location has been put forward for the precise location where the Tolkiens lived during the 6-week gap between Edith living in Hornsea and Withernsea. The clues are very slim, but in a reworked version of an old poem now retitled The Horns of Ulmo Tolkien added that it was rewritten “in a lonely house near Roos.” Mathison believes this refers to Tolkien’s billet at Thirtle Bridge Camp, but I contend that Tolkien would never have described a location at which over a thousand men were stationed as “a lonely house near Roos.” On balance I believe he was based away from the camp and in a house not adjacent to other dwellings, but not too far from Roos. One possibility is a building on the outskirts of Halsham, which had a few isolated buildings at that time, as it does now. It is much smaller, and more strung-out than the comparably more tightly-packed Roos.
Hornsea is perhaps the most picturesque location at which Tolkien stayed in East Yorkshire. This is largely provided by the natural wonder which is the tree-lined Hornsea Mere – the largest natural freshwater lake in Yorkshire. Hornsea Mere belonged to the Strickland-Constable family whose seat of Wassand Hall lies on the western fringes of the Mere. Margaret Strickland-Constable, the wife of the incumbent at that time, was in charge of the hospital in which Tolkien would later be a patient. Her diaries offer glimpses of life at an Officers’ Hospital, but are also an invaluable record of various Zeppelin raids on the east coast during the war, and inexperienced English pilots ditching their planes in the mere. We will hear more of Mrs Strickland-Constable later. Incidentally the suffix ‘sea’ in East Yorkshire locations, such as Hornsea, Skipsea, Withernsea and Kilnsea does not refer to their proximity to the sea, but to their locations adjacent to freshwater lakes left behind after the last Ice Age. Over recent centuries most of these have either been swallowed up by the eroding coastline, or have silted up, and only the largest at Hornsea is still present today.
Although the musketry camp is assigned to Hornsea, it was actually a 52-acre site based at Rolston, a small hamlet a mile to the south. When Tolkien was transferred permanently from the Musketry Camp 13 miles south-east to Thirtle Bridge, Edith moved out of her lodgings in Hornsea. Phil Mathison has discovered that her final letter from there was dated the 1st of June 1917. For 6 weeks her residence is unknown, and as there is no extant correspondence, the suggestion is that for this brief period they did not need to correspond as they were either able to live together, or lived in very close proximity.
“Lordynges, there is in Yorkshire, as I gesse,