A new documentary DVD about Tolkien’s life came out in 2014, called “Tolkien: The Words and Worlds”, directed by Simon Backès.
I was asked via the Tolkien Society if I could supply some still photographs for the program/DVD from my book “The Roots of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth”, which I did and this is the tale of how one of the photographs used was found. The picture was of a coal railway wagon that had writing on its side in the Welsh language; this was because Tolkien discovered the Welsh language on the sides of railway wagons while living in Westfield Road, King’s Heath, Birmingham, England in around 1901. Coal wagons were coming to King’s Heath railway station a short distance from Tolkien’s home, which backed onto the railway line from the South Wales coalfields. They would have been parked in the small marshalling yard at the station after unloading the coal before returned to their colliery.
Well the railway station, marshalling yard and most of the coal wagons are long gone but I found one purely by chance. Back in 2001 I was attending the School of Education at The University of Birmingham for a Certificate of Higher Education in British Vernacular Architecture. Each August we spent a week on field trips visiting sites that related to the course and one of the trips took us to St Fagan National History Museum in South Wales. The Museum is outside Cardiff and well worth a visit as it has a large range of buildings that relate to the people of Wales and not the Lords and Ladies of the land. One of the exhibits on the site was a steam locomotive (tank engine) with three or maybe four coal wagons behind it and luckily the tank engine was the big draw for the visitors with little or no interest in the wagons. So there was what I wanted a photograph of, a wagon with writing on the side in Welsh, mind you to get the pictures I had to stand in six inches of water but no problem it was a warm summer’s day and my happy feet dried out quite quickly.
Mind you on another field trip the following year to Clissett Wood in Herefordshire, I saw beside the road on the Herefordshire and Worcestershire border not far from the Malvern Hills a public house called The Prancing Pony. But sadly found on a visit to the pub that the landlord had changed the name to The Prancing Pony after seeing the first Lord of the Rings film.
The DVD has been shown on French TV and is now available on imported DVD, in French and English. If you get the chance it is worth a watch.
Bob Blackham was born in Birmingham and first read The Lord of the Rings in the 1970s. He lives in King’s Heath, the first place Tolkien lived in Birmingham. In the late 1990s he started doing research into Tolkien’s Birmingham connections, taking people on tours, giving talks and writing books. Books published by The History Press to date are Roots of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth 2006; King’s Heath High Street, A Nostalgic Journey 2007; Tolkien’s Oxford 2008; Oxford, A View From The Past 2009; The Pitkin Guide to Tolkien 2011; Tolkien and the Peril of War 2011 and The J. R. R. Tolkien Miscellany 2012.