Town’s station played big part in love story
THE phrase “Aiya vorondo alcaryatar. Elen sila lumenn’ omentielvo”, which as I’m sure you know, means “Hail trustworthy and glorious one. A star shines on the hour of our meeting” in Quenya.
This Elfin language was devised along with others, by J R R Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
In 1916 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) married his childhood sweetheart Edith Bratt who was born in Gloucester and lived in Cheltenham. They didn’t have an easy courtship. Both were orphans and found themselves living in the same boarding house in Handsworth, Birmingham when he was 16 and she was 19.
Tolkien was Roman Catholic, Edith wasn’t and his guardian, who was a priest, forbade Tolkien from associating with a Protestant.
Despite this barrier, the two young people managed to engineer time together, when they got up to high jinks of the kind described by Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter.
“Edith and Ronald took to frequenting Birmingham teashops, especially one which had a balcony overlooking the pavement. There they would sit and throw sugar lumps into the hats of passers-by.”
The road to true love didn’t run smooth for our star crossed lovers, but they embarked upon it – on bikes.
Tolkien’s spoil-sport guardian couldn’t complain about his charge frequenting with the girl who lived upstairs when the two were chaperoned by umpteen members of their cycling club. Consequently JRRT and Edith cycled their way to romance.
However, a further blow was dealt to
their relationship when Edith was banished to Cheltenham where she took up lodgings with a retired solicitor and his wife.
On his 21st birthday Tolkien was free of his pernickety priest and wrote a letter to Edith, declaring his love and asking her to marry him.
The reply must have come as a shock as Edith, inset, explained by return post that she was engaged to someone else.
She must, though, still have harboured affection for him as she agreed to meet Tolkien at the railway station in Cheltenham.
There were at least half a dozen stations in Cheltenham at that time, but as he was coming from Birmingham their assignation must have been either on the platform at Lansdown, or St James’s station.
While in Cheltenham JRR stayed at the Moorend Park Hotel, which stood on ground now occupied by the Pinetrees estate, off Moorend Road in Charlton Kings.
At that time a weekly newspaper called the Cheltenham Looker-on published a list of visitors to the town. Reproduced here is the entry published on January 11, 1913.
One of Cheltenham’s most remarkable buildings, the Moorend Park Hotel was built between 1835 and 1840 by a Birmingham businessman named Frind Cregoe Colmore to a design by John Buonarotti Papworth.
Papworth was the architect who was also responsible for the rotunda seen today atop The Ivy restaurant in Montpellier.
It looked like a grand, Bavarian hunting lodge and became a hotel in the 1920s. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1979.
But back to Edith and JRR. Happily, love conquered all. How could it do otherwise for two people who had once thrown sugar lumps at innocent passers by without provocation of any kind? They were married for 56 years.
In 1929 JRR Tolkien took part in an archaeological excavation, under the direction of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, of the Roman temple in the grounds of Lydney Park.
The area in which the dig took place is the site of an Iron Age settlement and riddled with tunnels, open cast iron mines and ancient curiosities.
Local folk legends associate the site with elves, hobgoblins, mythological figures, forgotten gods, heroic characters and a host of superstitions, which Tolkien must have learned about.
The Roman Temple was dedicated to the God Noden, a deity also known as Lord of the Mines – surely a title close enough to the name of Tolkien’s trilogy to raise an enquiring eyebrow?
The truth will probably never be known, but it could be that Tolkien’s time in Lydney sowed the seeds for his epic work.
And Mr and Mrs Tolkien probably always had a soft spot for their brief encounter on the platform of a Cheltenham railway station.
Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins play JRR and Edith Tolkien in the recently-released film about the couple
Tolkien stayed at the Moorend Park Hotel
The Roman temple at Lydney
Tolkien’s visit is recorded in the Cheltenham Looker-on in January 1913