Map­ping Tolkien’s ‘Mid­dle-earth’ (the West Mid­lands)

Anna White goes on the trail of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ author and finds one of the UK’s hottest prop­erty markets

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

JRR Tolkien con­sid­ered him­self a Mer­cian – a mem­ber of an An­gloSaxon king­dom in the mid­dle of Eng­land. The author was born in South Africa but at the age of three moved to what was then the ru­ral out­skirts of Birm­ing­ham and de­vel­oped an affin­ity with the wider West Mid­lands. “If your first Christ­mas tree is a wilt­ing eu­ca­lyp­tus and if you’re nor­mally trou­bled by heat and sun then, just at the age when imag­i­na­tion is open­ing out, to sud­denly find your­self in a quiet War­wick­shire vil­lage en­gen­ders a par­tic­u­lar love of cen­tral Mid­lands English coun­try­side, based on good water, stones and elm trees and small quiet rivers, and, of course, the rus­tic peo­ple there,” he once wrote. Writer John Garth, whose lat­est book is called Tolkien’s Tol Mir­ror, sums it up: “Com “Com­pared to the parched and al al­most tree­less area where he first fi lived, the West Mid­lands must have seemed like a height­ened h re­al­ity to that lit lit­tle boy with such a big imag­i­na­tion.” imagi Tolkien wand wan­dered the re­gion which st stretches from Here­ford­shire to Stafford­shire and across from Shrop­shi Shrop­shire to War­wick­shire, wicks tak­ing in W Worces­ter­shire and the metropoli­tan poli county of Birm­ing­ham. Birm H He first lived in Kings King Heath to the south of the city cen­tre. From there he played in the woody end of Mose­ley Bog and Sare­hole Mill, a 250-year-old wa­ter­mill; the area is framed by Per­rott’s Folly and Edg­bas­ton water tower, which sit 650yd apart. Tolkien went to King Ed­ward’s School in Edg­bas­ton, was posted to a train­ing camp in Stafford­shire’s Can­nock Chase, and made reg­u­lar trips to the Malvern Hills, Al­ces­ter, and the Clent and Lickey hills in Worces­ter­shire.

The new Tolkien biopic, star­ring Ni­cholas Hoult of About a Boy, is in post-pro­duc­tion and when it fi­nally hits cin­e­mas will take fans on a jour­ney, not through Mid­dle-earth, but to the West Mid­lands.

Mostly un­recog­nis­able to Tolkien, multi-mil­lion-pound ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion schemes are un­der way and the prop­erty mar­ket is boom­ing.

The av­er­age sell­ing price of a sec­ond-hand home in the re­gion has risen 22 per cent in the past five years, out­strip­ping the North West (19 per cent), data from Sav­ills show. The prop­erty group ex­pects val­ues to rise by 14.8 per cent by the end of 2022, dou­ble the rate of growth in Lon­don. Given Tolkien’s stance against the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion – the felling and in­cin­er­a­tion of trees and the mass pro­duc­tion of the orc in The Lord of the Rings were tell­tale signs – he prob­a­bly wouldn’t ap­prove of the im­mi­nent ar­rival of the high-speed rail ser­vice HS2 and the con­struc­tion frenzy that has gripped his city.

Birm­ing­ham is un­der­go­ing a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion – from the 42-storey res­i­den­tial tower on Broad Street, be­ing de­liv­ered by de­vel­oper Moda, to the new HSBC build­ing Arena Cen­tral. Em­ploy­ees will un­pack their boxes this year. A ruin bar is be­ing fit­ted out by East­side City Car Park, al­though less is more when it comes to the in­te­rior de­sign of this boozer, which is fol­low­ing the Hun­gar­ian trend of putting pubs in derelict build­ings. The HS2 ter­mi­nal at Cur­zon Street is un­der con­struc­tion and will be ready by 2026, while a 17-storey of­fice block is go­ing up on the much-im­proved Snowhill es­tate. The sought-af­ter ar­eas are still Edg­bas­ton, Sut­ton Cold­field,

‘It must have seemed like a height­ened re­al­ity to a boy with such an imag­i­na­tion’

Har­borne and Soli­hull. But Tolkien’s stamp­ing ground of Mose­ley is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. Filled with Vic­to­rian houses, it’s al­ways ap­pealed to fam­i­lies but an in­die spirit has now taken hold, ex­plains Knight Frank’s Jamie Carter. Hip­ster pubs have raised the area’s profile with first-time buy­ers; take the Prince of Wales, with its gar­den cock­tail bar, wine shed, cigar stall and street food ven­dor.

“Mose­ley and Kings Heath are con­sid­ered the up-and-com­ing ar­eas. Both have a vil­lage feel but a cos­mopoli­tan edge,” says Carter. “The Vic­to­rian hous­ing is not as ex­pen­sive as it is in Edg­bas­ton, and it is on the list for first­time buy­ers, young fam­i­lies and re­tirees who are down­siz­ing.” He claims prop­er­ties are sell­ing fast.

For the Tolkien fa­natic there’s a chance to live op­po­site one of his early homes in the UK. A four-bed­room de­tached house in Mose­ley is on the mar­ket with Oul­snam for £669,950. Millmead dates back to the 17th cen­tury and is a road away from Sare­hole Mill, which was sup­pos­edly known as the Great Mill in The Lord of the Rings.

But Garth, the Tolkien bi­og­ra­pher, warns against read­ing too much into such links. “There are topo­graph­i­cal myths sur­round­ing Tolkien’s work,” he says. “His work was lay­ered, and if he does make an ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence [for ex­am­ple Bag End, Bilbo’s hob­bit hole, was also the name of his aunt Jane’s farm in Dorm­ston] then I be­lieve it’s a quiet gag just to her.” How­ever, he does ac­cept the author’s love of the Malvern Hills is re­flected in it­er­a­tions of The Sil­mar­il­lion. “In early drafts, the river run­ning through the Shire is called the Malvern only to be changed at a later date to the Brandy­wine,” he ex­plains.

The Worces­ter­shire mar­ket town of Malvern lies at the foot of the hills and grew from an 11th-cen­tury Bene­dic­tine monastery. Home­buy­ers are drawn by the big pub­lic school Malvern Col­lege and the multi­na­tional de­fence com­pany QinetiQ based there. “Malvern has easy ac­cess to the mo­tor­way net5yr work and a di­rect rail link to Lon­don,” inc. says Knight Frank’s Charles Probert. 31% “Many of the large Vic­to­rian prop­er­ties 30% in Malvern have been con­verted to 25% apart­ments or are used as school 20% board­ing houses. When fam­ily homes 18% do come to the mar­ket, they are hastily 13% snapped up, of­ten un­der com­pe­ti­tion.” The av­er­age prop­erty price grew by 4.9 per cent over the past year and by a third since 2012, ac­cord­ing to Knight Frank data.

There’s a five-bed­room town­house on the mar­ket with Philip Laney & Jolly for £575,000, which is nes­tled into the hill­side and over­look­ing the Sev­ern Val­ley. Sit­ting high in the hills is a five-bed­room, 2,500 sq ft eco home, the views from which Tolkien and his walk­ing com­pan­ion CS Lewis would surely ap­pre­ci­ate, over­look­ing both Here­ford­shire and Worces­ter­shire. It is £1.2mil­lion with Knight Frank.

Worces­ter’s his­tory reads like a chap­ter from The Lord of the Rings, lit­tered with con­flict, re­bel­lion and fallen kings: it was the scene of the last bat­tle of the English Civil War in 1651 and a Roy­al­ist strong­hold. In fact, it was from a house in the Sham­bles that Charles II was smug­gled over to France.

Dat­ing back to 680, the mag­nif­i­cent cathe­dral is the eter­nal home of King John, who was buried there in 1216. It was also one of the slow­est ur­ban prop­erty markets to re­cover fol­low­ing the global financial cri­sis of 2008, which has left it look­ing af­ford­able com­pared with the out­ly­ing towns of Broms­grove and Malvern. It’s a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to cen­tral Birm­ing­ham (which is a 45-minute train jour­ney from Worces­ter Fore­gate Street) and has had a multi-mil­lion-pound rede­vel­op­ment around the cathe­dral. Fur­ther de­vel­op­ment is planned, with the open­ing of Worces­ter Park­way sta­tion in 2018 set to im­prove links to Lon­don.

There’s a seven-bed­room Grade II listed Re­gency town­house for sale in the area sur­round­ing Worces­ter Univer­sity. It’s within walk­ing dis­tance of the in­de­pen­dent school King’s, and there’s plan­ning per­mis­sion al­ready granted to ex­tend the 3,617 sq ft home. It’s priced at £700,000 by An­drew Grant es­tate agents.

To the east of Worces­ter, War­wick­shire can also lay claim to Tolkien’s af­fec­tion: he was mar­ried to Edith in War­wick’s St Mary Im­mac­u­late Ro­man Catholic Church in 1916.

The most ac­tive prop­erty mar­ket in the county is Leam­ing­ton Spa, just over 30 min­utes’ train ride from Birm­ing­ham and 85 min­utes to Lon­don. It’s viewed as a savvier buy than Ox­ford or Bris­tol, at around £300 to £400 per sq ft. The Ge­or­gian and Re­gency ter­races at­tract young pro­fes­sion­als who are work­ing at the big em­ploy­ers Jaguar Land Rover, As­ton Martin, the Na­tional Grid and War­wick Univer­sity.

The big­gest clue Tolkien af­fords us mor­tals as to his geo­graphic in­spi­ra­tion for the Shire came from his own pen: “It is in fact more or less a War­wick­shire vil­lage of the pe­riod of the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee.” Pro­tected by its anonymity, hope­fully said vil­lage still bears some re­sem­blance to how he left it.

Worces­ter’s bloody his­tory reads like a chap­ter from The Lord of the Rings

IN DE­MAND A house in Leam­ing­ton Spa, for sale with Fine & Coun­try, above; Tolkien, be­low

MID­LANDS EN­GINE A Re­gency town­house in Worces­ter with An­drew Grant, above; a house in Broms­grove, right, for sale with Fine & Coun­try

OLD HAUNT The house op­po­site where Tolkien lived in Mose­ley, for sale with Oul­snam

A RICH HIS­TORY Wis­te­ria on the house op­po­site where Tolkien lived

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