January 31, 2013
Tolkien’s tower purchased for a million pounds
by Nick Davies
The Guardian reported earlier this week that a tower in England that might have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien has been sold to a charity for £1m. The tower known as Perrott’s Folly is located in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham, where Tolkien lived as a child. While it doesn’t look like there’s concrete proof, it’s been widely speculated that Perrott’s is one of two in the area that inspired the titular structures in The Two Towers.
Guardian reporter Maev Kennedy says that Perrott’s Folly looks out on one side to the area where Tolkien lived, and on the other side faces the Birmingham Oratory, where he went to school — so the imposing building would have loomed large in his life. And, as Kennedy points out, the highly ornamented chimney of the nearby Edgbaston waterworks would have been “belching smoke from steam engines” when he was a child; the combination of the two striking towers must make it all too tantalizing for Lord of the Rings enthusiasts not to draw a connection with the ones in his books.
Perrott’s Folly has an interesting history of its own, not to mention a name that sounds like it could have come out of a Tolkien book. It was built by “local eccentric” John Perrott in 1758, ostensibly as a hunting lodge, but local rumor has it that he used it to spy on his wife’s rendezvous with her lover, and after she died, to look at her grave fifteen miles away. Each of the seven stories is occupied by just one room, and when the wind is strong, the tower sways slightly. But despite (or maybe because of) its eccentricities, the CEO of Trident Reach the People, a charity for the homeless, agreed to buy the derelict building. Ben Bradley works for the charity and has been put in charge of the necessary restoration that will allow the Folly to reopen to the public.
Once it’s up and running again, Perrott’s Folly certainly seems like it would bring in some tourists — fans of Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s films who want to stand on the roof and shout things to control the weather, and people whose budgets don’t allow them to travel to New Zealand to painstakingly follow the path taken by Frodo Baggins, for example. But, says Kennedy, “[Bradley is] determined that the tower will not just become another stop on a tourist heritage trail. He urged the charity to buy it because it was such a source of pride and wonder in a district with pockets of the worst deprivation not just in the city but in the country.” He wants it to become a gathering place for the community, where locals can congregate and enjoy a cup of tea or a low-cost movie night. “We don’t want the people here to think aliens have got out of a spacecraft and taken over a building which is, quite rightfully, theirs.” It’s an entirely valid point, but it might come as a disappointment to readers who want to see someone dressed as Saruman stomping around the premises.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.