Cave opening in the side of a mountain, with a path leading to it. Cheddar Gorge, in the Mendip Hills, Somerset UK.
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6 Historic Places That Inspired Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Catch a glimpse of Middle-Earth at these listed historical sites in England.

In both ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’, J.R.R. Tolkien crafted a magical realm, captivating the hearts and minds of countless individuals with the dream of exploring the enchanting land.

From dramatic caves, looming towers, and ancient monuments, here are the historical sites in England where you can experience a glimpse of Middle-Earth.

1. Hobbiton and Sarehole Mill

Hobbiton, the cherished home of Hobbits such as Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, as well as Samwise Gamgee, stands as the most idyllic location in Middle-Earth. 

During his youth, Tolkien devoted a significant portion of his time to Sarehole Mill, on the outskirts of Birmingham.

A photograph of Sarehole Mill as it appears in the distance surrounded by trees and greenery.
The Grade II listed Sarehole Mill, Birmingham. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Dominic Martin. View the List entry.

In a 1966 interview, Tolkien said:

I was brought up in considerable poverty but I was happy running about in that country. I took the idea of the hobbits from the village people and children.

J.R.R Tolkien, as quoted in an interview in 1966

He also described Sarehole as ‘a kind of lost paradise’, largely untouched by industrialisation.

The young Tolkien wasn’t keen on the miller’s son at Sarehole. ‘J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography’ states: “it was the son who frightened the boys with his white dusty clothes and sharp-eyed face. Ronald named him ‘the White Ogre’ “. This may be reflected in The Lord of the Rings’ unlikeable character of Ted Sandyman, the Miller’s son at Hobbiton.

Notably, Sarehole Mill boasts a chimney, an uncommon feature for a water mill. When Tolkien decorated his original works with illustrations, he depicted the mill in Hobbiton with a small tower reminiscent of Sarehole Mill.

2. Helm’s Deep and Cheddar Gorge

In Middle-Earth, Helm’s Deep is a fortified gorge in the White Mountains located below the Thrihyrne. It was the location of the Hornburg and the Glittering Caves, made famous by the Battle of the Hornburg, a major battle of the War of the Ring.

A photograph of the entrance to a cave at Cheddar Gorge.
Scheduled Monument Saye’s Hole, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Brook Bishop. View the List entry.

In a correspondence addressed to S.J. Rourke in 1971, Tolkien acknowledged that the magnificent caverns of Cheddar Gorge influenced the caves of Helm’s Deep.

Cheddar Gorge, even to the present day, stands as an iconic representation of the natural beauty found in Somerset. Spanning across the Mendip Hills, this limestone gorge is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most extraordinary natural marvels, with several of its caves listed as scheduled monuments.

A photograph of the interior of a cave in Cheddar Gorge.
Scheduled Monument Gough’s Cave, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Brook Bishop. View the List entry.

Tolkien visited in 1940 just before writing the passages on them, but he noted that their descriptions were more so based on a visit during his honeymoon, almost 30 years before, when the caves were less popular with the public.

3. The Two Towers connection to Perrott’s Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower

The second ‘The Lord of the Rings’ volume is titled ‘The Two Towers’. During his time in Edgbaston, the young Tolkien would have been familiar with two distinct local historical landmarks.

A photograph of a large red brick monument.
Grade II* listed The Monument (Observatory), Birmingham. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Dominic Martin. View the List entry.

One of these landmarks is the extraordinary Grade II* listed, six-storey high monument, also known as Perrott’s Folly. This name is derived from John Perrott, who was responsible for its construction in 1758.

There is some speculation regarding his motives for building such a structure. Some suggest that he desired a vantage point to observe his unfaithful wife. However, it is more likely that the monument served as an observatory or a venue for private entertainment.

In 1884, the pioneering Birmingham glass-maker and meteorologist Abraham Follet Osler began utilising the building for weather observations, contributing to one of the world’s earliest regular weather forecasting services.

A black and white photograph of a tall pumping station.
Grade II listed Edgbaston Pumping Station, Birmingham. © Crown Copyright. Historic England Archive. View image BB003387.

You will also find the Grade II listed Edgbaston Waterworks Tower along the road. This water pumping station is a notable architectural structure.

We don’t know for sure if these two structures inspired the idea of two towers, but Tolkien would likely have had a vivid memory of them from his childhood.

4. The Riders of Rohan and the Uffington White Horse

Some fans suggest the Uffington White Horse of Oxfordshire as an influence for Rohan, the home of the Horse-lords.

An aerial photograph of White Horse Hill figure.
Scheduled Monument The White Horse hill figure, 170 metres north-northeast of Uffington Castle on Whitehorse Hill. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Ben Ellwood. View the List entry.

This massive figure reaches 110 metres in length and 40 metres in height and is made of deep trenches filled with white chalk. It has been on White Horse Hill since the Late Bronze Age, originating from 1400 BC and 600 BC.

A black and white aerial photograph of the white horse hill figure.
Scheduled Monument The White Horse hill figure, 170 metres north-northeast of Uffington Castle on Whitehorse Hill. Source: Historic England Archive. EAW002279.

When thinking of horses in Tolkien’s work, the image of the Riders of Rohan immediately comes to mind. Rohan’s banner displays a white horse on a green field, a similar image to the Uffington White Horse.

Additionally, opposite White Horse Hill, there’s Dragon Hill. This is where St George supposedly defeated a dragon, and King Arthur is rumoured to be buried. Tolkien’s son believed this to be the site of the real Weathertop, where a Ringwraith attacks Frodo.

5. The Prancing Pony and The Bell Inn

The Prancing Pony is a renowned Middle-Earth pub in the town of Bree. According to the local Tolkien Society, the real-world inspiration for this pub can be found at The Bell Inn, in Moreton-in-Marsh, specifically its entrance and layout. Many fans also believe that Moreton itself inspired the town of Bree.

A photograph of the exterior of the 3 story Bell Inn pub.
Grade II listed The Bell Inn, Moreton-in-Marsh. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Nigel Cox. View the List entry.

Tolkien, who spent most of his adult life in Oxford, frequently met with his brother Hilary Tolkien at this early 19th century pub.

In recognition of the pub’s connection to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, the local Tolkien Society has even placed a blue plaque outside the inn.

6. St Edward’s Church and the Door of Durin

Again, it is uncertain whether Tolkien drew inspiration from this medieval passageway in Stow-on-the-Wold. However, it is undeniable that it has an enchanting feel to it.

A photograph of a door flanked by two yew trees which leads to the inside of a church.
Grade I listed St Edward’s Church, Gloucestershire. Source: Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Lucy Parry. View the List entry.

In Tolkien’s depictions and illustrations of the famous door, which was the impenetrable entrance of Moria, two yew trees stood as sentinels. The similarities to the northern entrance of St Edward’s Church, built three centuries ago, where yew trees frame either side of the door, are hard to overlook.

Tolkien was a Professor of Old English at Merton College in Oxford for 14 years and was known to visit the Cotswolds, particularly Stow.

Bonus: what buildings are inspired by Tolkien?

We’ve looked at what inspired the legendary writer, but what about his influence on us?

One building, nestled within the Peak District National Park, is the sort of home a Hobbit would be proud of.

A photograph of a circular door which leads to a house under a hill.
Underhill, Holmfirth, Kirklees. Detail of entrance door, by Arthur Quarmby, 1975. Source: Historic England Archive. View image DP138665.

Inventor and architect Arthur Quarmby designed this environmentally sensitive underground house between 1973 and 1975 as a home for his family.

A photograph of an indoor swimming pool with a curved bridge.
Underhill, Holmfirth, Kirklees. General view of interior with internal swimming pool by Arthur Quarmby, 1975. Source: Historic England Archive. View image DP138671.

Named Underhill, it was the first modern earth-sheltered house constructed in England, and a significant milestone in developing ecological and sustainable architecture.

Add your pieces to the big picture
Every snapshot and story you can add to the National Heritage List for England is an important piece of the picture. The more pieces we have, the better we can work together to protect what makes these places special. Make a contribution to the Missing Pieces Project.

Further reading

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