Visit Tolkien’s Birmingham (ca. 1890) via the British Library’s Flickr

British Library flickr stream, Making of Birmingham Robert K. Dent, Free Grammar School, New Street
British Library flickr stream, Making of Birmingham Robert K. Dent, Free Grammar School, New Street

In December 2013 the British Library released a million pictures into Flickr Commons, supported by the help of Microsoft, which are now available in the Public Domain. These pictures were mostly taken from books published in the 17, 18th and 19th century and one of those books could be of interest to you if you take an interest in J.R.R. Tolkien: “The Making of Birmingham: being a history of the rise and growth of the Midland metropolis” by Robert Kirkup Dent, published in 1894.

Flickr welcomed the British Library to their stream in a blog post on December 16th saying the library’s holdings contained ” 13 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 57 million patents, 3 million sound recordings, and much, much more.” To me this one particular book was of special interest when I saw this picture:

This is the King Edward’s School building in Birmingham, built and decorated by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin (1833-1837) of Houses of Parliament fame, which unfortunately was demolished in 1937. This was the school J.R.R. Tolkien studied in, starting in 1900 and then -after a short stay at St Philips’ Grammar School- from 1903 until 1911. Yes, the book in question was published in 1894 and the pictures in it should possibly be from a year or two before publication but it should definitely give you an idea what a city Tolkien lived in.

The older building looked like this (below) but you can also find it with Dent.

It is particularly hilarious to see that some buildings continue to exist, even after hundreds of years …

If you visited the city centre it would look like this:

One of the most important places in Tolkien’s youth isn’t found with the British Library’s flickr stream but someone else has uploaded this to flickr: Barrows’ Stores on Corporation Street, at the corner of Bull Street.

Have a look at Dent’s Old and New Birmingham (1879)

For an 1898 Birmingham city plan (you can zoom in) use this link.

Don’t forget – there are also other places like Sarehole Mill which are relevant to Tolkien’s youth but I thought I’d share this amazing stream with you – browse it, have a look, not only for Tolkien!

Marcel R. Bülles

Marcel R. Bülles is the author of, a specialist blog centering on worldwide Tolkien fandom, geekdom and research. He works as a freelance translator, journalist and writer and is the founder of the German Tolkien Society as well as a co-founder to RingCon, Europe's formerly biggest fantasy film convention. You can find him in cafés all over the world sipping an espresso blogging, writing, reading. At one point he was married to an extremely lovely French lady by the nickname of Sauron. Yes, that Sauron. He is also active with the International Tolkien Fellowship on Facebook and the Tolkien Folk on Instagram.