Wednesday 8 July 2015

Tolkien's Hemlock Glade Part 3

A Hemlock Glade, The Houses of Healing, Two Towers and a Beacon: Tolkien in East Yorkshire, Part 3: Thirtle Bridge and Withernsea 

Please note the text explaining the latest findings about Tolkien and Thirtle Bridge and Withernsea may be read in my essay ‘Tolkien in East Yorkshire’ published in Something Has Gone Crack edited by Janet Brennan Croft & Annika Röttinger.

Map showing the road from Roos passing Thirtle Bridge and heading towards Waxholme
 The actual Thirtle Bridge today crossing Tunstall Drain.  Note the new brick work looks 1950s or later
The site of the former Officers' Mess can be seen on the far right of the photo
 Detail of the original foundation stone of the bridge, dated 1832

Thirtle Bridge

The current Mona House, the section on the far left incorporates the former Officers' Mess
 The footprint of the former Cookhouse is preserved by this corrugated barn
Dave Mitchell's reconstruction model of Thirtle Bridge, kept at Withernsea Lighthouse Museum
The Officers' Mess is on the far left (front) and the Cookhouse is the reddish building at the rear, slightly left of centre. 
To examine a larger image of the photo, simply click on the image 
Despite the relatively meagre evidence Dave Mitchell, a model maker has examined the ground, looked at surviving family photographs and reconstructed as far as is possible what the camp may have looked like.  Mitchell has informed me that this model represents about a quarter of the camp, there would have been many more barrack huts.  I have examined the model from close-range, and the amount of work which has gone into the reconstruction is amazing.  
(You may view the Thirtle Bridge model for yourself at Withernsea Lighthouse Museum during normal opening times: here)
Dave Mitchell's reconstruction of the view of Thirtle Bridge as approached on the road from Roos 
 A Zeppelin's eye-view of Thirtle Bridge Army Camp
Key to the numbered areas:
1. Sentry Post & entrance barrier  (front, left of centre)
2. Guardroom (right of sentry post)
3. Sports pitch/Physical training area (front right)
4. Accommodation Huts (centre right)
5. Shower block (right of accommodation)
6. HQ and weapons store  (longest building slightly left of centre)
7. Generator room  (centre left)
8. Ammunition compound  (rear left)
9. Cookhouse  (rear to left of ammunition compound)
10. Laundry  (left of cookhouse)
11. Officers' Mess and shower block (behind officer's mess, front left).

Edith's Lodgings at 76 Queen Street, Withernsea - 2nd bay window on the left.
Photo from Phil Mathison's book Tolkien in East Yorkshire
 The same address in 2014 - the open doorway marks the entrance to Edith's lodgings
 Withernsea Lighthouse


Plan of Withernsea showing the position of the lighthouse at 21, and Edith's lodgings at the larger cross to the right.  Detail from a plan in Victoria County History, which includes Withernsea
 The more open aspect of Withernsea Lighthouse in the early twentieth-century

View taken from B1242 looking east (2015).  Withernsea Lighthouse is clearly visible beyond the buildings currently on the Thirtle Bridge Army Camp site.

The view of the lighthouse from Arthur Street, which Tolkien would have used when travelling from Thirtle Bridge to Edith, or the railway station

Map showing the only direct route from Thirtle Bridge to Edith's lodgings in Withernsea.  Thirtle Bridge camp was just above the road junction to the right in the top left-hand corner of this map.  Edith's lodgings were in the bottom right-hand corner of the map, just where the road marked in red bends towards the right.  Just to the left of this Withernsea Lighthouse may also be seen.  Note that roughly halfway along the whole route is a junction at a kink in the road.  This junction is the site of the Black Mill of Waxholme.

From a postcard of the Black Mill at Waxholme dating from 1904 or later
 Another image of the Black Mill taken after the removal of the sails.  
Photo kindly supplied by Phil Mathison (July 2015)

The ruined Black Mill as it looks in 2015.  Traces of the black paint may still be observed.  Note Withernsea Lighthouse in the distance at the right-hand side of the image.

Rimswell Water Tower taken in 2015 through a 400mm lens from the Black Mill
 Rimswell Water Tower.  Note the clear date of construction inscribed on a pillar - 1916

Withernsea Lighthouse in an aerial photo (centre right)
In some of the early pictorial representations of the towers, Tolkien’s sketches can look remarkably like lighthouses.  One example is the rejected cover illustration for The Two Towers (44).
Tolkien's original rejected design for the dustjacket of the Two Towers.
As the above design depicts Minas Morgul (formerly called Minas ithil), which was originally the sister city of Minas Tirith, and it was originally constructed by the same regime, it may well have had some design similarities to the white tower of Minas Tirith.  So, does Withernsea lighthouse have a sister lighthouse which Tolkien also saw?  The nearest candidate is Spurn lighthouse, which is visible from Kilnsea, which we know he visited when undergoing hospital treatment.  However, the possible ramifications of Spurn lighthouse will be featured in the final blog in this sequence!
A distant view of Spurn Lighthouse (2014), similar to the view seen from Kilnsea
Next time: the Houses of Healing
Part 1 (Introduction & Hornsea) may be read Here
Part 2 (Roos & Halsham) may be read Here
Part 4 (Brooklands Officers' Hospital & Godwin Battery) may be read here
Part 5 (Easington & Spurn Point) may be read Here

My thanks to John Garth, Dave Mitchell, Phil Mathison and Tony Simpson with whom I was able to consult on various aspects of my research while I was writing this paper.

28. Garth, p.234.
29. Yorkshire Post, 2 Aug 1915, p.3.
30. email from Tolkien Estate, dated 10 Apr 2015.
31. Garth, pp..190, 235, 239.
32. Mathison, p.71.
34. Hull Daily Mail, 19 Sep 1914, p.3.
35. Pers comm, Email, date: 24 Feb 2015.
36., Interview between Denys Gueroult & J.R.R. Tolkien, 1964, released 24 Jun 2014.
37. Chapman, Maeve & Ben (eds.), The Archive Photographs Series: Withernsea, (Stroud: Chalford, 1996), p.30. 
38. Mathison, Phil (pers comm.).
39. Hull Daily Mail, 29 Apr 1916, p.2.
40. Ibid, 6 Dec 1917, p.4.
41. Ibid.
42. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 60th Anniversary Edition, p.751.
43. Ibid, p.821.
44. Hammond, Wayne & Scull, Christina, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, (HarperCollins, 1995), p.181.


China Burma India Veterans Identities said...

Hello Michael,

Nice work here! I just posted a reply to the other Michael who criticized this hypothesis on the Tolkien Society website. I will reprint it here.

"We just returned from a short trip to Yorkshire (Leeds, York, and Skipton -- where I believe we met two local Hobbits in a small eatery, though they had not heard of Tolkien!). I became interested in this area as a possible inspiration for his work while there, when I recalled that he had spent time at the University of Leeds in the early '20s; then I learned of his WWI time there before that. Intriguing.

On the current topic, though I am somewhat new to this game (in assigning specific references), let me say that these suggestions about the towers are most welcome indeed. We should always recall that Tolkien was adamant about his work not being allegorical -- so I think even he would willingly allow various interpretations (mixed together) regarding influences on his productions, even as he would no doubt welcome his productions conjuring up many further associations (from all different time periods) in the minds of his readers. Certainly, the local country people in this region reflect his Shirelings (as I have seen first-hand); the Dales sound a bit like Dale and the area of Laketown (the Lakes region is also close by); and I even wondered if Leeds in his day somehow influenced his visions of the industrialization of Saruman's Isengard. Round windows appear to be everywhere in England -- and they can be seen in old buildings in Leeds also. (I won't get into rabbits and their holes -- suggesting Hobbits homes to a small extent for me, as again, they are everywhere in the countryside, near universities in England and near castles in northern Wales, where we traveled this trip.) So to end, I would not be too critical of this suggestion about the towers, though many other influences may have been conjoined in his thoughts on these -- and, as his writing suggest, he had more than one possible interpretation of what they signified (and he constantly revised).

Nice work Michael (keep it up! -- I am glad to have found this site), and nice textual research in your rebuttal Michael [the other Michael] -- but maybe be a little more inclusive rather than dismissive."

David Fletcher (July 2016)

Michael Flowers said...

Hi David,

Thank you for your comnents. I think you mean Michael Martinez. I think he really missed my point. In was trying to say that there were many more than 2 towers in Tolkien's book, just as there were many more than 2 towers in East Yorkshire. I think it's interesting that Tolkien came across a black one, and a white one during his war time experiences, whilst the much trumpeted ones in Birmingham don't have that colour associations at all.

I'm glad you enjoyed yourself in Yorksire, albeit the western side. I hope to research Tolkien's Leeds experience at a later late.

Thanks again