Thursday, 9 July 2015

Tolkien's Hemlock Glade, Part 4

A Hemlock Glade, The Houses of Healing, Two Towers and a Beacon: Tolkien in East Yorkshire, Part 4: Brooklands Officers' Hospital and the Godwin Battery
Note: Tolkien was hospitalised many times during the period of the First World War.  This article is purely concerned with the two hospitals, or Houses of Healing in the East Riding.
The Dennison Centre, University of Hull in 1914.  In late July 1917 it became Brooklands Officers' Hospital
The Houses of Healing
While Edith was still lodging beneath the shadow of the white tower of Withernsea Lighthouse, her husband had a recurrence of trench fever and he was sent to the first of the two Houses of Healing he would become acquainted with in East Yorkshire: Brooklands Officers’ Hospital on Cottingham Road in Hull.  This ten-week stay was the first of two long stints lasting in total for around 22 weeks at this convalescent home, and his time spent there was extremely productive.  In the first instance he was able to spend long periods working on the building-blocks of his emerging language, known at the time as Goldogrin.  There have been many writers who have attempted to follow Tolkien in writing fantasy narratives, but none of them have matched his care in creating grammars and languages.  For Tolkien language was the key-spring of the imaginative process, the language, as he often attested – words or names came first – and stories followed afterwards.  In addition to the time spent on the foundation of his lexicons, vocabularies, and grammars Tolkien also wrote down for the first time the earliest versions of two stories which he continued to write, rework, and re-imagine for almost the whole of his writing life: ‘The Tale of Tinúviel’ and ‘The Tale of Turambar’.  The central importance of Lúthien Tinúviel is exemplified by his placing of the fictional name Lúthien under his wife’s name on their gravestone more than half-a-century later. Meanwhile Christopher Tolkien carefully adapted and edited the various strands of the Turambar narratives written mainly in the 1950s in an attempt to create a cohesive whole for what in effect became Tolkien’s final published posthumous novel, The Children of Hurin in 2009.
Margaret Strickland Constable (1873-1961).  She was the commandant in charge of Brooklands, during Tolkien's  recuperation.  This photo was taken several years before World War One

Brooklands was operated by Margaret Strickland-Constable (née Pakenham), who was actually the commandant, not the matron as stated by some earlier researchers.  The matron was actually a Mrs B. Hyde, of whom nothing more is known at present. Margaret Strickland-Constable was soon to be a war widow, as her husband killed himself in a London hotel on his return from the front in December 1917.  Margaret lived at Wassand Hall on the outskirts of Hornsea Mere, and spent most of her time there, but her diaries often reveal second-hand what took place at Brooklands.  Strickland-Constable was proficient in German, French, Swedish, Danish and Norweigan, so there was some common ground between her and Tolkien, although she doesn't mention him in her diaries.  She is thought to have worked for the censor department during the war.    
The rear of Brooklands showing the extensive lawn
It has been suggested previously that the reason details about Brooklands have been rather scarce is that it was a time of war, and there would have been an embargo about military hospitals in the press.  However, I have managed to locate two newspaper articles about Brooklands.  The first one announced its official opening by Major General Sir Stanley von Donop on the rather late date of 31st July 1917 (45).  On completion accommodation was provided for a maximum of seventeen patients, although only three were installed on the opening day (46), to be joined by Tolkien only a fortnight later (47).  So, if his trench fever had returned 3 weeks earlier than it had, he may well have been shipped to a hospital much further afield.  Brooklands enjoyed a good reputation amongst local officers, as an overheard comment, which Strickland-Constable proudly included in her diary, implies: “What you want to do is arrange to have a good crash, so as to get sent to Brooklands” (48).  Likewise, Tolkien found the surroundings congenial, and surviving ordnance survey maps from 1910 show that the substantial grounds contained several mature deciduous trees.  
Detail from the 1910 Ordnance Survey showing Brooklands and the neighbouring property the Cedars
The ordnance survey maps are so detailed it is possible to discern conifers and deciduous trees in the grounds of the nearby property, The Cedars.   Cottingham Road itself was at that time a fairly quiet leafy-lined thoroughfare, and on the other side of the road was the recently-founded municipal college, later the university campus, but in 1917 that area consisted mainly of large open fields.
1910 OS map showing open fields on the opposite side of Cottingham Road to Brooklands

Are there any similarities at all between the fictional Houses of Healing and Brooklands, which Tolkien found himself enduring for 22 weeks in total in 1917 and 1918?  Well, Kingston-upon-Hull and Minas Tirith-upon-Anduin are both described as cities, but the associated landscapes could hardly be more different.  In 1917, as now, Hull was a city of the plain barely rising above sea level, whilst Minas Tirith was carved into a spur of Mount Mindolluin and enjoyed the health benefits of mountainous airs.  Minas Tirith was constructed from stone, indeed it was known as the Stone-city.

In contrast, there is very little local stone around Hull, and many of the substantial medieval buildings including Holy Trinity Church are largely constructed of brick.
The west side of Brooklands.  It is believed that the hospital beds of officers were at this side of the building

There are two short descriptive passages of the environs of the Houses of Healing in The Lord of the Rings. In the first Gandalf escorts the bier of Faramir to them for treatment, where we are informed: 

            about them was a garden and greensward with trees, the only such place in the
                  City.  There dwelt the few women that had been permitted to remain in Minas
                  Tirith, since they were skilled in healing or in the service of the healers. (48.5)

In Brooklands hopefully there were also nursing staff who were skilled in the service of the healers!  Yes, Brooklands also had a greensward, or a lawn, as we would call it, and trees.  In the second extract Merry, Pippin, Legolas and Gimli are discussing their adventures after the Battle of the Pelennor:
               For a while they walked and talked, rejoicing for a brief space in peace and rest
               under the morning high up in the windy circles of the City. Then when Merry
               became weary, they went and sat upon the greensward of the Houses of Healing
               behind them; and away southward before them was the Anduin glittering in
               the sun, as it flowed away, out of the sight even of Legolas, into the wide flats and
               green haze of Lebennin and South Ithilien. (49)
Hull is renowned by its students as a windy city, but not because of its altitude.  When the wind is from the east it blows straight from the cold continent and seems to penetrate every corner.  In relation to Brooklands the Humber does flow to the southward, and it does widen as it reaches the wide flats of Sunk Island and South Holderness, but because Hull is so flat the Humber cannot be glimpsed from Brooklands, and its alluvial nature means it does not often glitter unless the light is just right in relation to the viewer!  The Anduin flows west to the sea, but the Humber flows eastwards.

As mentioned earlier Strickland-Constable’s diaries for the time survive, and although she does not mention Tolkien by name we do know that he was in Brooklands for the second long period when the Zeppelin raid of 6th August 1918 took place in Hull.  She mentions two majors with neurasthenia who hid under their beds when the bombardment took place, but the remainder, including Tolkien were said to be “quite calm”(50).  Although Tolkien shared some of his time at Brooklands with an officer friend, and was able to produce some good work on his emerging mythology, it seems the diet he ‘enjoyed’ there could have been a lot more nutritious.  On 11th of October 1918, precisely the same day Tolkien left Brooklands for the final time Colonel G. Easton, County Director of Auxiliary Hospitals in the area wrote to the local newspaper asking for presents of game (presumably birds like pheasants, and possibly venison) to be donated to the institution, which he pointed out was the only officers’ hospital in Hull and the surrounding district. (51)

Godwin Battery, Kilnsea
Plan of Godwin Battery from the book Guardians of the Humber.  The hospital is at the top, marked with an arrow & H

Almost exactly a year earlier on the 16th of October 1917 Tolkien was discharged from Brooklands for the first time and he returned to Thirtle Bridge. When trench fever or other illnesses returned over the winter of 1917/18 he was sent to Kilnsea for treatment at the hospital at the Godwin Battery (52).  This "House of Healing" was very different from the other in the quiet leafy suburbs of Hull. At that time it was approximately 300 hundred yards from the sea, and being winter some of Tolkien’s visits must have coincided with pounding seas. Tolkien as far as his memory went back could remember a “terrible recurrent dream” of a “Great Wave, towering up, and coming ineluctably over the trees and green fields” (53).  Although Tolkien’s nightmare predated his internment in Kilnsea hospital it was no doubt intensified by his proximity to what had until relatively recently been called the German Ocean.  
An aerial photograph of Godwin Battery, taken on 15 August 1918
The Godwin Battery hospital as is evident from contemporary aerial photographs was built very close to North Marsh Lane, and at the southern end of the lane about 550 feet away from the hospital was the Blue Bell pub, which had a very clear proof embedded in its side of the destructive power of the sea.  The plaque stated that the pub was built in 1847, and at that time was 534 yards from the sea, when Tolkien was there in early 1918 he would be able to calculate should he have felt the desire, that the inn was only approximately 250 yards from the sea.
Plaques on the side of the Blue Bell, Kilnsea - illustrating the destructive power of the sea
As Tolkien made clear in his interview with Denys Gueroult he was always historically-minded, and he would no doubt have heard of examples of the destruction of historical artefacts.
Kilnsea Old Church shortly before being lost to the sea
The old medieval cross before removal from the coast
 The tower of Old Kilnsea church was finally swallowed up by the sea in 1831 (54), and earlier an old ornate medieval cross was removed inland to safety in 1818 (55).  This cross is thought to have either commemorated the landing of the future Henry IV at Raverspurn in 1399, or the return of King Edward IV from exile in 1471.  Photos survive of Kilnsea being almost submerged by severe flooding in 1906, and it is very possible the flooding would have been brought to Tolkien’s attention.
1906 - after severe flooding - a view across the fields.  Kilnsea Beacon is visible on the horizon
The pounding of the waves weren’t the only sounds that Tolkien would have heard when he was hospitalised at Kilnsea. The Godwin battery of which the hospital was a part included two 9.2 inch guns mounted 100 yards apart, and at either side of them were Battery observation posts, which were still standing when the aerial photograph below was taken in 1964 (56).  Meanwhile there were also barrack blocks, which may have housed up to 1,000 men.  Since the photo below showing the observation towers was taken the erosion seems to have accelerated. Now both gun emplacements lie on the beach, and the remains of the sea wall in Tolkien’s time may only be glimpsed at low tides.  The recurrent great wave dream continued to haunt Tolkien until he managed to exorcise it from his system by writing The Downfall of Numenor in the 1930s (57).
Godwin Battery in 1964.  The observation towers and gun emplacements are still readily visible.  It seems bizarre that many of the original battery features are present at the same time as holiday caravans
2015 - the gun emplacements now lie on the beach - only visible at low tide
 This was the sea wall in Tolkien's time - now it is only fully visible at the lowest of low tides
In Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion when Tolkien mentions the Beacons of Gondor, which were lit to summon aid from Rohan, the authors quite rightly note that: “almost every English man, woman, and child would immediately think of the beacons lit in 1588 to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada” (58).  The authors go on to mention earlier beacons in antiquity, but they fail to refer to Tolkien’s personal association with a beacon during World War One.  The Kilnsea Beacon was originally erected in Napoleonic times and constructed of wood, but when Tolkien was in Holderness it had been moved westwards from its earlier location on a hill, because otherwise it would have been lost to the sea many years earlier.  By Tolkien’s time the wooden beacon had been replaced by a rather unusual metal structure, which can be seen in the second illustration below. The Kilnsea beacon during WW1 was situated north of the Godwin Battery nearer the battery than Easington.  It was finally dismantled in World War 2, as it was thought to be a too readily identified landmark for enemy planes! (59).
The Kilnsea Beacon from the 1830s
 Kilnsea Beacon - this was present in Tolkien's time
Photo kindly supplied by Jan Crowther
When Tolkien was in the Humber Garrison he travelled to Dunstable to sit a signalling course exam in the second half of July 1917.  Were Tolkien’s duties as a signalling officer connected in any way with one of the most striking surviving remnants of the Great War in the area?  In 1916 an Acoustic Sound Mirror was erected at Kilnsea to listen out for approaching aircraft (60), which was at that time really meant Zeppelins.  The sound was focussed by the concave dish to the “collector’s head” mounted on the metal pipe still visible in modern photographs, on which was mounted a rudimentary microphone.  Wires from this led down into a trench in which an operator with headphones would listen for approaching aircraft, and would provide an early warning – actually of only four minutes – some things don’t change!  We will probably never know if Tolkien was one of these “listeners”, but even if not, when he was in the Kilnsea area he could not have failed to see this brutal, monumental structure. Incidentally, this 16-feet high piece of concrete remains the only listed building in Kilnsea!
Kilnsea Acoustic Sound Mirror
 Kilnsea Acoustic Sound Mirror.  Note metal post in front of the dish, which would have held the microphone.  Cracks seem to have been filled with cement
After I gave this piece as a talk in Leeds on 4th July 2015, Irina Metzler, one of the delegates, explained that correspondences could be drawn between the Beacon, and Acoustic Mirror at Kilnsea and Tolkien’s Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw. She pointed out that the Acoustic Mirror is very ear-like and was obviously designed to hear approaching aircraft, whilst the beacon was originally placed on a high point and was meant to be seen from afar.  Of course in The Lord of the Rings Amon Hen is the Hill of Listening and Amon Lhaw is the nearby Hill of Seeing. As with so many things in Tolkien if indeed he did have these two nearby structures as an inspiration they were utterly transformed in his fiction.  This is another matter I am going to have to give further consideration.

You may read Part 1 (Introduction & Hornsea) here
You may read Part 2 (Roos and Halsham) here
You may read Part 3 (Thirtle Bridge & Withernsea) here
You may read part 5 (Easington & Spurn Point) here

My thanks to  Jan Crowther, John Garth, Irina Metzler, and Phil Mathison with whom I was able to consult on various aspects of my research while I was writing this paper.

45. Hull Daily Mail, 1 Aug 1917, p.2.
46. Ibid.
47. Garth, p.239. 
48. Margaret Chichester-Constable, Diaries, The Treasure House
48.5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 60th Anniversary Edition, ‘The Pyre of Denethor’, p.855.
49. Ibid, ‘The Last Debate’, p.873.
50. Chichester-Constable, Diaries,
51. Hull Daily Mail, 12 Oct 1918, p.2.
52. Mathison, p.90.
53. Letters, 5 Jun 1955 to W.H. Auden, p.213. 
54 Crowther, Jan, The People Along the Sand: The Spurn Peninsula & Kilnsea, A History, 1800-2000, Andover: Phillimore, p.176, plate 3.
55. Ibid, plate 1. 
56. Ibid, plate 12.
57. Letters, 5 Jun 1955 to W.H. Auden, p.213.
58. Hammond & Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, p.509.
59. Crowther, p.136.
60. Crowther, p.88..

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