Tolkien Leaves Small Footprint in Birthtown



By Hampus Eckerman: Bloemfontein, South Africa. I’m staying at the newly renovated Hobbit Hotel (http://www.hobbit.co.za) in the Bilbo-room.

It is a nice little hotel with a total of thirteen rooms, all named after characters from Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit (there’s even a Gollum room). The hotel has new owners since 10 months ago, and they have made extensive renovations, restoring the doors to their original wooden colours, added artwork to the walls, repainted the walls, and the result makes for a nice old-fashioned feel where paintings from The Hobbit and LOTR blend seamlessly in with the fireplace, bookshelves and sofas.

I was a bit surprised by how well the paintings blended in and asked about them. Turned out that the owner’s daughter had an arts education and that the illustrations from different versions of the Tolkien books had been printed on canvas which is how they got a more antique look.

On the wall by the reception there is a sign proclaiming that this is the birthplace of JRR Tolkien, in the third of January, 1892. That is not true. The real birth house of Tolkien, just a few streets away, was destroyed in floods in the 1920s. The plaque was originally placed at Bank of Africa, where Tolkien’s father worked (the building no longer exists), but were later stolen and then idled for a while in the municipal archives.

The original owner of the Hobbit Hotel was also president of the South African Tolkien Society. He bought first one house, created for sub-economical housing, and renovated it to create the hotel. Later he bought another house next door, merged them together to create the current hotel with a total of twelve rooms. The current owners have added five self-catering cottages.

While Tolkien himself only lived in Bloemfontein a total of three years, his father lived here until his death in 1896. He is buried in the President Brand Cemetery, a mere two kilometers away.

There are no statues of Tolkien in Bloemfontein. No busts, no monuments, no museums, no guided tours. The taxi drivers I spoke to had all seen the Lord of the Rings movies, but had no idea that the author was born in their own town. Bloemfontein is a place with no tourist industry.

So the only thing left to remember JRR Tolkien is a quaint little hotel with tasteful, but toned down decorations and an old-fashioned feel. Which I guess he himself would have been satisfied with.

14 thoughts on “Tolkien Leaves Small Footprint in Birthtown

  1. Hampus, that little hotel looks utterly charming. Thank you so much for telling us about it!

  2. A few years ago, there was an article in the Tolkien Society journal reporting that there were virtually no relics or markers of Tolkien’s early life left in Bloemfontein, although a couple decades ago a marker was finally placed on his father’s grave.

    Nice to see that somebody has since come up with a latter-day acknowledgment.

  3. “While Tolkien himself only lived in Bloemfontein a total of three years, his father lived here until his death in 1896.”

    True, but a little confusing. Just for clarification: Arthur Tolkien, from Birmingham, England, took a post in south Africa as a banker in 1889, and soon became manager in Bloemfontein. He married Mabel Suffield (also from Birmingham, whom he’d become engaged to before he left) in 1891, and J.R.R. Tolkien was born in January 1892. Three years later, Mabel and the by-then two children traveled to England on leave. Arthur was to join them later, but the pressure of work delayed him, and then he became ill and died in February 1896.

  4. I really enjoy your travelogue posts, Hampus, and I hope you will keep sending them to Mike. 🙂

  5. Well, if I ever visit Bloemfontein, I know a place to consider staying. Was it a well-managed hotel as well as charming?

  6. David Bratham:

    “Arthur was to join them later, but the pressure of work delayed him, and then he became ill and died in February 1896.”

    If I remember correctly, he was on a timed contract and had to remain his full time before he could join the rest of the family.

    JJ:

    I will when I find something of SFFnal value.

  7. Hampus, thanks. I’m not likely to get there soon, but I’ll remember. You’ve been getting around lately! Thanks for bringing us these stories.

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