January: A Tolkien Story

In 1770 two brothers from Danzig joined the westerly tide of German migration and settled in East London’s Lutheran community. They both married English wives and as skilled artisans, one a furrier the other a watchmaker, they integrated into London life and prospered. The brothers were Daniel and Johann Tolkien.

Johann and his second wife Mary Wall had two sons who survived to adulthood. The elder, George William, would become the great grandfather of JRR Tolkien the scholar and author best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The younger son, John Benjamin, spent the latter part of his life in Bristol and is buried alongside his wife and daughter in the south-west corner of St Andrew’s Churchyard.

While George followed his father into watch and clock making, John joined the Islington branch of the Norwich Union Fire & Life Insurance Office where in 1829 he was Chief Clerk. With the growth of industry and commerce across the country, the Norwich Union was rapidly expanding and John Tolkien moved with the company to its new office in Bristol.

While it is likely that Bristol Riots of 1831 would have bolstered the Norwich Union’s insurance business, affluent Bristolians sought more tangible protection against civil unrest. Turning to the relative safety of Clifton, they were the catalyst for a fresh wave of residential development. Among the new arrivals were John Tolkien and his family, who by 1841 were living in one of the recently built houses in Clifton Vale. From there, they moved further uphill to 5 Lansdown Place where they remained until John Tolkien’s death in 1859.

Tolkien, who became manager of the Norwich Union’s office in Corn Street, died a wealthy man. He left his wife and daughter both of whom were called Elizabeth, with sufficient investment income to live comfortably in Richmond Park Road for the rest of their lives. Elizabeth, his widow died in 1890 and their daughter followed in 1901.


4 Tolkien grave

The Tolkien grave - originally there was a headstone, but this has now been displaced and lies on top of another grave just to the North.


4 Tolkien headstone

The headstone is badly damaged, but still readable.


Tolkien grave marked

 Location of grave in the churchyard - the grave is best viewed from the central footpath. Be warned that walking among the crowded gravestones is muddy and slippy underfoot, with many potential trip hazards.