by David King and Morgan Thomsen

While recovering from trench fever at Penkridge Camp, Staffordshire in 1918, J.R.R. Tolkien made a drawing depicting various scenes of his family’s life at Gipsy Green — a nearby house to which his wife Edith, baby John and Edith’s cousin Jennie Grove had moved (John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, 2003, p. 246). The drawing, titled High Life at Gipsy Green, was published in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator ([1995] 2004, fig. 23, p. 27). Several of the scenes were identified by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, but a prominent fish with the caption “The fish we couldn’t get at Swanwick’s” is described by the authors as being “a mystery”.*

As far as we have been able to determine, there has been no research into the source behind this mysterious caption. However, as listed in the Kelly’s Directory for 1912, it can be noted that a couple of miles up the road from Tolkien’s post at Penkridge Bank Camp was Swanwick’s fishmongers, 54 Greengate St, Stafford. Likely being the Swanwick’s referred to in the drawing, the fishmongers probably had some stock issues one day in 1918, causing a humorous sketch by Tolkien.

Entry from Kelly’s Directory for Fishmongers, Staffordshire:


Excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien’s drawing High Life at Gipsy Green, © the Tolkien Trust (1992), is reproduced with kind permission.


*Another such mystery in the drawing is the identity of “Capt. T.G.”, whom Hammond and Scull suspect to be a “Scots army officer”.