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Notes and thoughts about J.R.R. Tolkien, the Tolkien Index, and related topics.

Tolkien and Swanwick’s fishmongers

Tolkien biography Posted on Sat, February 15, 2014 12:33:53

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”.

Tolkien at the Moorend Park hotel in 1913

Tolkien biography Posted on Wed, December 04, 2013 19:31:31

Acknowledgements: I’m grateful to John Garth and Daniel Helen for reading the draft and for providing suggestions and corrections.

Last night I was searching some old British newspapers for notes about J.R.R. Tolkien. Not finding anything particularly interesting, I was on the brink of giving up when I came across something that appears to be previously unknown or undocumented – a new detail about Tolkien’s reunion with Edith Bratt, when he asked her to marry him after Father Francis’s ban ended on his 21st birthday. I will not attempt to present the circumstances of their winding love-story here (accounts of which can be found in, e.g., Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography and John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War), but will proceed directly to my findings.

The weekly magazine The Cheltenham Looker-on (in print from 1833 to 1920) had a feature called the “Looker-on” Visitors’ List, which recorded guests at various lodging establishments in Cheltenham. In two issues from early 1913, it is noted that a certain Mr. Tolkien stayed at the Moorend Park in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. In the issue of 11 January (p. 3), the following note appears:

And in the issue of 1 March (p. 3), the following appears:

The reason why Tolkien visited Cheltenham is well known: Edith had moved to Cheltenham in 1910. On Wednesday 8 January 1913, Tolkien travelled to Cheltenham to meet Edith, and they would enter a secret engagement. Among the facts concerning this event (see Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology, p. 36), we seem now to able to safely add the detail that Tolkien stayed at the Moorend Park while visiting Edith. That Tolkien went to Cheltenham in late February 1913 (i.e., in the week preceding 1 March) and again stayed at the Moorend Park, appears to be formerly undocumented: the visit would likely have taken place sometime between 21 and 28 February. Concerning possible, and less possible, dates for this visit, John Garth comments:

Tolkien’s Honour Moderations exams began on Thursday 27 February 1913, so he cannot have been in Cheltenham that day or the next. It’s interesting that he would make time to go to Cheltenham right before the exams he was supposed to be preparing for busily. I can also add that there is no reference to Tolkien in the minutes of the Stapeldon Society meeting of 24 February 1913, which doesn’t prove he was away in Cheltenham at the time, but suggests he may have been.[1]

Furthermore, it seems not to be a coincidence that Tolkien would have chosen to stay in Charlton Kings, a suburb in Cheltenham. In the Tolkien Family Album (p. 35) is reproduced a postcard from Tolkien to Edith (postmarked 2 February 1913); the address to Edith shows that she lived on 2 Lyefield Lawn in Charlton Kings. John Garth comments that “[t]hat address doesn’t seem to exist any more, but Lyefield Road West and East do. Moorend Park Hotel would have been about halfway between the railway station and that address”.[1]

The Moorend Park (now the Moorend Park Hotel), was constructed in 1895 and is still in business.[2]

If anyone desires full-page copies of these two magazine articles for private or scholarly use, just let me know.


[1] Private correspondence, as of 4 December 2013.
[2] Details about the Moorend Park Hotel can be found at