Elliott Brown

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History & heritage
21 Sep 2018 - Elliott Brown

J.R.R. Tolkien's Birmingham (inspiration for The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings)

J. R. R. Tolkien lived in the Birmingham area from when he was a child until he left for Oxford. Famous for writing The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings he lived in Sarehole, a hamlet now in Moseley, and later Edgbaston.

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Sarehole 1896 - 1900

Tolkien lived with his mother Mabel and his younger brother Hilary from about 1896 to 1900 in house near the bottom of Wake Green Road in the hamlet of Sarehole (now part of Moseley). Nearby was Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog which inspired him to create The Shire in The Hobbit. There is now a nearby country park that runs alongside the River Cole called The Shire Country Park.

Sarehole Mill

Moseley Bog where JRR Tolkien and his younger brother would play as children. Inspiration for woods in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Moseley Bog

Tolkien lived in a property on Wake Green Road close to Moseley Bog and opposite Sarehole Mill. It is now Gracewell Cottages and is home to retired people. The Tolkien family lived at 264 Wake Green Road. Also known as No 5 Gracewell Cottages.

Wake Green Road home of Tolkien in Sarehole

Originally made for Birmingham's 2013 display at the Chelsea Flower Show, these models of The Two Towers (Perrott's Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower) were later moved to the garden area in front of the Library of Birmingham (before it opened in September 2013). A few years later in 2015, they were moved to an area close to Sarehole Mill where they are on permenant display.

The Two Towers at Sarehole Mill

Edgbaston 1900 - 1911

The Tolkien's later moved to Edgbaston. His mother placed the Tolkien boys in the guardianship of Father Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory before her death. Inspiration for The Two Towers came from Perrott's Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks Tower.

Perrott's Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower

The Birmingham Oratory seen on the Hagley Road in Edgbaston near Ladywood. JRR Tolkien was a parishioner and altar boy here from about 1902 to 1911. Not far from his homes at the time.

Birmingham Oratory

This was the home on Highfield Road in Edgbaston of Tolkien. He lived at No. 4 from 1910-11. He previously lived at Duchess Place in Ladywood from 1902 to about 1910. A modern building called Teleperformance House is on that site from the Hagley Road.

Highfield Road Edgbaston home of JRR Tolkien

The Plough and Harrow pub on the Hagley Road in Edgbaston. Tolkien stayed here in June 1916 according to a blue plaque on the side of the building.

The Plough and Harrow - Hagley Road, Edgbaston

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12 Sep 2018 - Elliott Brown

Thomas Telford: A Tale of Three Bridges (including Galton Bridge in Smethwick)

Here we take a look at the 18th century engineer Thomas Telford and some of the bridges that he designed. Along the Birmingham Canal Navigations New Main Line, he designed the Galton Bridge in Smethwick. In North Wales two suspension bridges at Conwy and Menai on the road to Holyhead.

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Galton Bridge

The bridge was built in Smethwick on the Birmingham Canal Navigations New Main Line carrying the Roebuck Lane in 1829, and was named after Samuel Galton a member of the Lunar Society. . When it was built, it's single span of 151 feet (46 metres) was the highest in the world. It used to be a road bridge, but it now only carries pedestrians. It is now a Grade I listed building. Smethwick Galton Bridge Station nearby (opened in 1995) was named after it.

This view is seen shortly after getting off a train on the Snow Hill lines from Birmingham on the High Level of Smethwick Galton Bridge Station.

Galton Bridge from Smethwick Galton Bridge Station

Down on the Birmingham Canal Navigations New Main Line (Birmingham Level), this view of the Galton Bridge is towards the Galton Tunnel.

Galton Bridge Smethwick

The best views from canal level normally have the 1829 bridge with the 1995 railway station behind it.

Galton Bridge in Smethwick

Quite an impressive view. But with all of Telford's bridges covered here, railway bridges were later built beside. The station only came when the Jewellery Line opened in 1995. The nearby Smethwick West Station closed in 1996 (platforms are still visible if you are on a train to or from Stourbridge Junction).

Galton Bridge in Smethwick

A look at Roebuck Lane both directions on the Galton Bridge in Smethwick.

Roebuck Lane, Smethwick - Galton Bridge

Roebuck Lane, Smethwick - Galton Bridge

It's time to see what Thomas Telford was up to in North Wales. He built two suspension bridges on the A5 road from Chester to Holyhead. It allowed road traffic from 1826 to get from London to Holyhead (on Anglesey) then to get a ferry to Dublin in Ireland.

The problem was crossing the River Conwy in Conwy and the Menai Strait between Gwynedd (near Bangor) and Anglesey (near what is now Menai Bridge Town).

Conwy Suspension Bridge

The bridge was built to cross the River Conwy in Conwy County Borough, and was built close to Conwy Castle. The bridge designed by Thomas Telford was built from 1822 to 1826. The bridge is 99.5 metres long (326 ft). Road traffic used it from 1826 to 1958 when it was replaced by the nearby Conwy Bridge. A Toll House was at one end where tolls were collected. The bridge was designed to match the castle with castellated towers. It closed to road traffic in 1958, and the National Trust owned it from 1965. The bridge is Grade I listed.

Conwy Suspension Bridge

The bridge has been closed to road traffic since 1958, only pedestrians cross it now. Got it to myself at one point during my visit!

Conwy Suspension Bridge

The towers were built in a castellated form to match with Conwy Castle.

Conwy Suspension Bridge

The Toll House at the other end of the Conwy Suspension Bridge. It has been laid out as if it was 1891 by the National Trust. Vehicles would have to stop here and pay their tolls (usually horse and cart, people with mules, bicylcles etc). By the mid 20th century this caused traffic jams into Conwy, and a new bridge was built and opened nearby in 1958.

Toll House - Conwy Suspension Bridge

Alongside Telford's bridge is the 1848 Conwy Tubular Bridge by Robert Stephenson. Also castallated. This view to Conwy Castle.

Conwy Tubular and Suspension Bridges to the CastleIt carries the North Wales Coast Line railway, on this section between Llandudno Junction and Conwy Station. Then onto Anglesey via the Britannia Bridge and onto Holyhead.

Conwy Tubular and Suspension Bridges


Menai Suspension Bridge

The bridge crosses the Menai Strait from the Gwynedd side (close to Bangor) to the Isle of Anglesey (near Menai Bridge Town known in Welsh as Porthaethwy). The bridge spans 176 metres (577 ft). It was completed in 1826 and is still used by road traffic. Construction of the bridge began in 1819. The deck of the bridge was later strengthed in 1840 by W. A. Provis. And the wooden surface replaced by a steel surface in 1893 by Sir Benjamin Baker. In 1999 the bridge was closed for a month to allow for resurfacing and strenghen the structure. There is pedestrian walkways on both sides of the bridge. Buses both single and double decker are able to cross the bridge, but have to slow down under the arched towers.

Menai Suspension Bridge

Crossing the bridge towards Anglesey. It's on the A5 to Holyhead. But you can also use the A55 North Wales Expressway over the Britannia Bridge instead (faster).

Crossing the Menai Suspension Bridge

The bridge is ok for small buses like this one.

Bus on the Menai Suspension Bridge

Bigger buses, single or double deckers normally struggle when they head under the towers.

Cyclist and a bus on the Menai Suspension Bridge

Some buses go to the nearby City of Bangor (to the right of this location)

Bus to Bangor on the Menai Suspension Bridge

It's a long way down to the Menai Strait. Walking on either side of the bridge, you certainly feel a bit of vertigo. Best to not be scared of heights.

Menai Strait and the Menai Suspension Bridge

All photos taken by Elliott Brown


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History & heritage
10 Sep 2018 - Elliott Brown

Boulton & Watt - the founding fathers of Birmingham!

James Watt came down from Scotland at the invitation of Matthew Boulton in the late 18th century after Watt had made improvement's to Thomas Newcomen's steam engine. Boulton who owned the Soho Manufactory obtained a patent from 1775 onwards.

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You can see one of Boulton & Watt's engines at Dartmouth Circus. Easier to see if you enter the subways and walk past it. But is visible from the road in cars or buses etc. It was built in 1817 and was used at the Netherton Ironworks.

Boulton & Watt engine at Dartmouth Circus

The Smethwick Engine is now located at the Thinktank science museum, it was made in 1779. It's the oldest working steam engine and the oldest working engine in the world. Originally located in Smethwick close to the Soho Foundry. It was previously at the Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry at the Newhall Street site in the Jewellery Quarter (now Newhall Square). Was moved to Thinktank from 2001.

Smethwick Engine at Thinktank

The gold leaf covered statue of Boulton, Watt and Murdoch was by William Bloye. Unveiled at this site in 1956. But was planned from 1939 (before the Second World War). It was removed to storage in 2017, and will return to the other side of Broad Street at a new site in Centenary Square.

Boulton, Watt & Murdoch on Broad Street

The statue of James Watt used to be in Chamberlain Square outside the now demolished Birmingham Central Library until it was removed to storage in 2015.

James Watt statue Chamberlain Square

Close up view of the James Watt statue. He seemed to have more sculptures of him than Mr Boulton did!

James Watt statue in front of Birmingham Central Library

Boulton and Watt - there is a pair of busts of the pair in the Drawing Room at Soho House in Handsworth. It was the home of Boulton during the late 18th century.

Matthew Boulton

Matthew Boulton bust at Soho House

James Watt

James Watt bust at Soho House

Portaits at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Matthew Boulton by Carl Frederick von Breda in 1792.

Matthew Boulton portrait BMAG

James Watt by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1812.

James Watt portrait BMAG

This bust of James Watt was found at the Birmingham Museum Collections Centre. It is similar to the one found at Soho House (see above).

James Watt bust at BMCC

All photos taken by Elliott Brown

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06 Sep 2018 - Elliott Brown

Joseph Priestley the discoverer of oxygen

Joseph Priestley was an 18th century theologian, natural philosopher, chemist etc, who discovered oxygen. He was in Birmingham from 1780 to 1791, when he had to leave due to the Priestley Riots.

View this great post by Elliott Brown, one of Birmingham's People with Passion.

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Joseph Priestley statue in Chamberlain Square

Priestley was born in 1733 and died in 1804. He was based in Birmingham from 1780 to 1791. While there he made friends with the Lunar Society including Matthew Boulton. He was the minister of New Meeting which was located close to what is Moor Street Queensway and New Meeting Street.

Joseph Priestley statue in Chamberlain Square

The statue that used to be in Chamberlain Square until 2016 was by Francis John Williamson and was made in 1874.

Joseph Priestley statue in Chamberlain Square

Maquette of Priestley in the Birmingham Museums Collection Centre

Williamson probably made this maquette before making the full sized statue.

Priestley maquette at BMCC

Saint Michael's Catholic Church built on the site of Priestley's New Meeting

In 1791 riots erupted in Birmingham, known now as the Priestley Riots. On the 2nd anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille that started the French Revolution in France. Rioters attacked Priestley's families home at Fairhill in Sparkbrook. They also burnt down the New Meeting Chapel followed by the Old Meeting Chapel.

New Meeting now Saint Michael's

Today Saint Michael's Catholic Church stands on the site and there is a blue plaque on New Meeting Street about Priestley. It is now a Polish church.

New Meeting now Saint Michael's

New Meeting now Saint Michael's

Photography and article by Elliott Brown.

For more great posts and a great gallery of people who helped build this City, connect here.

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History & heritage
02 Sep 2018 - Elliott Brown

The Old Grammar Schools of Kings Norton and Yardley

Did you know that there are buildings in Kings Norton and Yardley both called The Old Grammar School (no relation).

The Old School in Kings Norton is in the churchyard of St Nicholas's Church. The one in Yardley is close to St Edburgha's Church.

This post and all photography courtesy Elliott Brown. 

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The Old Grammar School Kings Norton

Old Grammar School, Kings Norton was probably built as a priest's house to St Nicholas's Church, and it dates to the early 15th century. The building was expanded in the early 16th century. Along with the Saracen's Head it won the BBC Restoration programme in 2004, and was restored and reopened by 2008.

Old Grammar School Kings Norton

Old Grammar School Kings Norton

Old Grammar School Kings Norton

Old Grammar School Kings Norton


The Old Grammar School Yardley

Known as The Trust School. There is evidence of a school in Yardley by 1260 AD. The Masters were Monks from Maxstoke Priory. The present building dates to around the 15th century. It was originally a guild hall. The school closed in 1908. Now used as Parish Rooms with a Youth Club upstairs and a lounge downstairs.

The Old Grammar School Yardley

The Old Grammar School Yardley

The Old Grammar School Yardley

The Old Grammar School Yardley

All photos by Elliott Brown

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23 Aug 2018 - Elliott Brown

Birmingham's architectural gems - we go back in time!

Every month with the help of our People with Passion, FreeTimePays will feature great historic architecture of Birmingham.

In this article we feature Highbury Hall, Aston Hall, Sarehole Mill and Blakesley Hall, 4 of Birmingham's magnificent buildings.

Take the full post and view more for more great historic gems and 'Did you know' facts.

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Highbury Hall - a historic gem in Moseley, Birmingham

Photo courtesy Christine Wright

Highbury Hall is a wonderful Grade II listed building that nestles in Highbury Park. It was built in 1879 by J H Chamberlain for Joseph Chamberlain (no relation). Joseph Chamberlain lived here from 1880 until 1914.

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Highbury Hall (August 2018)

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Aston Hall - a historic gem in Aston, Birmingham

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Aston Hall was built between 1618 and 1635 for Sir Thomas Holte. It was then leased by James Watt Jr from 1817. It became a museum from 1858 with ownership passing to Birmingham Corporation soon after.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

The Great Parlour at Aston Hall was the Holte family's principal living room. Around 1700 it was converted into a chapel.

The Great Parlour at Aston Hall

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown


Sarehole Mill - a historic gem in Hall Green, Birmingham 

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

The original Sarehole Mill was built in 1542. The Mill standing now was built in 1771. JRR Tolkien lived in the area as a child and got much of his inspiration from the Sarehole Mill.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

Here is Mill machinery as seen inside Sarehole Mill.

Mill Machinery at Sarehole Mill

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown


Blakesley Hall - historic gem in Yardley, Birmingham.

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown

Blakesley Hall is a timber framed farmhouse in Yardley which was built for Richard Smallbroke towards the end of the 16th century.

Blakesley Hall is now owned and run as a museum by the Birmingham Museums Trust.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust

The Great Parlour at Blakesley Hall was used for private dining, sitting and entertaining. Had a door to the garden so people could come and go without passing through the main Hall.

The Great Parlour at Blakesley Hall

Photo courtesy Elliott Brown


Follow us for more great history and 'Did you Know' facts as we build a gallery and catalogue of wonderful architecture to be found across Birmingham.

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21 Aug 2018 - Elliott Brown

Birmingham Corporation Tramways

Birmingham used to have an old tram network that ended around 1953. From 1904 to 1953 it was run by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Corporation_Tramways Although trams first ran in Birmingham from 1872. Today all that is left is a tram at Thinktank, several old depots, and other objects at museums.

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In Birmingham you can visit Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum where you can see the only surviving intact tram left from the era.

It was the no 78 tram to Small Heath. Number 395 of the Birmingham Corporation Tramways. It had previously been in the old Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry until 1997. And at Thinktank from around 2001 onwards.

Tram at Thinktank

There is a tram museum in Derbyshire at Crich, called the National Tramway Museum. While they don't have any full size Birmingham trams there, due to the fact that the track gauge was different, they do have a couple of models.

This was a model of Birmingham Corporation Tramways No 700, on the 70 to Rednal. The actual tram it was based on was built by Brush Electrical Engineering Co Ltd in 1925. No. 700 was one of the last cars to be withdrawn from Miller Street Depot in August 1953.

Birmingham Corporation Tramways 700

This tram model at Crich was of the Birmingham Corporation Tramsways service from Aston Cross to Steelhouse Lane.

Birmingham tram Aston Cross to Steelhouse Lane

They also have this sign at the museum. Acocks Green and Dale End 44, which probably was removed from a tram that got scrapped?

Acocks Green and Dale End 44

Also at the National Tramway Museum was a set of gates from the original Birmingham Wholesale Market. They were moved to the museum and installed in 1975.

The Blackpool Boat Car No 236 gives you an idea of what a tramline in Birmingham might have been like a century ago. Although Birmingham didn't have trams that looked like that! The gates are now used as an entrance to the museums tram depot.

Blackpool Boat Car 236 and Birmingham Wholesale Market gates

Birmingham Wholesale Market gates alternate view

After the old tram network closed down in 1953, many of the old tram depot buildings survived as the tracks were removed and the old trams were scrapped.

In Aston is this building not far from Villa Park. It was used as the Aston Manor Transport Museum until they had to close in 2011. Before that it was originally the Borough of Aston Manor Tramways Depot. It was built in 1882 for the Borough of Aston Manor. Also known as the Witton Lane Tramway Depot it is a Grade II listed building. Originally a steam tram depot from 1882, by 1904-06 it was converted to electric tram use. The City of Birmingham took it over from 1911 when Aston became part of the city. It was used as a tram depot until 1949. It was used to store and dismantle trams until 1953. By the 1980s the building was used as a car showroom, before it was a museum. Also known as the Witton Depot.

Aston Manor Transport Museum

Another old tram depot building that you can see is over in Selly Oak, now used by Access Storage. The depot opened in 1927. It was converted for motorbus used in 1952. You can see it on the 11C and 11A bus routes on Harborne Lane in Selly Oak, close to Selly Oak Triangle.

Selly Oak Tram Depot

On the Moseley Road in Balsall Heath was the Moseley Road Depot. It opened in 1907 and was converted for motorbus use in 1949. The building is quite derelict now, although parts of the building to the back are in use, the building at the front is not. It's a Grade II listed building, built by Lowe & Son in 1906. Designed by FB Osborn for Birmingham Corporation


Balsall Heath Tram Depot


There is a section of track near the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on what was Edmund Street close to the Water Hall that is still there. It was the only section preserved in the city centre after rest of the tracks were lifted after the network closed in 1953.

Tram track


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17 Aug 2018 - Elliott Brown

Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower inspired by the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy

The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower at the University of Birmingham, also known as Old Joe, built from 1900 to 1908, was based on the Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Tuscany, Italy (that was built from 1338 to 1348). 

Take the full post for more great 'Did you know' facts on 'Old Joe' plus stunning photography courtesy Elliott Brown.

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The Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock tower was designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell and it was built from 1900 to 1908. Old Joe was designed by Aston Webb & Ingress Bell and is the tallest free standing clock tower in the world at 110 metres.

Old Joe at University of Birmingham

The clock tower is the tallest free standing clock tower in the world, recorded at 110 metres high. It stands in the middle of the University campus and is visible from many places, not just from the campus!

Quadrangle Old Joe view

This view of Old Joe is from South Yardley seen from the Oaklands Recreation Ground (a good site for viewing the city skyline).

Old Joe from Oaklands Recreation Ground

This view of Old Joe is from Holders Lane Woods. It leads onto Cannon Hill Park starting at either Selly Park or Moseley, towards Edgbaston.

Old Joe from Holders Lane Woods


The tower that inspired Old Joe was the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, in the Tuscany region of the country. It is in the Piazza del Campo also known as Il Campo. Each summer there is a horse race called the Palio of Siena and the square gets quite busy. On my visit it was just days away from the first horse race and the various teams were getting prepared, so sand was in the square as the horse racing track.

The tower is 102 metres high and was one of the tallest towers of medieval Italy.

Torre del Mangia, Il Campo, Siena, Italy

Torre del Mangia in Piazza del Campo, Siena

You can tell that Old Joe was based on the Torre del Mangia as it has a similar design. Both towers dominate the skyline in their respective cities.

Siena Skyline with Torre del Mangia

For some more great posts and photography from Elliott. connect HERE

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