Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Unveiled - Tolkien's Blue Plaque

In a ceremony organised by Leeds Civic Trust, the plaque for one of our area’s most famous – and most beloved – literary residents was revealed on Monday morning, 1 October, on the red brick wall of 2 Darnley Road. It was unveiled by Dr Kersten Hall, graduate of St Anne’s College, Oxford and Visiting Fellow to the Faculty of Arts at the University of Leeds. 

The event followed campaigning by the Tolkien Society and its members. Here is part of the Society’s informative statement for the event:

J.R.R. Tolkien, graduate of Exeter College, Oxford, was Reader in English language at the University of Leeds, his family moved to Leeds residing briefly at 5 Holly Bank, Headingley and then leasing a house in St Mark’s Terrace. In 1924 Tolkien bought the semi-detached property in Darnley Road. He went on to be made Professor of the English Language at the university. The family lived there for over a year before Tolkien’s election to the Rawlinson and Bosworth chair of Anglo-Saxon saw them return to Oxford in 1926. 

During his time at the University of Leeds Tolkien was instrumental in shaping the English Language syllabus at the university; some aspects of this were still present sixty years later. He also worked with E.V. Gordon to produce an edition of the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was published in 1925.

Members of Headingley LitFest’s organizing committee were there, as might be expected, accompanying others in the crowd to the nearby Stables Bar for a reception. Speakers included Rory McTurk, Emeritus Professor of Icelandic Studies at the University of Leeds, who contributed to the LitFest programme in 2009. Included in his brief talk were references to a ‘completed’ translation by Tolkien of the story of Sigurd and Brynhildr - and also a Tolkien version of Beowulf, which might just be released for publication next year. 

In only-too-brief conversations with transient friends, it was established that some Tolkien Society members had come up to Leeds from many miles away - for example Dr Lynn Forest Hill, who had travelled from Southampton.

In letters to Allen and Unwin in 1961, the great man emphasized his gratitude for his time in Leeds: “I was devoted to the University of Leeds, which was very good to me, and to its students, whom I left with regret.”

Pictured below: Second Lieutenant J R R Tolkien during the First World War. To qualify as a signals officer, he attended a signals school run by the army's Northern Command at Farnley Park, Otley, which he left in May 1916. He did not see the full intensity of the Battle of the Somme, but he did experience the horror of trench warfare. In November 1916, he was invalided back to England with 'trench fever' and temporarily posted to Hornsea in East Yorkshire. His recovery from this was sporadic and , having relapsed, he was admitted to a Harrogate sanatorium. He also spent time at the Brooklands Officers' Hospital in Hull.  (from the booklet produced by Leeds Civic Trust)

1 comment:

  1. It was good to read about your members visit to the unveiling of the plaque to J.R.R. Tolkein- so justly deserved.
    I was very interested to learn of Tolkein's experiences in the First World War as I had a great uncle who apparently returned from the Battle of the Somme with trench fever and died shortly afterwards.