Following the success of the Tolkien weekends at Sarehole Mill in 2000 and 2001, there was another similar event on the weekend of of May 18-19, 2002.
For the third year running, the Tolkien Society in conjunction with Birmingham City Council and local groups staged the increasingly popular weekend at Sarehole Mill, Birmingham. Despite initially poor weather, the event was well attended on Saturday. Sunday, with better weather, had record attendance. In all, the count of attendees reached over 5,000.
Fun was the motto of this year's Tolkien Weekend in and around Sarehole Mill. And we all had a lot of fun during these two days. I took the chance to attend this celebration in honour of the Professor, and of course to see the places that had such an important influence on Tolkien.
The buildings are beautifully renovated by the City Council and by private investors. This weekend the Mill was fully operational, grinding corn by waterpower. Normally the Mill is used as a museum and full of information about how farm work was done in the area until the end of the 19th century. Then the surroundings became a residential suburb of Birmingham. In our days the Mill and its wonderful surroundings have been preserved as a nature reserve and have become a recreational area.
Rooms in the Mill itself hosted the Millstream Rangers, a Tolkien Display of the Birmingham Libraries, and us, the Tolkien Society. On display we had an archive exhibition, maps, comments about the movie and some rare posters and newspaper excerpts concerning radio dramatizations of Tolkien's work. Andrew showed what he had been working on over the winter: a mail shirt, that was great fun to put on for all visitors coming along. There were actually two Hobbits around, and the curly stuff on their feet was of special interest for the visiting children.
There is a vast meadow behind the Mill, on the side of the river Cole, the Sarehole Recreation Ground, and that was the main playground for the fun. A good deal of the medieval atmosphere was created by the re- enactment groups. They had erected tents and showed their marvelous and mostly hand-crafted armour and dressing. Bowmen gave demonstrations of archery past and present and showed the art for which the Hobbits of the Shire were renowned.
Spinners, weavers, woodcarvers, hand crafted jewellery, and much more old crafts were shown. You could see from the fine pieces that they were created with dedication. A special attraction for the children was a ride on a Shire Pony. The fans of role playing games could delight in action games set in beautifully depicted dioramas (designed after the film settings).
Display Vehicles on the parking lot showed information historically and environmentally, about the area. The Ranger Service had interesting booklets about the great variety of fauna and flora that can still be found along the river Cole, and especially in Moseley Bog. They gave many people an impression why it is necessary to preserve this natural habitat. The History Bus, run by the Birmingham Libraries, showed books and brochures, and copies of historical maps, about Hall Green and especially Sarehole Mill. And, of course, there were always many knowledgeable and friendly people around who would answer your questions.
Although the weather was not with us at first, it improved greatly during the Saturday and was quite nice in the afternoon. Sunday was splendid and invited so many people to come out to the Mill, that access had to be restricted at times.
Apart from the exhibitions and the demonstrations there was further fun and entertainment by folk dancers, costumed dramatizations and re- enactment groups. On Saturday the GreenMans Morris Dancers performed Morris dancing, and on Sunday, the Ladies of the 'Glorishers of Brummagem' performed beautiful folk dances.
An especially enjoyable part were the dramatized costumed character readings performed by Viv Wilkes and the company of 'Shire Productions'. Saturday saw scenes from The Hobbit, and Sunday showed scenes from The Lord of The Rings. It was a splendid idea of the company to do "story walks". That means we, the spectators, followed Bilbo and the Dwarves or Frodo and Company, while on a short walking tour. The destination each time was Moseley Bog. Now a nature reserve, the bog is a wonderful place, a little nature's paradise in the middle of the suburb. Full of bluebells and bird's voices, it has an enchanted charm. Penny the Ranger guided the walks through the bog, telling us about the rich variety of flowers, trees, herbs, and birds and other animals who have their home in this place. She gave a good overview how the Rangers preserve Moseley Bog. It was easy to imagine what a boyhood paradise this place must have been for the Tolkien brothers.
On Sunday morning I joined in a very interesting walk with Peter Bennett, through the Cole Valley. Peter turned out to be an inexhaustible well of lore about the valley and its history. He provided us with a map of the area from the time when Tolkien was a boy. We saw that it all was then open farmland, with an occasional farmhouse building. The streets were lanes, and the river was crossed by fords, but the suburb could already been seen creeping in from the edges of the map.
On Saturday afternoon, when the sun had already sunk a good deal, and the light was becoming yellow, a Black Rider on a black horse rode into the meadow, and he hissed "Bagginss! I want Baggins! Where is Baggins ?" That was frightening for the children, but a wonderful addition to the atmosphere. His costume was splendid, even the horse wore mail. Simple but with a great effect. Well done, unknown rider.
Fame of the event had spread far beyond Hall Green, and on Sunday afternoon we saw an interesting motorcar approaching, full of funny antennas and provided with a huge telescope mast for on-line transmission: The BBC had come, and the participants and actors were interviewed and invited to give their performances for the microphones.
To sum up my impressions, it was a great event, very well organized and smoothly managed. I'd like to thank all the lovely people whom I have met, who made this weekend possible, of the Birmingham City Authorities, the Libraries, the Ranger Service, and the Tolkien Society. You have done a great job. It was was really worth "coming over" for the event, and I'm looking forward to more fun around The Mill next time. Anyway, Birmingham is much more beautiful than meets the eye at first sight. I'll be back...
Report by Stephan Burkhardt, Germany
A longer report (also written by Stephan) was published in The Tolkien Society's bulletin, Amon Hen 178.