A little bit delayed – okay, muchly delayed! – here is the Tolkien Society’s report of the action at the 2003 Tolkien Weekend at Sarehole Mill on May 17 and 18 …
2003’s Tolkien Weekend at Sarehole Mill was the wettest yet, but that didn’t deter anyone! The Tolkien Weekend is an event put together by a partnership of the Tolkien Society, Birmingham City Council, the Moseley Bog Conservation Group, The River Cole & Chinn Brook Conservation Group and The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country. The idea being to show people the hidden treasures in the landscape around them which had such an inspirational effect on J.R.R. Tolkien. Last year saw 5,000 people attend in glorious weather, this year despite heavy rains it seemed that just as many people turned up.
The event was opened by Simon Tolkien who had been introduced by Councillor Ian Ward (representing Birmingham City Council). Simon spoke for about 15 minutes on his grandfather’s life prior to Sarehole and the lasting effect it was to have on him. Official Opening done Simon and family were very pleased to be at the event and toured the various stalls and tents, chatting with people and signing copies of his new book (a legal thriller which is quite a page turner), and staying for several hours despite the rain.
Yes, as mentioned, it rained a lot, especially on Sunday. Previous Tolkien Weekends have bathed in glorious sunshine, not this year. Mind you while last year visitors and their children had boggled at the sight of a couple of hobbits with hairy feet, this year they marvelled at their hardihood, although by Sunday they were waterlogged and took to boots, as hobbits did in marshy conditions. On Saturday members of the Tolkien Society provided a Sam, Rosie, Merry & Pippin, Sam having come all the way from Germany while various members of the council staff joined the Shire Productions team as Nazgul or Orcs. On Sunday but there a replacement Sam turned up in the form of a teenage fan(girl) who was Sam complete with curly wig, rucksack and pan; just not as portly as Sean Astin’s portrayal!
Apart from the working Mill with its displays from the Tolkien Society and Hall Green Library there were three marquees of stalls selling locally made honey, books, organic crops and fine handicrafts. Plus information stalls from the various conservation groups including the Perrot’s Folly Group. The folly and nearby waterworks towers are Birmingham’s originals for “The Two Towers”, and there were trips on a historic bus from the Mill to Perrot’s Folly at regular intervals. Games Workshop were running display games for kids and parents (and unlike the books the orcs won on a few occasions).
Another ‘two towers’ were provided by the Wythall Radio Club, these ‘ham’ radio operators were transmitting with the callsign GB2ME (for Middle-earth), but last year’s feat of reaching mid-Russia couldn’t be bettered due to the atmospheric conditions. Birmingham’s own Vikings re-enactors demonstrated the fine art of swinging a dane-axe, or lopping off an axeman’s arm; showing how dark age weapons were really used. They also displayed the artistic side of the Norsemen showing how to make beautifully decorated leather pouches and scabbards. Arts & crafts were also on show under the oak trees by the River Cole, where woodcarvers and turners demonstrated how to turn fallen boughs into works of art rather than firewood.
In the poetry pavilion stories of Gawain and Beowulf were performed in bardic style (but without the mead!) and the crowds were treated to some of Tolkien’s songs from “The Road Goes Ever On”. Julie Boden, Birmingham’s poet laureate read a virulai about Tolkien which had been commissioned by the Hall Green Residents Association, and many of the poets present were reading from Tolkien’s own works or on related themes.
Static displays aside there were: tours of Tolkien’s childhood haunts; storywalks with scenes from Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit within Moseley Bog itself performed by Shire Productions; nature and archaeological walks around the Bog area and up the Cole valley. It may have rained hard and often over the weekend but the crowds still came to enjoy themselves, learn something new and watch the mill at work, I daresay that the miller was happy to see the millpool being topped up all day as it would mean he could run the mill for longer; part of the reason the mill closed was its water supply problems.