Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Orthanc bought for £1

It's interesting to skim YouTube currently for oddments that didn't make it into the The Lord of the Rings film triology for editorial or timing reasons. One (above) is the death of Saruman. Motivation-wise, it sticks to the book - Saruman finally taunting his sidekick Gríma Wormtongue beyond endurance - but in the book it happened in the Scouring of Shire chapter, when Frodo and Sam return to find the Shire industrialised by Saruman.

Perrott's Folly -
GNU Free Documentation License

This ties in with newspaper reports yesterday about the sale of a Georgian folly in Birmingham - Bought for £1, the mysterious tower that inspired JRR Tolkien ("Charity needs £1m to turn Perrott's Folly, said to have inspired author, into centre for Birmingham community" - Maev Kennedy, Guardian, 29th January) and It doesn't look much like Mordor: The 100ft Midlands tower which was Tolkien's unlikely inspiration (Steve Nolan, Daily Mail, 29th January). The Mail piece has more pictures, though it gets Orthanc confused with Sauron's Dark Tower (Barad-dûr).

Both articles mention how this, and a second tower - the Italianate Edgbaston Waterworks tower (see Flickr) - were in sight of JRR Tolkien's childhood home, and they echo a general "it is said" set of anecdotes about their being the inspiration for the towers in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien never was terribly forthcoming about his inspirations, and such identifications can be far too pat, but in this case it doesn't seem too unlikely.

The tower was built by John Perrott in 1758; the precise reason is unknown, and it was being called Perrott's Folly as early as the 1830s:
At a considerable distance to the left is seen a tall tower, commonly called the Monument. This is built of brick, is seven stories high, and was never made of any use, except in the capacity of pigeon-houses. It was erected in 1758, by John Perrott, Esq. whose name it partially bears, with an appropriate satirical adjunct—Perrott's Folly
- page 109, The Picture of Birmingham, Drake, 1831
Speculations continued thereafter:
I have heard a vague statement that our Monument, popularly known as " Perrott's Folly," was erected by a gentleman of that name, in order that his daughter might see the then frequent meets of hounds at Rotton Park, and the excitement of the chase round by Smethwick woods. So lately as sixty years ago it was not uncommon for the hounds to meet at Rotton Park, and I believe advertisements of the fact still exist in the old files of the Gazette. It is, however, more probable that the Monument was erected for a very different purpose, for in his description of Birmingham in 1818, Mr. Charles Pye speaks of it as "an observatory, lofty brick building seven stories high, which bears the name of the Monument . . . erected by John Perrott, Esq., about the year 1758". I do not remember any further account in print. The building was once let with the adjoining house (occupied in 1818 by John Guest, Esq.) but is now detached, and rises from a small plot of lawn. The door is massive oak, well studded with nails, a flight of  solid oak steps spiral fashion, in the staircase tower leads from room to room ; each room is well lighted and in good condition, with ornaments on the ceilings, and good oak fittings around. The upper room commands a very fine view on a clear day. The brickwork is (i.e.  in 1864) good and sound, and the Monument will remain for many generations yet, if left undisturbed by "improvements".
- 'ESTE', The Midland Antiquary - Volumes 3-4 - Page 42, 1884
See the Perrott's Folly website for further background; and Two Towers previously, in which I commented on various towers and on the engineering issues of Tolkien having giant towers in a tectonically active area.

- Ray

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