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Sarehole Mill is a fine example of one of more than fifty water mills that existed in Birmingham at one time.
History of the Mill
Sarehole Mill was built in 1765 on the site of an even older mill, Biddle's Mill, which dated back to 1540. Sarehole was used mostly to grind corn. Matthew Boulton's father rented the Mill and Sarehole farm in 1756. When his father died, Boulton used the Mill for making buttons and for metal rolling until he moved his operations to Handsworth in 1761. In the late 1890s Sarehole was the childhood haunt of J.R.R. Tolkien, and famously used as inspiration for the mill at Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings.
The Mill is open to the public from April to October and to school parties throughout the year.
Tolkien and the Mill
In 1896 J.R.R. Tolkien settled with his mother and brother at 5 Gracewell (now 264 Wake Green Road), a cottage in Sarehole village. It was only four miles from the centre of Birmingham but it was then still set within the north Worcestershire countryside. Coming from the hot dry landscape of South Africa, the green fields and woods made a vivid impression on Tolkien.
He said that Sarehole was the model for the Shire, home of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. When Tolkien visited Birmingham with his family in 1933 he lamented the changes in Sarehole, as Birmingham had continued to grow until Sarehole was but a suburb in the huge city. In 1933, much of the area was still farmland, but there were many more houses and gardens, and one old farmhouse had become a garage selling petrol.
The most exciting thing for a young boy to see in the village of Sarehole was certainly Sarehole Mill, which Tolkien refers to as 'the great mill' in The Hobbit. It stands on the River Cole. Tolkien based the bad-tempered Ted Sandyman (the miller) in The Lord of the Rings on the miller there, who perhaps understandably shouted at him and his younger brother when they were playing in the mill yard.
The millers, George Andrew senior and junior can be seen in the photo to the right taken in 1890.