Christopher, Priscilla, Michael, Edith and JRRT, on holiday in Weston-super-Mare, April 1940.

Explore the timeline

This family portrait (including the household servants) was taken in Bloemfontein, South Africa, November 1892. The card was annotated by his mother with a Christmas greeting for relatives in England.
Hilary and Ronald, aged one and three, Birmingham, 1895.

Arthur Reuel Tolkien, manager with the Bank of Africa in Bloemfontein, with his dog, Meg, 1892.

Gracewell Road, Sarehole, c. 1900. Tolkien lived here with his mother and younger brother for four years, between the ages of four and eight.

Mabel Tolkien was only twenty-six years old when she was widowed with two young children.

King Edward’s School, New Street, Birmingham, c.1900. Tolkien attended the school, 1900-1901, and returned to complete his schooling with the aid of a scholarship, 1903-1911.

Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary, aged thirteen and eleven in May 1905. Their mother had died six months earlier leaving them orphans.

Father Francis Xavier Morgan (1857-1935) was appointed by Mabel Tolkien to be the guardian of her two young sons on her death in 1904. He became a second father to the boys and, in time, a grandfather to their own children.

Duchess Road, Edgbaston where Tolkien and his brother, Hilary, lived in lodgings, 1908-1909. It was here that Tolkien met and fell in love with Edith Bratt, a fellow lodger.

Edith Bratt aged seventeen, 1906. She gave this photograph to Tolkien in 1909 as a keepsake.
Tolkien aged nineteen, taken in Birmingham during his final year at King Edward VI school, 1911.

Tolkien (seated, centre) enjoying a walking holiday in Switzerland in 1911, shortly before he started university. The group included his brother Hilary, and his aunt Jane Neave.

View of Exeter College, Oxford, from the corner of Turl Street and Brasenose Lane, 1913. Tolkien lived in the college as a student for three years. He has marked his bedroom window with a cross.

Tolkien (smoking pipe at window) with friends at Exeter College, Oxford, May 1914.

Tolkien served in the Lancashire Fusiliers during World War 1. This photograph was taken in Birmingham before he was sent to France for the Battle of the Somme, 1916.

His wife Edith taken around the time of their wedding in March 1916.

Soldiers digging a communication trench, through Delville wood, Somme battlefield, 13 July 1916.

Edith holding her first child, John Francis, who was born in Cheltenham in 1917. Tolkien was in hospital in Hull recovering from recurring bouts of trench fever and was not able to see his newborn son until several days after the birth.


The University of Leeds, 1913. Tolkien took up his first academic position at Leeds in 1920 as Reader in English Language and was promoted to Professor in 1924.

Michael and John photographed in Leeds in December 1921, aged one and four.

Tolkien holding Christopher, with Michael and John on the beach at Filey, September 1925.

Quad and porter’s lodge, Pembroke College, Oxford, c.1894. Tolkien was a Fellow of the College from 1925 to 1945.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) photographed by Hans Wild in 1946. Tolkien met Lewis in the 1920s at the University of Oxford where they both taught English. They quickly became friends and formed the nucleus of the literary group known as the Inklings.

Christopher, Michael (in foreground), John, Edith holding Priscilla and the au pair (Tolkien was taking the photograph), 26 March 1930.

Tolkien and his four children, at home in Oxford, July 1936, a year before The Hobbit was published. His three sons were the first to hear the story read aloud.

Tolkien and his wife Edith, at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, c.1936. They bought the house from the publisher, Basil Blackwell and it was their family home for seventeen years.

© National Portrait Gallery

Stanley Unwin (1884-1968), photographed by Walter Stoneman in 1946. Unwin was the head of the publishing firm, George Allen & Unwin, and took the decision in 1936 to publish The Hobbit. It was the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Tolkien.

Tolkien working in his study at home, 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, c.1937.

Michael Tolkien outside 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, March 1940. He was at Trinity College, Oxford, studying history but would shortly be called up for military service.

Christopher (standing, centre) with his RAF squadron in Kroonstadt, South Africa, July 1944, where he was training to be a fighter pilot.

Christopher and his father in 1945, taken in the garden at 20 Northmoor Road. Christopher had qualified as a fighter pilot, as shown by the ‘wings’ above his left breast pocket.

View of Merton College, Oxford from Christ Church meadow. Tolkien was appointed Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford in 1945.

‘The Laughing Philosopher’, taken at the Garden House Hotel, Cambridge, August 1952. Tolkien was visiting the library at Corpus Christi College to work on the Middle English text, Ancrene Wisse.

Tolkien working in the garden of his new home in Sandfield Road, Oxford, July 1953.
Tolkien relaxing at home in Sandfield Road, Oxford, May 1954.

W.H. Auden photographed at Christ Church, Oxford, 1972 by Billett Potter. He wrote very positive reviews of The Lord of the Rings on its publication in 1954 and 1955.

Tolkien leaving Pembroke College, Oxford, 1960s.

Tolkien at the Hotel Miramar, Bournemouth, July 1965. He and Edith took many holidays at the hotel in their later years.

Tolkien at home in Poole, Dorset, August 1968. He had moved from Oxford earlier in the year, partly to escape from the intrusions on his personal life which followed the success of his books.

Tolkien and Edith at home in Poole, Dorset, July 1969. Edith was very happy in her new home with its modern conveniences and its proximity to the sea.

Tolkien in his flat on Merton Street, Oxford, 1972. Photographed by Billett Potter. After Edith’s death in 1971, Tolkien returned to Oxford where he was close to family and friends.

Tolkien holding his C.B.E. outside Buckingham Palace with his son, John and daughter, Priscilla, March 1972.

This is the last photograph of Tolkien. It was taken in the Botanic Garden, Oxford, 9 August 1973 by his eldest grandchild, Michael George Tolkien. He is leaning against the trunk of a large black pine (Pinus nigra), one of his favourite trees.

Christopher Tolkien photographed at home in 2016. He worked on his father’s papers for over 40 years and by the end of his life he had edited and published twenty-four volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.