Tolkien and Haytor

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Link with The Shotts, Haytor, Devon

Frances Billinge 2020

Recently I have been researching ‘Millionaires Row’ also known as ‘Gold Flake Lane’ which was a late Victorian miners’ track in Haytor. By the start of the twentieth century it was becoming a fashionable lane along which wealthy residents from Torquay established their holiday homes. Dame Vera Wills, her sister Mrs Ella Rowcroft, Catherine Booth-Clibborn the daughter of William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army, and also Christabel Pankhurst the suffragette all came to this area which is close to the Haytor beauty spot.[1]

While talking to current residents I was informed that J. R. R. Tolkien used to stay at The Shotts, one of the houses along this prestigious lane, which his family owned (Fig. 1). Maybe Tolkien developed his imaginative Hobbit stories while relaxing in this pleasant setting? This I had to explore.

Figure 1. The Shotts Haytor. Dick Wills collection.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien 1892- 1973

John Roland Reuel Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings and Professor of Anglo Saxon at the University of Oxford, was the first son of Arthur Reuel and Mary Tolkien. He was born in South Africa in 1892 and moved to England as a child. His father died when he was four and his mother when he was twelve. His adult life was spent mainly as a major scholar in Oxford and in his later years he lived in Poole near Bournemouth.[2] He is perhaps most famous for his works of mythology and invented language which he set in a pre-historic era in a place called Middle-earth peopled by elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs and hobbits.[3]

It would be exciting to think of such an imaginative and famous author having lived in and been inspired by Dartmoor, but this was not to be. After lengthy searches I have had to conclude that there is no evidence that J.R.R. Tolkien ever lived, or spent time, in Haytor. However, one of his relatives did indeed live there.

Investigating the Haytor Link

There were no references in works on J. J. R.Tolkien or in his diaries to link him with Haytor, but in 2013 intriguing articles appeared in two Devon magazines. The first was in Devon Life in January 2013 describing a holiday let in Haytor  as having links with the family of this famous scholar and writer (Fig. 2).[4]

Figure 2. The previous holiday let, The Shotts Haytor. Frances Billinge 2020

Devon Life’s Belinda Dillon goes off the beaten track to Little Shotts on Dartmoor

‘It’s not surprising to learn that J.R.R. Tolkien’s family lived at The Shotts, the main house back along the lane, and when you venture a few feet into the wood and peer into the filled-in opening of the former iron ore mine scooped out of the earth as if by a giant hand your imagination needn’t stretch too far to conjure hobbits, elves and magical realms.’

The second was in Devon Home Magazine two months later.[5]

‘The Secret Holt is located near Haytor Vale on Dartmoor, just off the Templer Granite Tramway. [The] owner … has transformed this two-bedroom wooden chalet into an alpine-style retreat for guests – a perfect bolt-hole from which to explore the magnificent surroundings. J. R. R. Tolkien’s family lived at the main house nearby.’

This story was repeated a year later in the Daily Mail which reported, incorrectly, that the family link was on Tolkien’s wife’s side.

The ultimate getaway for hobbit fans: Inside the Secret Holt alpine cottage with links to J.R R. Tolkien tucked away in Devon. JRR Tolkien’s family once lived in main house attached to two-bedroom let. This pint-sized hideaway could be the ultimate holiday destination for any Lord of the Rings fans.The tiny two-bedroom Secret Holt in Haytor, Devon, is set among a Scots Pines forest on land once owned by JRR Tolkien’s family .The family – thought to be on Tolkien’s wife’s side – once lived in the now owner’s home, located just a few metres from the alpine cottage. The owners of the cottage say he visited the property towards the end of his life – when he and his wife Edith lived in Bournemouth.’

Stuart Frederick Gerald Tolkien was the family link with The Shotts

Having read the press accounts I spoke to locals who remembered Tolkien family members who had lived at The Shotts in the 1960s. Further research in newspapers and telephone directories identified Stuart Gerald Frederick Tolkien as the owner. The Tolkien family tree shows that Stuart Tolkien was a second cousin once removed of the famous J. R. R. Tolkien.

Family tree of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Stuart Frederick Geoffrey Tolkien was born in Barnet in 1916. On the 1939 Register he was an automobile engineer working for his father in Bushey. Stuart married Heather C. Royle in Amersham in 1949.

As far as I have been able to ascertain no previous occupant of The Shotts was a descendant of the Tolkien family and Stuart Frederick Geoffrey Tolkien purchased the house after it was advertised for sale by auction in 1962.[6] It did not pass to him from an ancestor.

He continued in the motor trade and in the 1960s became general manager of Renwick’s garage in Newton Abbot.[7] Stuart and his family’s residence at The Shotts was confirmed by telephone directories from 1966-1971.[8]

Stuart and Heather had four children. In 1966 a bicycle was advertised for sale by his son Michael with The Shotts, Haytor as the contact address.[9] The family are still remembered locally by friends at nearby Rora who socialised and rode with them. [10]

By 1971 Stuart Frederick Geoffrey Tolkien had left The Shotts and the telephone number passed to the next owner. Stuart moved to Abham Cottage near Staverton, Buckfastleigh where he died in 1978.[11]

An Interesting Family

Many of J. R. R. Tolkien’s relatives were linked with making and selling pianofortes and teaching music. The family descended from John Benjamin Tolkien who was born in Gdansk in 1752 and emigrated to England. He was a skilled watch and clock maker and his work is still collectable as shown by Bellman’s the auctioneer’s sale catalogue in 2019 described one of his chiming and musical long-case clocks circa1800.[12] His son George, the great grandfather of both J. R. R. Tolkien and Stuart Haywood Tolkien, was a teacher and seller of music (see family tree above).[13] The family talent for music continued and both grandfathers – John Benjamin II and Septimus were pianoforte makers and repairer and music sellers.[14] This was a precarious way to make a living and both branches of the family experienced bankruptcy.[15] The next generation moved away from music with J.R.R. Tolkien’s father becoming a bank clerk, and Stuart Haywoods’ a chemical manufacturer.[16]


I have been able to describe the Tolkien family link with The Shotts, Haytor. While it is possible J. R. R. Tolkien visited The Shotts, by the time Stuart Tolkien lived there, his second cousin once removed was living in Poole and no longer drove.[17] However as Stuart had cars and was even involved in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1965 he could have easily visited J. R. R. Tolkien in Poole.[18]

J. R. R. Tolkien was an excellent artist as shown by his illustrations for The Hobbit, which are of magical woods similar to the eastern edge of Dartmoor. Even if he was not known to have visited, one can imagine him dreaming of such places.


I would like to thank residents of Haytor for their interest in this research, and also the family at Rora in Ilsington for their memories of the Tolkiens of The Shotts.


[1] Frances and Malcolm Billinge, 2020. T. H. Lyon and Haytor Vale accessed 7 December 2020.

[2] T. A. Shippey, 2004. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online 2004 updated 2017  accessed 22 November 2020); Humphrey Carpenter,1977.  J. R. R. Tolkien a biography (London, George Allan and Unwin) pp.13-14; accessed 7 December 2020.  

[3] David Doughan. J. R. R. Tolkien a Biographical Sketch accessed 12 December 2020.

[4] Devon Life 2 January 2013, Belinda Dillon.

[5] Devon Home Magazine, 1 March 2013, Jenny Cooper, ed.

[6] Torbay Express and South Devon Echo 4 October 1962, p. 2, auction notice.

[7] Torquay Express and South Devon Advertiser 1 Feb 1964, p. 7, S. F. G. Tolkien general manager of Renwick’s Garages.

[8] Telephone Directory 1964, 1968, 1970 S F G Tolkien, The Shotts, Haytor 332.

[9] Torbay Express and Echo 14 January 1966, p. 3.

[10] Personal communication with family at Rora.

[11] Telephone Directory 1971-1978; Probate 1978.

[12] Bellmans Sussex Sale Catalogue 19-20 November 2019.

[13] All Saints Birmingham Marriage Register of George’s son John Benjamin Tolkien II 1856 confirms George’s occupation

[14] Op. cit. and Census details for both John and Septimus.

[15] Northampton Post 15 May 1813, p. 4. Bankrupts; West Kent Guardian 30 July 1842, p. 1, insolvency; Birmingham Daily Gazette 12 November 1877, p. 1 selling off sale of music and pianos; Morning Post 9 February 1878, p.8, Liquidation by Arrangement.

[16] Census.

[17] H. Carpenter,1977, op. cit. note 2, pp.239, 249, 250.

[18] Torbay Express and Echo 12 January 1965, p, 8.