Pink and Purple Inks Part II

Pink and Purple Inks Part II

Note: The scans are in the same order from left to right as the reviews are from top to bottom

Pink and Purple Inks Part II

Pelikan Rosé (Rose Colored): Very unique interesting bright and light rosé-orange color, actually pretty similar to the color of rosé wine, but a little bit more intense. Might be mistaken for a strange bright red color and still too light/pale for writing, but great for underlining. (cartridge only)

Pink Inks:

Pelikan Pink: Light pink color with lesser intensity. Similar to Lamy Pink, has not had as many magenta tones as Waterman, Herbin, Rotring, and Jansen pinks. (cartridge only)

Herbin Rose Cyclamen: Light-medium pink color with good intensity, but slightly less intense and lighter than Waterman Pink. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Rotring Pink: Medium intense pink color, very similar to Waterman Pink with better intensity; slightly darker, but not as intense as Jansen Magenta. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Waltraud Bethge Papier Cool Colors Lavendel (Lavender): Nice blueish violet color similar to Herbin Violet but a little bit darker and with more/good intensity. Not as dark as Waterman Violet. (bottled ink only) learn more about Inks at

Herbin Violet Pensée: Paler medium violet color similar to Sheaffer Lavender, but a little bit bluer and slightly darker. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Rotring Violett (Violet): Lighter medium violet towards the magenta tones, similar to Pelikan Lilac, but more blue and less intensity. Color is inbetween Pelikan Lilac and Sheaffer Lavender. (bottled ink and cartridge)

Pelikan Flieder (Lilac): Medium violet similar to Pelikan Violet, but lighter, less intense, and definitely more magenta tones. More intense than Rotring Violet. cartridge only)

Nib grinding experiences

Nib grinding experiences

So, I had this Edson, with a broadish medium nib, and a small burr on the right-hand side of its tip. How it all got this far, is a story I might share some other time.

However, the nib with the burr was a deliberate choice. It was the broadest medium nib available at the store, as the broad was more than double its width. This medium was just right for me, and I had been reading on the Internet that it was possible to change the nib style anyway. Fixing a nib with problems was something the good men and women of PenTrace were hinting at as well. As I had promised to share my experiences, I decided to take notes of my adventures. Well, here they are…

I went out and found 1200 grit wet&dry sandpaper. Some people on the Internet had suggested that 1000 grit was good enough, so I wanted to give it a try. I already owned a small black Arkansas stone, which seemed smoother than the wet&dry; so why not try that too, I thought.

And one evening, after checking that the tines were aligned correctly, I just did. Very carefully, by writing on the wet&dry; in a small puddle of water, I tried to get rid of the burr.

Moving up and down, left and right, in a slow, almost pressureless fashion, and lots of testing in between by cleaning and dipping the pen, the burr was removed. I tried to use some very fine car polish paste to try and polish the end result, but it was rather difficult to apply to a surface as small as the tip of a fountain pen, and I did not dare use a buffing pad on my Dremel. Anyway, as it was, this only required less than fifteen minutes of work. Great, I thought.

However, when using the pen in practice, in real-world use, it felt a bit rougher than before. So, out came the Arkansas stone. Holding the pen still, and moving the stone in a circular motion over the tip in all directions, no pressure applied, seemed to do the trick.

After using the pen “in the field” as it were, for a couple of days, I was not at all that satisfied anymore. The pen tended to write drier and more scratchy than ever before. A kind of grinding experience…

Asking more questions on PenTrace learned that one should really use a very fine grit mylar (12000 grit or thereabouts) for the final finish. Scouring all the hardware stores in the neighborhood of my hometown and my workplace did not result in tracing any mylar whatsoever, or anything like it.

What I did find was a 30 X loupe normally used for small gemstones and diamonds, and a Dremel emery polishing disk, however. The latter was not only very cheap, but also finer than either my Arkansas stone, or the 1200 grit wet&dry, and was flexible as well. learn more about parker pens at

Good. Gave that a try, holding the pen once more in my left hand, and the disk in the right one. A lot easier to work with than the Arkansas stone, making circular movements in a single plane, and rotating my hand all the way around the tip of the nib. Just making sure not to catch the nib in the hole in the middle.

The result was quite a bit better than before, and basically, it became a double-sided nib as a side effect, medium on the one side, and fine when reversed, a bit akin to the ItaliFine nibs of Richard Binder, I guess (not Italic obviously, but certainly a dual nib).

In the meantime, I had also acquired an ST Dupont Orpheo, with a fine nib, which was incredibly smooth. Smoother than the Edson either way around, or than it ever had been.

Listen, it was writing very well indeed now, better than any other pens in my possession, like my Pelikan M800 for example (yes advancing my pen collection rather rapidly), but, after all, I happen to be a perfectionist.

Getting frustrated and all, and not having too much time to spare, I decided to do a search on the Internet, and finally found what I was looking for. 3M 12000 grit on a plastic film, called International Lapping Film (that would be the mylar, I assumed), and Micromesh, up to grit 12000, in Micromesh terms, which in fact turned out to be approximately 6000 grit.

Both could be had from the same shop, in Belgium, but not very far away from where I live, only 25 kilometers (15 miles) down the motorway. My hometown is in the Netherlands, but only just.

So, one morning after a phone call to see whether this shop sold to private persons as well, as it seemed to be an industrial supplier rather than a retail shop, I found out they actually did and set off to visit them. I ended up buying a Micromesh set up to grit 6000, good for polishing a perspex airplane canopy to perfection, added additional sheets in grade 8000 and 12000, a sheet of 3M’s International Lapping Film grit 8000, and one in 12000, plus a quantity of water-soluble polishing paste, also for use with perspex, and thus only very mildly abrasive.

Tools used

  • plenty of water
  • plenty of ink
  • plenty of toweling
  • different kinds of writing paper
  • loupe (30X, diamond loupe)
  • small black Arkansas stone
  • grey Dremel emery polishing wheel
  • 1 sheet 1200 grit wet-dry sandpaper
  • Micro-Mesh set (6 sheets MicroMesh grainsize1500, 1800, 2400, 3600, 4000, and 6000, 1 bottle of antistatic water-soluble polishing fluid, 1 foam rubber polishing block, 1 very fine linen polishing/cleaning cloth), with an additional
  • 1 sheet of 8000 and 12000-grain size.
  • 1 sheet 3M Imperial Lapping Film, light green, 1 micron1 sheet 3M Imperial Lapping Film, white, 0.3 micro
  • scanner, and simple rig to scan the nib at 2400 dpi

A couple of days later I had the opportunity to try out my newly acquired set, on a pen that had its nib bent 90 degrees, and straightened again. It needed buffing, as the pen repair person had to do a job for me in a hurry. I needed the pen the day before yesterday.

So I buffed at the little nick it was showing because some of the gold on the nib had burrs where it was bent previously. It worked out really wonderfully, no problem. Using the 12000 Micromesh on the foam buffer pad that came with the set, the burrs were worked away quite easily. Finishing it to a shine was achieved by using the liquid polish and the buffing cloth that was provided with the Micromesh set.

Lovely. No damage could be seen anymore at all, and the pen wrote like a dream, smoother than my Edson, comparing favorably to the Dupont. Ok, I thought, this is it, I just have to try it. Not today, though, other things to do, and I want to play with this on some cheap pens as well, before having a go at the Edson.

A week later or so, the converter of the Edson happened to be empty again while I was sitting at my desk in the basement. Right in the weekend. what an opportunity! It was 

Saturday night late, and I was not going to disturb anyone doing it either. I cleaned it out, rinsed, splashed, flushed, and gargled, got all the tools out, and worked the nib first with the 12000 Micromesh on the buffing pad. This was done again by making circular movements in the three dimensions of the nib point, while holding the pen still, using plenty of water as a lubricant, and checking often with a 30 X loupe.

Now over to the International Lapping Film, 12000 grit. A piece was cut, big enough to cover the foam pad and hold it comfortably. The same technique was applied, and now I noticed that the nib point, the “iridium”, started to shine, which it did not do before.

Testing it revealed that there was a slight bit of sharp tooth left on the right-hand side of the nib, so I worked it a bit more, concentrating on that side.

Next try: it was fine now, it felt smooth. A good rinse, flush, and cleaning followed suit. Testing it on 5 different kinds of paper, from cheap, rough stuff to very smooth and G. Lalo, proved that it was writing absolutely fantastically now, on any paper! Well, at least the stuff I had around.

Time to fill the converter, and do a comparison. Seemed to be as smooth as the Dupont now, with still some feel to the paper. It was gliding marvelously across the paper, totally effortlessly.

Ok, what about my M800? That was still a bit rough also and tended to start with some difficulty. Studying its nib with the loupe revealed a couple of very sharp edges to the point, so it got the same treatment. A bit more carefully, though, as it was (is) an oblique nib. I wanted to maintain its specific character after all. Well, needless to say, really, but this seemed to succeed as well. It now has still some bite, but it writes smoothly, rather than catching the paper as it did before, and the shading it produces is still ok.

As I had this awful Duofold Centennial lying around as well, which used to be messed up due to dried-up Penman ink in combination with a bad nib. The second nib it had now, was still a rather scratchy one, even having been back to the manufacturer or importer twice in the last six weeks or so. Ok, why not take a look at that one as well, while I was busy torturing nibs anyway.

Got it out of its pen wallet, and tried to scratch some words with it on paper. This actually made me furious, and I got working on it like a madman for about ten minutes. Actually, before doing so, I noticed, having a bit more experience, that it really had a funny sweet spot. You could only write with it well when holding the thing at an awkward, almost vertical angle!

It was fixed for the most part, as I can write with it now under any angle, almost, but it is still a bit of a scratching exercise. Maybe I’ll just turn it into something else sometime, but rather not now. Enough for a day’s (night’s) work…

You may wonder how much time was spent doing all these jobs. Getting all the stuff out, fixing these pens, and cleaning up took all of about fifty to sixty minutes, that’s all. And I was getting faster at it as well…

A couple of days into writing with the Edson, the converter was getting empty again, I noticed that there still was some bite in the nib, especially moving it sideways, to the left. Of course, I did not like that, and got out all the tools again, cleaned the pen, and looked at the tip aided by the loupe. I noticed the edges of the “iridium” on the inside, where the slit is, seemed rather sharp, so I stuck the Lapping Film between the tines and started to move it forward and backward while bending the film a little, both around and over the nib, to catch all sides of the slit. Turned the film around, and did the same with the other tine.

Less than 10 minutes later, I could see the difference with the loupe and tried to write with it again. Wow, smooth! No catching anymore. Cleaned everything up, flushed out the pen once more, and refilled.

This is now my best, smoothest writer, even better than the Dupont. Absolutely no effort required.

It’s two weeks later now, several refills later, and it is absolutely great. Wow! I love it.

Now, you may ask, would I recommend this practice to others?

Well, if you’re not afraid to do this kind of thing, in very little doses with the right kind of tools, I would exclaim wholeheartedly “Yes, go for it!”. However, make sure you’re comfortable with it and practice on some cheaper pens first. I know, I did not in the end, but I think I have been lucky…

As long as you take it in small, tiny steps, exert no pressure, check your work continuously with a loupe, and by trying out the pen, you are fixing, on paper, the chances of doing harm to a pen are minimal.

Use your common sense. If you can’t get at least some of the results I described here in 20 minutes or less, you should send your pen to a nib meister.

Don’t grind away all of the “iridium”. You should not really be able to see you’ve ground anything away, apart from seeing smoother edges on the tip, unless you’re trying to achieve stubs, obliques or italics starting off from a standard type nib point. But that might just be something for another installment.

What Material is Best for Flex Nibs?

What Material is Best for Flex Nibs?

The performance of flex nibs depends on two factors: (a) a properly shaped nib from good material to withstand flexing and (b) a proper feeding system not only to supply adequate ink but also to follow the rapid changes of flow requirements flex nibs.   The amount of flexing (the opening of the tines) depends on the geometry and the material of the nib. The focus of the discussion here is going to be the nib material.

The discussion on best materials for flex nibs is often clouded by a number of misconceptions or unclear use of terms.  For example, the stiffness of a nib is confused with its strength.  For a flex nib, we want

  1. Low stiffness, so that a small force can produce large reversible deflections of the tines.
  2. High strength, so that after large deflections the tines return to their original shape (i.e. do not deform permanently.

The stiffness or the strength of a nib can be adjusted by changing its geometry, e.g., by changing the thickness of the nib.  For a fixed geometry, however, the performance of a nib depends on the material. For a good flex nib we need a material with:

  1. Low elastic modulus, to get low stiffness which allows for large tin opening at low force
  2. High yield strength and fracture strength: which allows for large openings of the tines without permanent deformation or cracking at the tip of the breather hole.
  3. High fatigue resistance: to avoid opening of cracks at the breather hole due to repeated flexing of the pen.

Additional criteria that apply to all nibs (flex or not) are:

  1. Weldability of tip alloy  (this essentially excludes plastics, composites and aluminum)
  2. Corrosion resistance to inks (this excludes a number of otherwise good materials)
  3. Ease of manufacturing.

There are steel alloys with excellent strength and fatigue performance but the modulus of steel is 2-3 times that of gold alloys (~200GPa versus 60-100GPa).   Therefore any advantage offered by steel due to high strength/fatigue performance is lost due to the high modulus (stiffness) of steel.  The strength and fatigue performance of some gold alloys is quite remarkable.   The low stiffness of gold is its biggest advantage.  In simple words, if you had two nibs of identical dimensions, the gold one would give you the opening of the tines at a force that is half or a third of the force needed to flex the steel nib to the same tine opening.  As a result, the stresses that may cause fatigue will also be 2-3 lower in the gold than in the steel nib.

It is possible to compensate for the high modulus of steel by decreasing the thickness of the nib/tines (or other geometric characteristics such as the length of the tines, the curvature of the nib, the width of the shoulders, etc).  A thinner steel nib can match the opening of a thicker gold nib.   Steel nibs with some flex exist (e.g., 9128, 9048 Esterbrooks).  The thickness of nibs, however, is ~25 thousand of an inch, and often close to the tail it is as thin as 5 thousand of an inch. Getting such thickness in high-performance steel is much more difficult than in gold. Nib punching from a metal sheet will cause high wear on the tools.  The problem is similar with titanium nibs – in fact, the properties of titanium are even better than gold (about the same modulus and high strength/fatigue).   The difficulty in processing and the high capital cost of tools make the processing of steel and titanium nibs unfavorable given the small production sizes.

The advantage of gold is even stronger if you consider the corrosion resistance which excludes some other interesting materials such as memory alloys. Stainless is more sensitive than gold to acids and titanium is slightly worse than gold to bases and acids. I would rank the material selection criteria for flex nibs in terms of importance (high first) in the following way:

  1. Weldability of tip alloy
  2. Corrosion resistance to inks
  3. Low Modulus
  4. Ease of manufacturing
  5. Fatigue resistance
  6. Strength

Therefore gold is better than steel for flex nibs because of the low modulus (stiffness), reasonable strength/fatigue, excellent corrosion resistance, and good formability.

There are two other facts that also lead to confusion in the discussions on the best material for flex nibs:

1.     A single material can have a range of properties depending on processing (rolling + heat treatment). In simple words, we can change the properties of the metal by rolling the sheet before stamping the nibs or by heating the nibs to a high temperature than induces changes in the internal structure of the alloy.

2.     Generic materials designations are not enough to specify the material. For example, when we say 14K this includes a very large range of materials.  The karat designation only specifies the gold contained.  The other elements in the alloy (e.g., silver, copper, etc.) can affect the properties and may result in a large variety of properties. 

We say that in general 14K is better than 18K for flex nibs because we can make 14K gold alloys that have lower elastic modulus and higher strength than the 18K alloys.   This is shown in the table below that compares some of the common nib materials.


Gold 14K80-90   200-500*      150-450*     Very good/Very Good/VeryGood    Good
Gold 18K90-100              150-400*120-350*     Very good/VeryGood/Very GoodGood
Stainless 302SS200750-900440-750*     Very good/Good/Very GoodDifficult
Ti-6Al-4V110450-750       610-650*Very good/Good/GoodDifficult

*The wide range of properties indicates variation in composition and processing.

Remember we want

  • low elastic modulus
  • high strength/fatigue limit
  • good corrosion
  • good formability

It is interesting to note in the table above that it is possible to get a 14K alloy which is totally inappropriate for flex nibs if its properties (strength and fatigue resistance) correspond to the low end of the range.

There is a lot of room to optimize the composition and the processing of gold alloys for flex but the cost of R&D with gold and the small market size for flex nibs are not favorable for such a pursue.  I hope to get back to you with a detailed report on the geometry of flex nibs.

On the Trail of Tolkien: Part 3: In the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows Lie

On the Trail of Tolkien: Part 3: In the Land of Mordor, where the Shadows Lie

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie,
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
– The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

This is the final part of the present series discussing the life of the author and scholar JRR Tolkien and his inspirations in the Midlands of England, and perhaps the most controversial.

The first parts comprised a concise biography and early bibliography, and a tour of places in the Birmingham area where Tolkien lived in his childhood, and which are said to have influenced and inspired the author when he came to write his much-loved books ‘The Hobbit and ‘The Lord of the Rings. These influences are fairly well-established, although occasionally open to some debate.

One area which is also often claimed to have had a darker influence, however, is open to far more conjecture, as Ronald Tolkien never, as far as I am aware, went into any detail about his inspirations for places in the Land of Mordor, home of the Dark Lord Sauron, chief instigator and inspiration for most of the evil to be found in Tolkien’s fantasy works.

Tolkien makes clear his distaste for industry and its unnatural destruction of the countryside. Whether he deliberately wrote The Lord of the Rings to make this point is debatable, but it is undeniable that this abhorrence influenced his thinking and his writing, however unconsciously.

As a result of this, and of its proximity to Birmingham, it is often suggested that one area, in particular, may have inspired Mordor – a place, in fact, a series of towns, heavily industrialised, run-down and blackened by centuries of industrial revolution and poverty, and only in the late 20th-century managing to drag itself into the light of day. This place is known as ‘The Black Country.

This article aims to let a little light into the shadowy corners of Mordor by suggesting some places that if Tolkien had seen them, might indeed have sparked thoughts of the black land of legend, and to give you, gentle reader, the chance to see them in a brief tour herein.

Tolkien purists already foaming at the mouth with indignation should remember, however, that this article claims no greater authority than mere conjecture in the spirit of fun. This author, being a denizen of The Black Country, simply allows himself a little amusement and speculation in the light that he may yet live today in the land of Orcs and Goblins, of rock trolls, black riders, of Mount Doom and barad-dur, and the all-seeing Eye of Sauron, Oh my!

Where is The Black Country?

‘Day was coming again in the world outside, and far beyond the glooms of Mordor the sun was climbing over the eastern rim of Middle-Earth, but here all was still dark as night. The Mountain smouldered and its fires went out. The glare faded from the cliffs. The eastern wind that had been blowing ever since they left Ithilien now seemed dead.’
– The Return of the King

The Black Country – shaded area.
Note Bloxwich, my home, on the northeastern border!

The Black Country, in fact, borders on the Birmingham area, in the Midlands of England, and as you can see from the map, it is not far from Tolkien’s homes in Sarehole (Hobbiton, The Old Forest) near Moseley, and Edgbaston (The Two Towers, Orthanc), so it would make sense that Tolkien might be influenced by it.

This group of towns, some small, some large, was at the heart of the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, and became known, because of its black ground and the choking black smoke from innumerable furnaces, as the Black Country.

Wednesbury by Night, mid-19th-century painting

Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1862, said that the place was ‘Black by day and red by night’. In Tolkien’s youth, certainly, it was. Today, The Black Country owes much of its heritage and image to the period when the iron and steel industry was at its height, but has also cleaned up its act a great deal, and has made great efforts to modernise and become more clean and green.

The boundaries of the Black Country are somewhat hazy and often the subject of much pedantic debate, but in today’s tourist-conscious times, four main Boroughs, each incorporating many Black Country towns and villages, all lay claim to being part of it: Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell.

Certainly, Dudley is at the heart of it, as are many parts of the other Boroughs. These days, part of nearby Warley comes under Sandwell, and some of it tends to get lumped in with Birmingham, but it has a historical claim to being part of The Black Country, and any trek to the heart of Mordor from The Two Towers would surely have led through it.

Whatever its boundaries, the Black Country was certainly something that would dismay Tolkien and nature lovers anywhere. Great iron foundries and abominable structures abounded, just as the open-cast quarries and deep mines scarred the land. Grim and black indeed: certainly the Mordor amongst us.

While The Black Country today is by no means as black as it’s painted, and is a great place to live, being full of friendly people (orcs being rarely seen nowadays!), fascinating heritage, pubs, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, ghosts (grin) and even the odd green patch of vegetation, you can still see that when young Ronald Tolkien was a lad, it would have been a grim place indeed, bustling, harsh, noisy, black and dirty.

But where to site the chief dark places of Mordor?

The Morannon, or Black Gate
– Blackheath

‘This was Cirith Ungor, the Haunted Pass, the entrance to the land of the Enemy… …Across the mouth of the pass, from cliff to cliff, the Dark Lord had built a rampart of stone. In it, there was a single gate of iron, and upon its battlement sentinels paced unceasingly. Beneath the hills on either side the rock was bored into a hundred caves and maggot-holes; there a host of orcs lurked, ready at a signal to issue forth like black ants going to war. None could pass the Teeth of Mordor and not feel their bite, unless they were summoned by Sauron, or knew the secret passwords that would open the Morannon, the black gate of his land’.
– The Two Towers

High Street, Blackheath, photographed from the junction with Halesowen Street in 1905.
Coombs Wood Works in Rowley Regis was an independent steel producer before being taken over by British Steel, and was responsible for the influx of many workers from South Wales into the area.
Coombs Wood Works in Rowley Regis was an independent steel producer before being taken over by British Steel and was responsible for the influx of many workers from South Wales into the area.

Directly on the route from The Two Towers – Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul – lies the chief entrance to Mordor – The Morannon or ‘Black Gate’. In the ‘real world’, geographically speaking, a fine place to situate the Black Gate would be at the all-too-similarly named ‘Blackheath’ or ‘Black Heath’, a rather run-down but nonetheless historic town within the area of Rowley Regis, now in the Borough of Sandwell.

The development of Rowley into an industrial area had very early beginnings going back to Roman times, but the first recorded industry of the Manor of Rowley was nail making which started in the 13th Century. The development of coal and iron industries led to a rapid transformation of the region from green to Black Country. By 1880 over fifty collieries poured their smoke into the atmosphere, and four blast furnaces lit up the night sky. Truly a candidate for part of Mordor.

Mount Doom
– Sedgley Beacon

‘Still far away, forty miles at least, they saw mount Doom, its feet founded in ashen ruin, its huge cone rising to a great height, where its reeking head was swathed in cloud. Its fires were now dimmed, and it stood in smouldering slumber, as threatening and dangerous as a sleeping beast. Behind it there hung a vast shadow, ominous as a thundercloud, the veils of Barad-dur that was reared away on a long spur of the Ashen Mountains thrust down from the North.’
– The Return of the King

Mount Doom, or the volcano Orodruin, stood in the plateau of Gorgoroth in northwestern Mordor. With an elevation of some 4,500 feet, and a base of seven miles diameter, it would not be much competition for Mount Etna in Italy, which towers some 11,000 feet and has a base of around 21 miles diameter, but nonetheless, it was a sinister and dangerous place.

Frodo entered the Chambers of Fire and approached the Crack of Doom through tunnels, certainly, tunnels are common in The Black Country – the former limestone mines, now abandoned caves, at Wren’s Nest in Dudley, and in Castle Hill, are a few of the man-made examples of such in the area.

I have placed Barad-dur on Castle Hill (see more below), and thusly, geographically placed to the east of Barad-Dur, Mount Doom may most attractively be identified with Sedgley Beacon, a prominent hill famed in its name for the great fires once lit atop its heights. While not on the same scale as the ‘real’ Mount Doom, it is certainly in the ‘right’ place.

Sedgley Beacon, 1904
Sedgeley, Beacon Hill and Monument in the distance, c.1921

Sedgley Beacon is situated on a limestone ridge, 654 feet above sea level. It gets its name from a great signal fire once lit atop the hill, perhaps as part of the series set up in Tudor times or earlier to warn against invasion from the sea.

Victorian historians once entertained the thought that ancient Druid priests had ‘oft-performed their mystic rites’ atop the Beacon, and though modern scholars might pour scorn on this, such rites might well inspire thoughts of Sauron’s magical ring-forging in the flames of Orodruin.

The Beacon Monument, which can still be visited today, is a circular stone tower built in 1846 by Lord Wrottesley for astronomical observations and as a fitting landmark for Sedgley Beacon.

It certainly also seems fitting that this high place near the centre of The Black Country, with, historically, a great flame at its summit, might symbolise the mighty volcano of Orodruin or Mount Doom, where the Rings of Power were forged, and where the One Ring was destroyed. It even happens to be west of Dudley Castle, where I have placed Barad dur, as it was in The Lord of the Rings.

Oddly enough, in geological time, there were volcanoes in the area, in the vicinity of nearby Wolverhampton, and volcanic rock was long quarried at Rowley Regis, but none at Sedgley itself.

‘Barad-dur’ – the Dark Tower of Sauron
– Dudley Castle

‘…for here as the mountain drew near the air was ever mirky, while out from the Dark Tower there crept the veils of Shadow that Sauron wove about himself.’
– The Return of the King

The Keep of Dudley Castle
Dudley Castle towers over the Black Country

For over 900 years Dudley Castle has surveyed from its lofty vantage-point the changing face of the surrounding landscape. This most important of the town’s buildings were mentioned in the Domesday Book when the small village of Dudley nestled amidst fields and woods. During the days of the Industrial Revolution, the fields were built on and the woods were cut down for building materials and to burn.

Coal, iron and limestone were mined, to make iron and steel for industry, and to build steam engines, railways and iron ships, to such an extent that many parts of The Black Country suffer from subsidence even today.

Dudley Castle is at the heart of The Black Country and occupies a truly commanding position on Castle Hill, near the centre of the modern town.

Castle Hill itself is a fascinating place, full of caves and canal tunnels to the nearby Wren’s Nets limestone caverns. It overlooks a remnant of the historic Black Country industry much beloved of tourists, the Black Country Living Museum, where the visitor may get some feel of what it would have been like to live and work in the area during Tolkien’s youth.

Could Tolkien have visited Dudley, and been inspired by the ancient castle on the tunnelled hill to dream of Sauron’s dark tower of Barad-Dur? Who can say, but I know that it inspires me? Hopefully, it will inspire you, young Hobbit.

So ends, gentle reader, my series of articles introducing to you to the life of JRR Tolkien and some of the locations in the Birmingham area which have influenced the landscape of The Hobbit and, most significantly, The Lord of the Rings. I hope that you have enjoyed the quest, and maybe inspired to visit these places yourself one day. If you do, please contact me – I would love to show you around his world.

It may be that in the future I will return to the world of JRR Tolkien to introduce you to his haunts in Oxford, during the days when he became a great scholar and the author whom we know and love today. But that, young Hobbit, is another story…

Stuart Williams
Bloxwich, England