Less than 10 miles north-east of the city of Oxford, where JRR Tolkien lived for most of his adult life, lies the old Buckinghamshire village of Brill. It sits on a hilltop overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury, and was originally called "Bree", an old Celtic word for "hill"...
Centuries later, when the meaning of the original name had been forgotten, the inhabitants added the English word for the feature, and the village became Breehill, which was later still contracted to Brill, as it remains to this day. Brill was almost certainly the inspiration for the village of Bree in Tolkien's masterpiece, "The Lord Of The Rings".
Here's Tolkien's description of Bree, from "At The Sign Of The Prancing Pony", Chapter IX of Book One, The Fellowship Of The Ring.
"Bree was the chief village of the Bree-land, a small inhabited region, like an island in the empty lands round about. Besides Bree itself, there was Staddle on the other side of the hill, Coombe in the deep valley a little further eastward, and Archet on the edge of the Chetwood. Lying round Bree-hill and the villages was a small country of fields and tamed woodlands only a few miles broad..."
"The village of Bree had some hundred stone houses of the Big Folk, mostly above the road, nestling on the hillside with windows looking west. On that side, running in more than half a circle from the hill and back to it, there was a deep dike with a thick hedge on the inner side. Over this the Road crossed by a causeway; but where it pierced the hedge it was barred by a great gate..."
"Down on the Road, where it swept to the right to go round the foot of the hill, there was a large inn... Over the door was painted in white letters: THE PRANCING PONY by BARLIMAN BUTTERBUR."
In reality, Brill is on the top of the hill rather than on it's side... and the "dike" on either side of the road up from Oxford is actually where clay used to be dug to make bricks and roof-tiles... but it's easy to imagine Tolkien visiting the village and taking his inspiration from it. Have a look at the photos and see what you think...
(Tolkien's writings have inspired other people to write more about Bree, too... Take a look at "A Possible History of Bree" on the Split/Image Online website, for example.)
(Click on the small picture below to go to the full size photo... all photos © Adrian The Ageing Hippy unless otherwise stated.)
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