Revisting Bree

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Revisting Bree

Postby Elleth » Wed Feb 15, 2017 4:48 am

Ever since Udwin caught me having an overly Peter Jackson’d sense of Bree, I’ve been pondering how the Professor meant us to interpret it. He’s described it in fairly good detail, but it still clearly leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

I’d like to revisit then what we do know about Bree and Breeland. To start, this is a lovely treatment, drawn largely from the FOTR text:



Now let’s look at that text itself - all quotes from FOTR, Chapter 9 At the Sign of The Prancing Pony:

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, Combe in a 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 woodland only a few miles broad.



I find the description of the Bree-land as an “island in the empty lands round about” very interesting. It implies a few things I think -

1. Although most of the population of the Bree-land is in the named villages, if the settled area extends a few miles in each direction, it’s reasonable to assume that there’s scattered farmsteads farther out, probably primarily along the main east-west road, and to a lesser extent up the Greenway. I suspect that those smaller habitations would be on the English model, still followed in New England today: a few neighboring farmhouses close together surrounded by fields, rather than each farmhouse off alone in the middle of its own property. (The latter is a habit more seen in southern and midwestern America, deriving I assume from Scots-Irish tendencies)

2. The comparatively small population compared to the wilderness around it implies a greater wealth of timber and game compared to the real medieval England, assuming some hardy men of Bree are willing to risk the foul things beyond their borders to get them. This in turn affects construction choices (more on that in a moment).


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. There was another gate in the southern comer where the Road ran out of the village. The gates were closed at nightfall; but just inside them were small lodges for the gatekeepers.


NOW we’re getting interesting. A hundred stone houses, give or take.

I find this particularly interesting, given that the common mental conception of Bree in the Tudor fashion. Peter Jackson definitely pushed this conception, but I don't think it started with him. Bree has been painted with a “generic fantasy Tudor style” brush for years -

merf-bree-tudor.jpg
merf-bree-tudor.jpg (48.34 KiB) Viewed 17158 times


There’s an interesting thing about that Tudor style though - it’s essentially a materials saving technology. Older Saxon-era buildings were entirely wood-sided - the post-and-beam / wattle-and-daub look we associate with the medieval era (and fantasy) grew out of a relative scarcity of good timber and the need to make do with coppice wood and earth.

That’s presumably not an issue for the Men of late Third Age Breeland, their settlement being an “island” in the wild.

There’s more though-

Down on the Road, where it swept to the right to go round the foot of the hill, there was a large inn. It had been built long ago when the traffic on the roads had been far greater. For Bree stood at an old meeting of ways; another ancient road crossed the East Road just outside the dike at the western end of the village, and in former days Men and other folk of various sorts had travelled much on it. Strange as News from Bree was still a saying in the Eastfarthing, descending from those days, when news from North, South, and East could be heard in the inn, and when the Shire-hobbits used to go more often to hear it. But the Northern Lands had long been desolate, and the North Road was now seldom used: it was grass-grown, and the Bree-folk called it the Greenway.
The Inn of Bree was still there, however, and the innkeeper was an important person. His house was a meeting place for the idle, talkative, and inquisitive among the inhabitants, large and small, of the four villages; and a resort of Rangers and other wanderers, and for such travellers (mostly dwarves) as still journeyed on the East Road, to and from the Mountains.



I don’t know how many times I just read over that paragraph, but there’s some fantastic information buried in that quickly tossed off bit of exposition.

“The Inn of Bree was still there” implies the Pony - or at least AN inn - had stood at the crossroads since the roads were more travelled. When was that?

Let’s look at the timeline of some notable events:


  • Division of Arnor into the three kingdoms: Third Age 861
  • Destruction of Amon Sul / fall of Rhudar / razing of Cardolan: TA 1409
  • Founding of the Shire: TA 1601
  • Fall of Fornost, Arthedain’s capital: TA 1974
  • Kingship of Arnor effectively ends, Aranarth becomes first Chieftan of the Dunedain: TA 1974
  • Destruction of Dale by Smaug: TA 2770
  • Events of The Hobbit: TA 2941
  • Frodo leaves the Shire: TA 3018



Given that the Greenway originally went to Fornost, I think we can safely say that the “more travelled” period must date to the time of that city at latest: meaning that when Frodo steps foot in the Pony, it - or its predecessors on the same site - are well over a thousand years old.

At first thought it sounds absurd: and yet as a 20th c. Englishman Tolkien himself could visit pubs several centuries old, and see the remnants of far older buildings yet dating back to the Roman era. So… it’s plausible.

Here’s another fun thing about Bree -

The houses looked large and strange to them. Sam stared up at the inn with its three storeys and many windows, and felt his heart sink. He had imagined himself meeting giants taller than trees, and other creatures even more terrifying, some time or other in the course of his journey; but at the moment he was finding his first sight of Men and their tall houses quite enough, indeed too much for the dark end of a tiring day.


THIS is interesting - these are no stone roundhouses or small cottages then: “Men and their tall houses” implies it’s not just the Pony itself that makes an impression of great size on Sam, but the “tall houses” of Men generally.

I think we can safely infer then that while perhaps not every one of those some-hundred stone houses of Bree are multi-story, a fair number are.

Well and good. Multi-story stone buildings with windows. What did they look like? Christopher Tolkien mentions that Bree was based on the town of Brill in the UK:

"Bree ... [was] based on Brilll ... a place which he knew well"
- Christopher Tolkien (1988), The Return of the Shadow (being vol.VI of The History of Middle-earth), ch.VII, p.131, note 6, ISBN 0-04-440162-0

via [url]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bree_(Middle-earth)]Bree(Middle-earth) on Wikipedia[/ur]


Very well, I thought. We live in the age of Google Earth! Let’s have a look at Brill. The results were I have to say a little disappointing:

merf-bree-brill-photos.jpg
merf-bree-brill-photos.jpg (94.17 KiB) Viewed 17158 times


Perhaps it might have looked better in Tolkien’s time, but the images I see of Brill now look remarkably pedestrian. Where is the village of lovely English stone houses?

Interestingly - about 70 miles away in the (coincidentally named) Castle Combe. How’s this look?

merf-bree-castlecombe.jpg
merf-bree-castlecombe.jpg (139.65 KiB) Viewed 17158 times


And of course you can explore a bit these days with Google Street View. Note as you travel up the hill, if you bear left you see a structure overhanging the road, not unlike the “wide arch leading to a courtyard” of the Pony.

Do I think Christopher Tolkien is wrong? No - I think Christopher is remembering accurately his father’s emotional connection to the real Brill. But I do think it likely the stone houses of Bree are in his father’s mental image very much like those of Castle Combe.

There’s even a bit of post and beam for those who want a taste of the familiar. :)

So.. I suppose I’m updating my mental image of Bree. A lot like these last photos - cobblestone instead of pavement in the heavy traffic areas, dirt farther out. Perhaps some very-old Arnorian foundations here and there. Still mostly well-kept, but much more obviously a working community than the more sedate Castle Combe (I think PJ got that part right). Mostly stone construction in Bree proper, but with scattered clusters of (perhaps timbered?) farmhouses - and hobbit holes of course - dotting the fields and woodlots of the Breeland.

Gosh I wish I could afford a trip over to the UK to explore for real - but this is an age of miracles for doing it from your living room.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Udwin » Wed Feb 15, 2017 1:36 pm

Excellent topic! It might not be a bad idea to do something like this (a different subject each time) every few months, just to refresh our mental images and get back to the texts! Quite refreshing.

I wonder how wide the 'few miles broad' really was meant to be. I can imagine the South Downs would be prime sheep-grazing land.

Another interesting note about the origins of 'Tudor style' overhanging-upper-storey construction: it was a money-saving technique, as buildings were taxed based on the square footage of their footprint...to get more space but pay less taxes, they would build a small footprint then have the upper floors stick out over it! Sneaky!

I can easily imagine An Inn of some sort having been at Bree for most of the Third Age; every couple hundred years it burns down (as happens) and a new one is rebuilt on the site. The Prancing Pony may just be the most recent one.

Seems to me that even following the total collapse of the Arnor remnants (1974-5 3A), there were still almost 800 years during which time Erebor/Dale was still in full swing. So Dwarvish traffic along the East Road was likely still a driving economic force to keep Bree in business. (although...wasn't Thorin's Blue Mts halls created after Smaug's attack? I could be wrong. Where would the westbound traffic be headed?)
Now, once Smaug shows up, but before Thorin's quest restores the eastern economy...it might've been hard times for the Breelanders those 170 years.

If memory serves, wasn't the Pony set back into the Hill a bit (at least its ground floor)?
Tolkien _does_ say that "the houses LOOKED large and strange _to them_"--implying that we humans wouldn't find them particularly large?
Furthermore, I'm pretty sure Tolkien says that the vast majority of hobbit homes are single-storey ('long and low'), and that on the few occasions they do have an upper floor, the hobbits do not sleep there.
I wonder if Sam's comment about the 'tall houses' of men could just be to his culture's prevailing headspace, in which you simply Don't Build Up? Because let's face it: an eight-foot ladder would be Tall to a 3.5 foot Sam.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Taurinor » Wed Feb 15, 2017 4:43 pm

Ooo, yes, let's talk about Bree! For entirely non-selfish reasons on my part that have nothing to do with my "persona" being a Breelander :mrgreen:

Elleth wrote:Given that the Greenway originally went to Fornost, I think we can safely say that the “more travelled” period must date to the time of that city at latest: meaning that when Frodo steps foot in the Pony, it - or its predecessors on the same site - are well over a thousand years old.
At first thought it sounds absurd: and yet as a 20th c. Englishman Tolkien himself could visit pubs several centuries old, and see the remnants of far older buildings yet dating back to the Roman era. So… it’s plausible.


In Concerning Pipeweed, Tolkien states that the Prancing Pony (in some form or another) has been there for quite a while:
Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1: Chapter 2, Concerning Pipeweed wrote:The home and centre of the an [I think this is a typo for "art"] is thus to be found in the old inn of Bree, The Prancing Pony, that has been kept by the family of Butterbur from time beyond record.

It does sound a bit absurd, I think especially to Americans, since our country is so young. When I visited Normandy with my in laws a few years back, we stayed in a hotel that had been originally constructed as a farm house starting in the 13th century. With stone buildings, the roofs and floors burn or rot, but if the structure is still sound, it seems like they just keep using them.

(Not going to lie, the little bar/common room of that hotel has greatly influenced my mental image of the Prancing Pony -

Image

I love that fireplace!)

The Breelanders certainly think they've been there for a while -
The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 9, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony wrote:According to their own tales they were the original inhabitants and were the descendants of the first Men that ever wandered into the West of the middle-world. Few had survived the turmoils of the Elder Days; but when the Kings returned again over the Great Sea they had found the Bree-men still there, and they were still there now, when the memory of the old Kings had faded into the grass.

I don't know that Bree is quite that old, but it is quite old -
The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue: Capter 1, Concerning Hobbits wrote:In the westlands of Eriador, between the Misty Mountains and the Mountains of Lune, the Hobbits found both Men and Elves. Indeed, a remnant still dwelt there of the Dúnedain, the kings of Men that came over the Sea out of Westernesse; but they were dwindling fast and the lands of their North Kingdom were falling far and wide into waste. There was room and to spare for incomers, and ere long the Hobbits began to settle in ordered communities. Most of their earlier settlements had long disappeared and been forgotten in Bilbo's time; but one of the first to become important still endured, though reduced in size; this was at Bree and in the Chetwood that lay round about, some forty miles east of the Shire.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue: Capter 1, Concerning Hobbits wrote:For it was in the one thousand six hundred and first year of the Third Age that the Fallohide brothers, Marcho and Blanco, set out from Bree; and having obtained permission from the high king at Fornost, they crossed the brown river Baranduin with a great following of Hobbits. They passed over the Bridge of Stonebows, that had been built in the days of the power of the North Kingdom, and they took ail the land beyond to dwell in, between the river and the Far Downs. All that was demanded of them was that they should keep the Great Bridge in repair, and all other bridges and roads, speed the king's messengers, and acknowledge his lordship.
Thus began the Shire-reckoning, for the year of the crossing of the Brandywine (as the Hobbits turned the name) became Year One of the Shire, and all later dates were reckoned from it.

It's not clear how long Bree had been settled before Bree-ish hobbits colonized the Shire, or what shape the settlement took at the time (although it was apparently larger at one point than it is when we see it), but it indicates that Bree has been around for a while, and quite possibly the Pony with it.

Another thing I've found interesting is the description of the dike and hedge -
The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 9, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony wrote: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. There was another gate in the southern comer where the Road ran out of the village. The gates were closed at nightfall; but just inside them were small lodges for the gatekeepers.

That seems like some sort of fortification for Bree, but it seems as though Bree hasn't needed fortifications for a long time, thanks to the Rangers -
The Return of the King, Book 6: Chapter 7, Homeward Bound wrote: "You see, we’re not used to such troubles; and the Rangers have all gone away, folk tell me. I don’t think we’ve rightly understood till now what they did for us. For there’s been worse than robbers about. Wolves were howling round the fences last winter. And there’s dark shapes in the woods, dreadful things that it makes the blood run cold to think of."
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Udwin » Wed Feb 15, 2017 5:16 pm

the old inn of Bree, The Prancing Pony, that has been kept by the family of Butterbur from time beyond record.

Good find! I retract my previous supposition!

A 13th century farmhouse-hotel? That's wonderfull! (and I agree, lovely fireplace. I think I spy a bellows-coffeetable?!) Ahh, poor impoverished America, land of stickframed drywall houses and aluminum polebarns.

Based on their kinship with the Dunlendings, I don't doubt that they Are descended from the 1A Men who came west but didn't go to Beleriand. That would also make them the surviving population of the indigenous folks who were pushed out of Enedwaith & Minhiriath when the Numenoreans show up and start logging in the mid-2A.

If Bree has indeed 'contracted' from its earlier size, I wonder when the dike and hedge were added? Might their addition have coincided (or closely followed) the contraction? Based on the timeline crumbs Taurinor has posted, I interpret them to suggest that in 1601 3A when the Shire was colonized Bree was still 'in its prime', and contraction happened at some point in the centuries since; the final collapse of Arthedain (1974 3A) seems a good candidate for such a major event, as that would remove the Greenway traffic to/from Fornost.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Straelbora » Wed Feb 15, 2017 8:50 pm

I, too, have a Tudor style in my head. In fact, I'm going to refacade my old farm house in Tudor style for its transformation to the Dragons Wood Inn.

I was lucky enough to live in London for six months back in the mid '90s, and did some travel throughout parts of the British Isles. I stayed at a small town in Wales called Dolgellau, and it had stone houses with slate roofs that make me think of the Bree description.

http://l7.alamy.com/zooms/3d78f5572b4a4 ... atewxe.jpg

There were a few times when I really felt like I was in Middle-earth. Walking the ancient walls of York certainly felt like being at Helm's Deep or Minas Tirith.

http://www.justabouttravel.net/wp-conte ... alls-4.jpg

And York's shambles are probably an inspiration for both the cinematic Bree as well as Harry Potter's Diagon Alley.

https://www.visitbritainshop.com/world/ ... =377&w=670

I don't have a photo or reference for one of my favorite 'Middle-earth' moments in the UK; It was February or March, cold, rainy, with that windy, incessant drizzle so well associated with England. I met a friend in the business area of London. It was a work day, and he was in the area looking for a shop that sold some specific item. We were wet, cold, and hadn't seen sunlight for days, if not weeks. This was the part of London mostly razed by WWII bombings, so most of the buildings were modern. As we were walking along, we saw a small alley way, and there was a pub sign, I don't recall the name, but the sign said, "Rebuilt 1667," so a pub had stood on the same site before the great London fire of 1666.

The ceilings were low, there was no piped in music, and only because of the electric lighting was it apparent that we were in the 20th century. We ordered some pints and there was a 'leaning mantle' over the peat-fire fire grate. You could lean on the mantle and just take in the heat and smell of the smouldering peat. We ended up having a fantastic stew for lunch there, as well as a few more pints. I think I never made a point of going back, because you can't put lightning in a bottle, and I was afraid that going back, it would seem ordinary instead of otherworldly.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Taurinor » Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:39 am

Udwin wrote:If Bree has indeed 'contracted' from its earlier size, I wonder when the dike and hedge were added? Might their addition have coincided (or closely followed) the contraction? Based on the timeline crumbs Taurinor has posted, I interpret them to suggest that in 1601 3A when the Shire was colonized Bree was still 'in its prime', and contraction happened at some point in the centuries since; the final collapse of Arthedain (1974 3A) seems a good candidate for such a major event, as that would remove the Greenway traffic to/from Fornost.

I was hoping that someone with a better grasp of the timeline than I have would be able to string all that together! I think that the contraction and fortification occurring as a result of the final collapse of Arthedain makes sense. It's possible that Bree benefited from the the movement of guards and/or troops within the kingdom (assuming that there was some sort of standing army, which may or may not be a fair assumption) and didn't require it's own fortifications. The war that led up to the collapse and the collapse itself may have depleted the population and left Bree vulnerable as a "small inhabited region, like an island in the empty lands round about" and in need of its own defenses. That's all supposition, though, of course.

Straelbora wrote:And York's shambles are probably an inspiration for both the cinematic Bree as well as Harry Potter's Diagon Alley.

I'm sure you're right! It was obviously an effective cinematic choice, if it left so many of us with the idea of Bree as a Tudor-style village.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Elleth » Fri Feb 17, 2017 3:13 am

Excellent topic! It might not be a bad idea to do something like this (a different subject each time) every few months, just to refresh our mental images and get back to the texts! Quite refreshing.


Ha! You get the next one? :)

I wonder how wide the 'few miles broad' really was meant to be. I can imagine the South Downs would be prime sheep-grazing land.


I get a fairly literal impression from that line, especially paired with the description the Breeland as an "island." Normally I'd think that might be for fear of wights and orcs and such farther out: but the Breelanders seem quite ignorant of the terrors beyond their borders. puzzling.

If memory serves, wasn't the Pony set back into the Hill a bit (at least its ground floor)?
Tolkien _does_ say that "the houses LOOKED large and strange _to them_"--implying that we humans wouldn't find them particularly large?
Furthermore, I'm pretty sure Tolkien says that the vast majority of hobbit homes are single-storey ('long and low'), and that on the few occasions they do have an upper floor, the hobbits do not sleep there.
I wonder if Sam's comment about the 'tall houses' of men could just be to his culture's prevailing headspace, in which you simply Don't Build Up? Because let's face it: an eight-foot ladder would be Tall to a 3.5 foot Sam.


Yes, it was!
I'd thought about whether the Pony might be unique in size, or if it was merely a headspace issue as you say, but I think Sam's reaction seems to be too generalized to be a reaction to just the Pony, and we know for a fact the inn has three stories. I'm continuing to think that quite a few of the buildings of Bree must be multi-story, though they might not strike us in the 21st c. as more than glorified cottages.




With stone buildings, the roofs and floors burn or rot, but if the structure is still sound, it seems like they just keep using them.

(Not going to lie, the little bar/common room of that hotel has greatly influenced my mental image of the Prancing Pony..


Oh very cool! I knew full on cut stone structures survived in usable shape for millennia, but I Wasn't certain about these smaller homes with (presumably) timber insides. Neat! And that does look a grand place! And Straelbora - wow! What a magical evening. :)

Based on their kinship with the Dunlendings, I don't doubt that they Are descended from the 1A Men who came west but didn't go to Beleriand.

I'm sure you're right! Talking w/someone recently about the linguistic parallels Tolkien intentionally built in using Brythonic / Celtic names for Bree and Combe added a whole extra layer of resonance to the text. Bree is old, and it feels that way now.

If Bree has indeed 'contracted' from its earlier size, I wonder when the dike and hedge were added? Might their addition have coincided (or closely followed) the contraction? Based on the timeline crumbs Taurinor has posted, I interpret them to suggest that in 1601 3A when the Shire was colonized Bree was still 'in its prime', and contraction happened at some point in the centuries since; the final collapse of Arthedain (1974 3A) seems a good candidate for such a major event, as that would remove the Greenway traffic to/from Fornost.


That is an interesting question... my guess is that the hedge is centuries old, but probably is contracted from the original borders of Bree. My reading is that Bree's prime is probably far further back than the settling of the Shire however - somewhere closer to the high water mark of Arnor around T.A. 750-850. It's my understanding - though I'm afraid I don't recall the source and could be wrong - that the Hobbits were given leave to settle in the area that would become the Shire in part because it had become depopulated?

I think that the contraction and fortification occurring as a result of the final collapse of Arthedain makes sense. It's possible that Bree benefited from the the movement of guards and/or troops within the kingdom (assuming that there was some sort of standing army, which may or may not be a fair assumption) and didn't require it's own fortifications. The war that led up to the collapse and the collapse itself may have depleted the population and left Bree vulnerable as a "small inhabited region, like an island in the empty lands round about" and in need of its own defenses. That's all supposition, though, of course.


I'm not certain the hedge is primarily a military fortification, as they're more an agricultural structure used for critter control and windbreaks...

ALTHOUGH.. hunh. How's this for a theory: at one point there was a fortified rampart around the town, then years later when the threat had passed someone had the bright idea to put a hedge on top of the slowly eroding remains.

That would also square with a guarded gate breaking the hedge.. even though Bree in the late Third Age can't seem to throw together a respectable militia to save its life. I could imagine "gate guard" is some old relic office that it was never politically expedient to get rid of, especially as it's a pleasant fiction for throwing some pennies at a man down on his luck without the stigma of putting him on the poor rolls.

That's exactly the sort of small-rural-town-politics I'd expect of Bree. :)

Anyhow, if that's true, I'd expect the rampart went up no later than c. TA 1356 when the hillmen of Rhudar banded with Angmar to try to take Amon Sul. Possibly much earlier, as all three successor kingdoms wanted Amon Sul, and Bree is a convenient nearby logistics hub for supplying an army.

All speculation of course, but I think fairly likely.

I'd expect then a young child in Bree might occasionally poke at the base of the hedge hoping for a buried remnant of those battles, and a ploughman might occasionally turn up remnants of older homes farther out beyond the causeway.

What a deep history that little town must have. I'd never thought about it, but it's certainly implied by the rest of the text.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Straelbora » Fri Feb 17, 2017 3:53 am

Elleth wrote:

With stone buildings, the roofs and floors burn or rot, but if the structure is still sound, it seems like they just keep using them.

(Not going to lie, the little bar/common room of that hotel has greatly influenced my mental image of the Prancing Pony..


Oh very cool! I knew full on cut stone structures survived in usable shape for millennia, but I Wasn't certain about these smaller homes with (presumably) timber insides. Neat! And that does look a grand place!

This house was built by my great-great-great grand uncle in almost 300 years ago, and was recently sold as a residence.

http://dmna.ny.gov/forts/fortsE_L/freyFort.htm


If Bree has indeed 'contracted' from its earlier size, I wonder when the dike and hedge were added? Might their addition have coincided (or closely followed) the contraction? Based on the timeline crumbs Taurinor has posted, I interpret them to suggest that in 1601 3A when the Shire was colonized Bree was still 'in its prime', and contraction happened at some point in the centuries since; the final collapse of Arthedain (1974 3A) seems a good candidate for such a major event, as that would remove the Greenway traffic to/from Fornost.


That is an interesting question... my guess is that the hedge is centuries old, but probably is contracted from the original borders of Bree. My reading is that Bree's prime is probably far further back than the settling of the Shire however - somewhere closer to the high water mark of Arnor around T.A. 750-850. It's my understanding - though I'm afraid I don't recall the source and could be wrong - that the Hobbits were given leave to settle in the area that would become the Shire in part because it had become depopulated?

I think that the contraction and fortification occurring as a result of the final collapse of Arthedain makes sense. It's possible that Bree benefited from the the movement of guards and/or troops within the kingdom (assuming that there was some sort of standing army, which may or may not be a fair assumption) and didn't require it's own fortifications. The war that led up to the collapse and the collapse itself may have depleted the population and left Bree vulnerable as a "small inhabited region, like an island in the empty lands round about" and in need of its own defenses. That's all supposition, though, of course.


I'm not certain the hedge is primarily a military fortification, as they're more an agricultural structure used for critter control and windbreaks...

ALTHOUGH.. hunh. How's this for a theory: at one point there was a fortified rampart around the town, then years later when the threat had passed someone had the bright idea to put a hedge on top of the slowly eroding remains.

That would also square with a guarded gate breaking the hedge.. even though Bree in the late Third Age can't seem to throw together a respectable militia to save its life. I could imagine "gate guard" is some old relic office that it was never politically expedient to get rid of, especially as it's a pleasant fiction for throwing some pennies at a man down on his luck without the stigma of putting him on the poor rolls.


I'm guessing during the time of the Kingdom of Arnor, there was a 'pax numenorica' and fortifications were more based on coasts, etc. Later, Bree was right at the border between Arthedain and Cardolan, and fortification may have taken place for the first time. If the houses of the Bree town are made of stone, there may have been a stone wall around the town, which was later left to crumble, cover over with soil, and become the foundation of the hedge.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Udwin » Fri Feb 17, 2017 12:33 pm

Elleth wrote:That is an interesting question... my guess is that the hedge is centuries old, but probably is contracted from the original borders of Bree. My reading is that Bree's prime is probably far further back than the settling of the Shire however - somewhere closer to the high water mark of Arnor around T.A. 750-850. It's my understanding - though I'm afraid I don't recall the source and could be wrong - that the Hobbits were given leave to settle in the area that would become the Shire in part because it had become depopulated?


Ahhh, yes! I had forgotten about the depopulation of the Shire-lands prior to their arrival (it was a particularly fertile area of Eriador, and formerly the 'breadbasket' of Arnor). This can't be due to the Great Plague (35 years after they arrive). If we're looking at pre-1601 catastrophes (besides the Division in 861), Angmar's first invasion in 1409 seems the best bet.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Taurinor » Fri Feb 17, 2017 4:29 pm

Elleth wrote:I'm not certain the hedge is primarily a military fortification, as they're more an agricultural structure used for critter control and windbreaks...

ALTHOUGH.. hunh. How's this for a theory: at one point there was a fortified rampart around the town, then years later when the threat had passed someone had the bright idea to put a hedge on top of the slowly eroding remains.

That would also square with a guarded gate breaking the hedge.. even though Bree in the late Third Age can't seem to throw together a respectable militia to save its life. I could imagine "gate guard" is some old relic office that it was never politically expedient to get rid of, especially as it's a pleasant fiction for throwing some pennies at a man down on his luck without the stigma of putting him on the poor rolls.

It's not the hedge alone that was giving me a fortification feeling; it was the dike-and-hedge combination that made me think it might be defensive. An attacker would have to climb down into the dike, then back out, then get through a hedgerow acting like a natural wall (hypothetically with folks on the other side doing their best to prevent this from happening). It wouldn't do much against archers, of course, but it seems like it would slow infantry down at least a bit.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1: Chapter 9, At the Sign of the Prancing Pony wrote: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.

The description of a "deep dike" "crossed by a causeway" makes me think this isn't just a ditch going around Bree; it sounds a bit more substantial (I don't want to say "moat", because that evokes a very specific image, but something along those lines). The idea of a hedge growing along or on top of an old wall makes a lot of sense to me, though!

Return of the King, Book 6: Capter 7, Homeward Bound wrote:"We have to keep watchers all round the fence and put a lot of men on the gates at nights."

I don't know if Butterbur is referring to the hedge as a fence, or if there is a secondary structure in addition to the hedge. It's also possible that the Bree-folk put up some sort of fence after everything started to go downhill when the Rangers left.

Elleth wrote:Anyhow, if that's true, I'd expect the rampart went up no later than c. TA 1356 when the hillmen of Rhudar banded with Angmar to try to take Amon Sul. Possibly much earlier, as all three successor kingdoms wanted Amon Sul, and Bree is a convenient nearby logistics hub for supplying an army.

Since it's on the East Road, Bree would have been a border village after the Division - could it have been fortified shortly afterwards in case of skirmishes? Its location at the meeting of the East and North Roads would also make it of potential strategic value in the war with Angmar.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby JTM » Sat Feb 18, 2017 1:57 am

Hello Rangers,
I'm new here, but wanted to put in my two cents.
Just wanted to provide a bit of detail about the "hedge" under discussion. In the US, a "hedge" is a simple row of bushes or trees planted along a boarder of some sort. In England & the continent, a hedge is similar, but much more substantial. Bushy trees of certain desirable species (I'd have to search my medieval gardening books to find the specific ones) are planted and prepared by cutting & weaving the neighboring saplings together. The trees would be regularly trimmed to promote the growth of branches & these would be woven into the rest of the hedge. As new saplings sprouted they would be treated the same way & incorporated into the hedge. After many years you would end up with a nearly solid mass of living woven trees of whatever depth & hight you chose to maintain. An ancient hedge would take a tremendous amount of time and effort to cut through. Since it is made of living trees, it would be difficult to burn. Also,as many of the trees used in their making were thorny, it would be a challenge to climb.
The ancient hedge surrounding Bree would have been a significant defensive structure, especially combined with the deep dyke.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Harper » Sat Feb 18, 2017 2:55 am

I saw this a while back and thought it was a timeless and brilliant piece of our history:



I can easily envision Hobbits and Breelanders doing the same thing in the same way.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Straelbora » Mon Feb 20, 2017 5:14 am

JTM wrote:Hello Rangers,
I'm new here, but wanted to put in my two cents.
Just wanted to provide a bit of detail about the "hedge" under discussion. In the US, a "hedge" is a simple row of bushes or trees planted along a boarder of some sort. In England & the continent, a hedge is similar, but much more substantial. Bushy trees of certain desirable species (I'd have to search my medieval gardening books to find the specific ones) are planted and prepared by cutting & weaving the neighboring saplings together. The trees would be regularly trimmed to promote the growth of branches & these would be woven into the rest of the hedge. As new saplings sprouted they would be treated the same way & incorporated into the hedge. After many years you would end up with a nearly solid mass of living woven trees of whatever depth & hight you chose to maintain. An ancient hedge would take a tremendous amount of time and effort to cut through. Since it is made of living trees, it would be difficult to burn. Also,as many of the trees used in their making were thorny, it would be a challenge to climb.
The ancient hedge surrounding Bree would have been a significant defensive structure, especially combined with the deep dyke.
Cheers, Jamie


Good distinction; in my mind, I think of the 'hedgerows of Normandy' from the D-Day invasion during WWII. I was just explaining to my son the other day how the structures of Allied versus Axis military impacted the invasion- people were afraid to wake up Hitler, leaving many top decisions unanswered for hours. The Germans also knew that the hedgerows were so tough, they would slow the movement of Allied forces that had made landfall. A garbage truck driver from New Jersey told his Commanding Officer that he thought he might have a way through the hedges, and instead of being shut down as insolent, was told to fabricate a prototype, and the Allies were quickly able to penetrate the hedges that were thought to be inpenetrable.

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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Kortoso » Tue Feb 21, 2017 6:59 pm

Now that we are on hedges (and apropos of not much else), a late friend pointed out to me that the number of species of plants in the hedge, can help determine its age.
Hedgerow dating, from Wikipedia:
Hedges that have existed for hundreds of years are colonised by additional species. This may be useful to determine the age of the hedge. Hooper's rule based on ecological data obtained from hedges of known age suggests that the age of the hedge is equal to the number of woody species counted in a thirty-yard distance multiplied by 110 years.

Dr. Max Hooper published his original formula in the book Hedges in 1974. This method is only a rule of thumb, and can be off by a couple of centuries; it should always be backed up by documentary evidence, if possible, and take into account other factors. Caveats include the fact that planted hedgerows, hedgerows with elm, and hedgerows in the north of England tend not to follow the rule as closely. The formula also does not work on hedges more than a thousand years old.

Dr. Hooper's scheme is important not least for its potential use in determining what an important hedgerow is, given their protection in The Hedgerows Regulations (1997; No. 1160) of the Department of the Environment, based on age and other factors.
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Re: Revisting Bree

Postby Udwin » Thu Mar 02, 2017 1:50 am

I found the answer to my own question!
"I wonder how wide the 'few miles broad' really was meant to be. I can imagine the South Downs would be prime sheep-grazing land."

LR BkI:Ch11:
"On the third day out from Bree they came out of the Chetwood. The land had been falling steadily, ever since they turned aside from the Road, and they now entered a wide flat expanse of country, much more difficult to manage. They were far beyond the borders of the Bree-land, out in the pathless wilderness, and drawing near to the Midge-water Marshes."

Well, there it is. Apparently, if leaving the Chetwood is 'far beyond the borders', the Bree-land really is a few miles broad, perhaps 20-30 or less. 'An island', indeed! (Although I still maintain the South Downs would make excellent pasture!)
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