The Shire is a pleasant, green land inhabited by hobbits, an easy-going and unassuming people who want nothing more than a simple life.
Tolkien stated that Hobbiton, the area of the Shire where Bilbo and Frodo live, is intended to be located at the same latitude as Oxford, England. The Shire is described in the prologue of Lord of the Rings as existing in the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea. The descriptions of the land, weather and dialogue found in the Shire also reflect areas of England. These hints suggest that the Shire can be equated with England.
There are many areas that may have influenced Tolkien when creating the Shire. Worcestershire and the West Midlands, an area where Tolkien lived in his youth, made a big impression on him. In particular, the area around the River Cole and Sarehole Mill represented an idyllic landscape that seemed doomed to disappear through industrialisation. Tolkien’s aunt owned a farm in Worcestershire named ‘Bag End’ by the locals, the influence for the home of Bilbo and Frodo.
In the 40s, Tolkien frequently stayed at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. It is possible that the countryside around this area could have influenced descriptions of the Shire and Middle-earth. It is also possible that areas of Yorkshire may have left their impression on Tolkien, who taught at the University of Leeds in the 20s.
Finally, it has been suggested that Bloemfontein, a city in South Africa where Tolkien was born, may have influenced the Shire. Though Tolkien would probably have been too young to remember it, he will have been told stories of its picturesque green hills. Click here to see a picture of the countryside around Bloemfontein.
The name Shire comes from T.H. White’s book England Have My Bones, in which White refers to living in “the Shire”.