TRING: History About Library Contact TRING: Home

Contents Site Search




Fig. 9.1: Hawridge tower mill in domestic life.  The sails and fantail are cosmetic.


Hawridge tower mill sits at the crest of Ray’s Hill behind the ancient Full Moon public house.  When viewed from Cholesbury and Hawridge commons, the mill’s graceful outline adds considerably to an already pleasing scene, although the field to the rear gives the most complete view of the mill.

Dating from 1883, the new tower mill — which replaced the earlier smock mill (Chapter XIV) — must have been among the last of its kind to be erected in Britain.  Built at a time when traditional wind-driven milling was giving way to more modern methods, the mill was to have a short working life.  Indeed, one cannot help but wonder about the business case for a new windmill at this date, for a steam-driven mill already existed on the site; perhaps the cost of hauling coal up to the isolated common had something to do with it.

As events turned out, the most interesting aspects of Hawridge windmill’s history date from the period following its retirement, when, having been converted into a private dwelling, it was from time to time peopled by some well-known literary and artistic personalities.

Fig. 9.2: Hawridge Mill in its heyday.


Hawridge mill was built by Hillsdons, a family firm of millwrights from Tring (Chapter V) for the sum of £300, a price that was probably very reasonable due to its machinery, one pair of sweeps and its curb being inherited from the earlier smock mill.  The new mill stood ten feet taller than its predecessor, which, with its narrow curb, accounts for an elegantly slender profile (for technical details see Appendix).  Nearby stood the existing steam-powered mill, which an early photograph shows housed in a separate building, its boiler being serviced by an imposingly-large brick chimney.  At some stage in the windmill’s life, a grain store was added to the base of the tower, later to be converted into a dwelling.

Fig. 9.3: steam plant chimney is on the right.

Fig. 9.4: Thomas Robinson, the last miller.

The records are unclear as to the mill’s early ownership.  It is believed to have been built for Daniel Dwight, a local farmer, and that while awaiting its first tenant it was driven by the millwrights.  However, the new mill soon changed hands; in January 1885, the following advertisement appeared in both The Miller magazine and the Bucks Advertiser . . . .

“To be let or sold, with immediate possession, the freehold newly-erected wind and steam flour mill, with residence, stabling, and garden, situate at Hawridge.”

It appears that the mill did not sell outright, for Daniel Dwight is still recorded as owner in a trade directory of 1891.  He then leased the premises to Daniel Wright, who in the following year engaged an experienced miller, Thomas Robinson.  Robinson, a Northamptonshire man, was well used to steam power having previously been miller at Brook End water and steam mill, Pitstone, a mill that drove four pairs of stones.  He moved into the premises with his wife and nine children, later becoming tenant and working the mill until its closure in 1912.  Thomas Robinson died in 1941 and is buried in the graveyard of Cholesbury church.


Life in a windmill appears to hold particular appeal to people of artistic temperament; Goldfield, Wendover and Hawridge windmills were all once occupied by those involved in the world of the Arts.  Thus it was that in 1913 an aspiring young author, poet, and playwright and his wife fell in love with Hawridge Mill, having spent some months in a rented cottage at Bellingdon a mile or so down the road from Cholesbury Common.


Fig. 9.5: Mary Barrie (1861-1945), actress.  In the 1911 census
Mary gave her age as 40.  She was in fact 50.

Fig. 9.6: Gilbert Cannan (1884-1955),
translator, novelist and Dramatist

Gilbert Cannan (1884-1955) and Mary Barrie, former wife of writer J. M. Barrie, were seeking the solitude of the countryside, which Gilbert thought would have a beneficial effect on his work.  In the early summer of 1913, the Cannans, together with their two enormous dogs, took up residence in the tile-hung Mill House that stands to the right of the entrance drive to the mill.  But more important to Gilbert was the windmill, which he intended to turn into his own private haven and place of work.  He wrote to a friend “We’ve taken a windmill to clear out to in the Chilterns, and I’m to have a study looking towards the four corners of the Heavens and the earth”.  Cannan obviously drew his desired inspiration from the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, for during this period novels, plays, poetry and translations poured from his pen and he succeeded in achieving a modest literary reputation.

Inside the windmill, the local carpenter was engaged to fit shelves in the study for the Cannans’ huge collection of books; a tall desk was installed where he worked — either standing or sitting on a high stool — and a Russian artist friend painted a frieze around the walls.  Other aspects of interior design were suggested and carried out by Mary.  She decorated the walls of the circular living room with great flower patterns, cutting out and pasting up each flower, fern and leaf herself; although not to everyone’s taste, all their guests admired her originality.  A spiral staircase was fitted and a dado of brightly-coloured frescos adorned the dining room, none of which now remain.

At first, the couple enjoyed their rustic life.  The garden of the Mill House was already planted out and Mary acquired part of a paddock adjoining the mill to enlarge the grounds.  A courtyard was laid and tubs planted with shrubs and flowers.  Gilbert joined the local cricket club and occasionally played bowls in the adjacent The Full Moon public house, including in the party any of the Cannans’ frequent weekend visitors.

Fig. 9.7: Gilbert Cannan at his Windmill.

Cholesbury has probably never seen such a lively time as the period of Gilbert Cannan’s occupancy of the windmill.  Weekend evenings saw pastimes, such as poetry readings, playing the pianola, philosophical talk and performances by the guests of plays written by Gilbert.  The artistic luminaries of the day who stayed there, or in the village, included writers D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and Compton Mackenzie; and the painters Vladimir Polunin and Mark Gertler.  In Gertler’s colourful painting (fig. 9.7), the tapering windmill flanked by trees provides the background to the main subject who is depicted standing between his two dogs, one of which, Porthos, was used as the model for Nana in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.  Reputed to have taken two years to complete, the painting is now on display in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

But the idyll was not to last.  The Great War broke out; Gilbert’s fragile mental health began to show the first signs of collapse; his marriage was failing, eventually ending in 1918 following an affair with their maid, who became pregnant.

Following WWI, Gilbert wrote and translated a great deal.  He also travelled and during an absence in America his mistress, Gwen Wilson, a radiantly beautiful art student, married the third member of what had become a ménage à trios, the industrialist and financier Henry Mond.  The result was that Cannan suffered an irreversible mental breakdown and spent his remaining years confined to a private psychiatric hospital, where he died in 1955.



Fig. 9.8: Doris Keane (1881-1945), actress.

Shortly after the Cannans left the mill in 1916, the tenancy was taken by one of their friends, the American actress Doris Keane, who used the windmill as her country retreat.  The artistic connection continued until the 1930s when a Chelsea portrait and landscape artist, Bernard Adams (1888-1965), conducted an art school in the mill.  A description of the mill at this time appears in English Windmills (Vol. 2), although this was concerned with its structural condition rather than its colourful tenants. . . .

“This is a circular brick mill standing in private grounds behind the old converted mill house . . . It last worked sixteen years ago, when it was grinding standard flour.  Since it ceased working a cottage has been built against the mill, apparently incorporating part of its lower floor.  One of the sails was shortened at that time as its length interfered with the work on the roof.”

In 1937, the Windmill Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings stepped in to carry out necessary repairs.  One account states that the windmill was transferred to Cholesbury Parish shortly before the outbreak of WWII., but this seems unlikely.

Hawridge windmill experienced another change in its fortunes during WWII., when it was used as a look-out post.  What is certain is that it afterwards fell into disrepair and dereliction.  One sail blew off during a gale in the early 1950s and another collapsed.

The mill had to wait until 1968 to be completely restored by its then owner, Don Saunders, an engineer at British Aerospace.  He designed and built new hollow steel spars, painted red and white, which were winched into position to replace the mill’s original sails.

Hawridge Mill has had several owners since its post-war restoration, with the artistic connection continuing with Mrs Saunders, a former Tiller Girl, and Sir David Hatch, a comedian and later Managing Director of BBC Radio.

Fig. 9.9: what might have been the flywheel from the mill’s steam engine.

The mill is now tastefully furnished as a private home with a spacious kitchen installed in what was once the meal floor.  Some of the mill’s equipment survives in the cap; the brake wheel, a substantial iron windshaft and its tail (roller) bearing (plates 16 and 17).  That part of the winding gear comprising the spindle, rack and pinion together with a hand crank also remains — the fantail fitted today is for purely for show.

Downstairs in the sitting room appears a large cast iron wheel (fig. 9.9), some eight feet in diameter, propped up against one of the walls.  What purpose it served is a mystery.  The fine machining suggests a degree of precision unlike windmill equipment, while there is no obvious sign of wooden teeth having been attached.  Furthermore, the aperture for the spindle appears too small to accommodate an upright shaft.  What it might have been — if indeed it came from the mill — was the steam engine’s flywheel (the 12 hp steam engine at Wendover mill is recorded as having driven an 11ft diameter flywheel!)




Fig. 9.9: looking upwards from beneath the curb.  The windshaft and its tail bearing is on the left,
the rack and pinion winding gear is on the right.

English Windmills (Vol.2), provides the following brief description of Hawridge windmill in 1932 . . . .

“The four sails are complete, but the shutters have been removed. The vanes of the fantail are missing, but the staging remains. The gallery is complete. The cap is of the ogee shape and is apparently covered with zinc sheeting. The whole of the tower is tarred.”

The ever-helpful writer on windmills, Stanley Freese, recorded the following technical description (c.1939):

“The reefing gear was controlled by external chain and weights suspended from a ‘Y’ wheel on the fan stage; and the fly was of the 8-vaned pattern.  From this fantail a wormshaft passed horizontally over the curb to drive a vertical countershaft, at the foot of which a pinion engaged with the iron cog-ring upon the inner face of the curb, as at Wendover and Quainton.  In common with the latter mills, Hawridge is provided with a ‘shot’ curb, that is to say a floating chain of bearing rollers free of both the curb and cap; but in the present instance the rollers are shorter and more sharply tapered than at Wendover.  They are hollow, with two slots at the end for positioning the inner casting cone.  Two check wheels are suspended by iron arms to run against the curb beneath the cog-ring; one at the tail, and one on the right-hand side, to correspond with the luffing gear on the left-hand.  The tail bearing of the iron windshaft is situated in the tail of the small cap, so that the shaft actually extends back over the curb of the mill; and upon the shaft is a two-piece eight-armed iron brake wheel measuring only 7 or 8 ft. in diameter, its wooden cogs engaging with an iron wallower upon an iron upright shaft, but all the gear below the windshaft was cleared out early in the war [WWI].

“There are believed to have been two pairs of under-driven stones in the mill, driven by a wooden spur; and an additional two pairs in the wooden building of the steam mill.”