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.
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
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.
THE WINDMILL’S LATER LIFE
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
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
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.
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!)
TECHNICAL DETAILS OF HAWRIDGE TOWER MILL
Fig. 9.9: looking upwards from
beneath the curb. The windshaft and its tail bearing is on the
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.”