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The Smock Mill at Clymping


The Smock Mill at Clymping

smock mill at climpingIf I were a Briton, I’d likely know a good deal more about windmills. So when the architectural drawings for adaptation of the smock mill at Clymping on the Sussex coastline appeared at the on-line auction site that dare not speak its name, my ignorance made manifest encouraged an immediate need to know.

Hayter Preston wrote an accessible study of windmills in 1923, directed more toward a popular audience, I suspect, than a scholarly one, so ideal as an introduction for someone like myself. Today, however, it may be more collectible for its illustrations by Frank Brangwyn than the text by Preston–though he was certainly my sort of writer, or the writer I might prefer to become. An Anglo-Welsh artist of Belgian birth, Brangwyn is known for his loose aggressive style often employed in the service of working-class topics of the early 20th century: shipbuilding, steel manufacturing, and other industrial topics and of those who laboured among them. There is more than a hint of Socialist Realism represented here. Which makes perfect sense, since Belgium’s early industrialization may have been in advance of Briatin’s, and its labour movement at least as well organized and comparably Socialist. A romanticized presentation of 19th century milling in Britain and on the continent seems in keeping with Brangwyn’s artistic and inferred point of view.

Preston’s examples were chosen from many countries with coastline and their reliable supply of wind energy. Britain’s Channel coast was dense with them at one time, but the survivors today are substantially picturesque tourist destinations where more selfies than informational brochures are taken. Who chose which mills would be illustrated is unremarked, though Preston does get second billing, which may be a clue to the book’s origin. Nor does it say how Brangwyn worked; from photographs or actual site visits. By the time my secondhand copy arrived, the architectural drawings had come and I knew a bit more than the auction description provided.

The mill’s location was given as Littlehampton, a coastal town with a small harbor on the River Arun which might have served a modest fishing fleet in the 18th and early 19th centuries but which had become a resort by the time the mill was converted as a weekend retreat. The names both of the architect and the client are noted on the drawings; they were contract drawings after all, intended for construction and elegantly informational, as working drawings once were. These two were acquired for a collection driven by precisely that point of view: that the representation of beauty and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. [There had been an exhibition of the older collection (numbering close to forty) some years ago, but the beauty of these mill drawings encourages me to propose another based on recent additions.]

The client was Sir Richard Garton, who I learned had been a key figure in creation of the League of Nations. Surely somewhere in Britain there is a blue medallion on one of his residences; otherwise I wonder if his name would register at all on history’s Richter Scale. Finding him took little effort; finding out about him has proved more challenging. Likewise for his architect, one of the also-rans of architectural history who’ve been lost in the shadows. 

John H. Howard practiced from the Surrey town of Haslemere at the time of the Garton commission. But so far the internet has yielded very little biographical material about him, other than his death in January 1940. The client may have known him through a business or family connection, or as someone recommend by another client as a specialist in country house design.

An aerial view of the Clymping mill shows the current state of affairs, very sad, and not boding well for its future. Soon our drawings may be its only record.

So why do I bring any of this up, you ask. There’s no easy answer to this. There rarely is.

First, there is my ongoing interest in architectural drawings, a rarer commodity these days than it was in the early days of on-line auctions. But there are other more obtuse intentions at work. Windmills, for example, and the likelihood that there are multiple examples in the Agincourt story: one on the grounds of the Fennimore county courthouse, for example, converted from pumping water to the nobler purpose of “Memorial”. There is also likely to be a genuine windmill out at Grou, the Dutch settlement ten or twelve miles northeast of Agincourt.

No, the real underlying motive for this post is the Preston-Brangwyn book of 1923, and its connection with my ongoing interest in series designs—Sullivan’s banks, for example; Richardson’s railroad depots in suburban Boston; or the 18th century churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor. Clusters of a particular building type in an architect’s oeuvre interest me greatly, to the extent that I want to add my own to each category, a “what if” exercise. In this case, it’s Frank Brangwyn’s windmill illustrations: The mill at Clymping, for example, is discussed in the Hayter Preston text, yet it is one of very few that were not illustrated. Given that Brangwyn painted a dozen others, might it be possible to render the Clymping mill in Brangwynian style? Would that I were such a one.


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