There are few images in my head more stimulating than being marooned out on the Norfolk Broads, trapped in the clutches of a twirling time machine and finding oneself in the ilk of a 40s-cum-1840s horror, veiled in chilling black-and-white and the rumble of the wind as it surfs the empty landscape… everywhere and yet nowhere to go, we are no doubt fleeing from some hideous creation and in panic setting eyes upon and seeking solace in the embrace of the most haunting place of all: the creaky old windmill in the distance, whose door is conveniently left ajar.
That’s why I love to draw them. They’re such effortless, inspirational subjects, and indeed they must be some of the most popular. I have long been enamoured with them; they were some of the earliest things I remember trying to draw, amounting to a triangle with a cross at its head. When I was a little boy, I knew the names of all in the locality (and there were loads) off-by-heart – though I wouldn’t fancy being tested today! – and it soon became such that the photographs weren’t enough; I’d get overexcited at the prospect of visiting them up close, taking in the details so that I could then come home and draw one that was a little more accurate than the last.
If we’re to be technical, of course, this drawing isn’t actually a windmill at all. It’s Norton Marsh drainage mill, or windpump. The majority of mills on the Norfolk Broads were of innards this way, for they once played a pivotal role in making sure the land nearby was suitable for farming upon. Almost all of these are long since retired, replaced by electrical pumps, and as such many of the mills themselves have just been left behind, standing as derelict shadows of the past, and even scarier than before… though some have been restored to resplendent glory and look quite lovely, though it’s incredibly rare for them to be restored to working order. Seeing one turn on the landscape today is a rare and real treat.
The source image only gives ‘before 1918’, so I don’t know any more than that about the context of the drawing. I do know that Norton Marsh still stands, though without any sails. It appears it’s now privately owned and used as holiday accommodation by some who are very fortunate.
One day I’ll have my own mill, provided it’s not too scary.
I’m pleased with the drawing, though it’s a little vanilla for what I was hoping to get from the exercise. Probably a bit too controlled and so not as ominous as it could be. I’m going to try and do some more windmill stuff with a view to capturing a bit more of that spirit and inspiration with which I opened, a bit later on.