A well-known painting hangs in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. It’s called “Gilbert Cannan at his Mill” and was painted by Mark Gertler, an artist with close ties to the Bloomsbury Group of avant-garde artists, writers and assorted intellectuals and philosophers. Painted in 1916, it depicts ginger-haired writer Gilbert Cannan and his two Newfoundland dogs, one of which was the inspiration for Nana, the caretaking dog in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”
The painting’s human subject was considered an extremely promising young writer but unfortunately, he developed serious mental health problems and spent the last 20 years of his life in an asylum. At the time the painting was made, however, he was married to J.M. Barrie’s ex-wife.
Though the site is known to have contained windmills going back to the 17th and 18th centuries, the mill in Gertler’s painting was built in 1884, one of the last of its kind in Britain. The Cannans were the first residents of the mill as a private home and as an up-and-coming literary couple, received many artsy visitors to the mill, including mandarins like D.H. Lawrence and Katharine Mansfield.
After moving from the mill in 1916, the Cannans rented it to celebrated theater actress and artist’s model Doris Keane, who used it as a weekend retreat while she appeared in the London theater. A more recent resident was Sir David Hatch, director of BBC Radio and a former member of the Cambridge Footlights (the university’s dramatic society) alongside John Cleese, Tim Brook-Taylor and Graham Chapman. Many show business parties were held at the mill with such celebrity guests.
The current owners have done extensive restoration work on the mill, including restoring the cap and installing new sails and a fantail using materials and a design faithful to the Victorian originals. The sails can turn if desired, but they’re mostly kept chained up for safety. (Windmills have a tendency to burn down if the sails turn too fast as the friction can sparks a fire in the wooden components.)
The mill, with its attached cottage, is listed Grade II. There are four and potentially five bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms in all. The main entrance door is at the base of the tower, leading to a circular reception room. There are two more sitting rooms on this level, one with a wood-burning stove. A spiral staircase leads to the lower ground floor, which includes a dining room with the original flywheel on display, and a spacious kitchen/breakfast room equipped with an Aga range and French doors to the terrace.
Above the ground floor are four bedrooms and three bathrooms. The main bedroom is en suite, as is a beautiful circular bedroom where a staircase curves up to a circular study that could serve as a fifth bedroom. A ladder from here leads to the cap and workings.
Outside is a delightful English country garden with stone planters and lovely views over the fields and countryside beyond. Ringed by idyllic spots for quiet relaxation, a broad patch of lawn is picnic ready. Numerous outbuildings include two summerhouses, a shed and a workshop.
Nick Pounce at Savills has listed this fascinating property, listed at $1.8 million. No doubt the next owners and all their artist and writer friends will be thrilled to continue the windmill’s fascinating history.