Feeling Windy
By Jill Griffin

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Devon is not known for itís windmills but they have proved a popular decorative feature on our pots, including the five pictured. Perhaps it is because the windmill harks back to simpler times and maybe entertains a certain amount of romanticism. Decorators may not necessarily have gained their inspiration from their immediate locality but it is certain that most towns and villages would have had their own mill and the area in and around Torquay is no exception.

Windmills in England have been recorded back as far as the 12th Century with water and animal powered mills being recorded in the Doomsday book, according to the survey commissioned by William the conqueror in 1085.

Traditionally a Dutch occupation, windmill design was also perfected by the English, the Dutch using them to pump water as well as grind grain. Over the years three main styles developed, post, smock and tower windmills.

As steam power became more widespread in the 19th century windmills fell into decline and only a handful remain now as a very attractive reminder of technology gone by.

A quick internet search had yielded several windmills in the proximity of Torquay shown on the map.

The first, Longbarrow windmill in North Whilborough (1) between Torquay and Newton Abbot has now lost itís sails but is being used as a holiday home, a better fate than some. Unfortunately the author cannot find any further information as to itís construction date but as it is located high on a hill near the Aller Vale pottery site one could surmise that it was quite visible to pottery workers living in the area surrounding Aller Vale.

Aller Vale windmill pots are extremely attractive, always seen decorated in slips and usually as a silhouette in a riverside setting with a yellow and blue partially cloudy sky. A nice example from around 1900 is shown on page  61 of ĎThe Art of the Torquay and South Devon Pottersí. This is unlikely to be based on the Longbarrow windmill due to the setting.

The second reference is to a windmill in Windmill Hill, Brixham (2) built around 1790, apparently the stone base remains but nothing else could be found out about this one so we could dream that is was the basis for some decoration!

Another Mill that we can dream about was found on the internet search in the form of  a slide from the 1960ís showing a mill in Marldon, near Paignton,(4) named the Fernacombe mill, neither Fernacombe nor any further trace of the mill could be found when searching further.

1960ís

This amazing platter by Watcombe is decorated in slips and perfectly fits what one would imagine as a seaside town windmill, but alas the windmills around the Torquay area were positioned a little inland and upon a hill, with the exception of a mill at Galmpton, the remains of which still sit upon the river Dart. ( 3)

This listed stone windmill tower that bears no resemblance to the Watcombe depiction, was the subject of a planning dispute in October 2003 where locals were opposed to the development of the site as the derelict windmill was a local landmark.

The windmill is privately owned and was build around 1810 and worked up until a fire ceased operation, the date of which was not recorded. Itís construction is quite unusual being of limestone with a circular wall forming an artificial platform around the foot of the tower from which the sails were set.

Two more waterside depictions are also on Watcombe pots both plates and showing further variation in the construction of the mills. Decorated in faience they interestingly point in opposite directions.

Pot 2 has a rosey coloured ground and measures approx 5Ē in diameter, while pot 3 had a rich yellow ground colour and is slightly smaller.

The fourth  Watcombe example shows a mill perched on a low cottage type building gives the impression that the decorator was just trying to fill the space on the tall jug! This example is decorated in slips and is very nicely executed, and as none of the real mills appeared to be sat on bungalow we can assume it is also not a direct representation of one of the local mills.

Pot 5 shows a much simpler design of both faience and slips, where the outline, sails, door and windows are drawn in black pigment and the surrounding foliage in slip. This little jug has many hallmarks of an early Hart and Moist pot in both shape and writing style, but the windmill bears very little resemblance to any of the real mills so we could conclude that this one truly is made up.

When comparing the less than optimal quality internet photos, with the examples shown on the pots it is evident than none of them match and we can speculate that the decorators did indeed take their inspiration from other mills. One should not forget that employees of the Torquay potteries were not just form the area and some designs may well be based upon memories of mills from all around the country, this of course is all speculation.

Updated 20 March 2008