Sublime Sites

Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill

A Twopeny Portfolio: #14 Tolethorpe Mill, near Little Casterton, 1828

This article considers the fourteenth work of twenty-five bought at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2017, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.

Here we further extend the previous discussion (see parts #7-12) of a group of five  pencil drawings, all dated 1828, once mounted in an album, and some numbered in the original page order, with a third Little Casterton subject, also dated 1828, and evidently belonging to the same group. The present drawing is dated June 20 1828, and was almost certainly originally numbered on the reverse of the backing sheet, but that was lost when the album page was cut down to the present fragment.

? David [later Revd.] Twopeny (1803-1875)
Tolethorpe Mill, near Little Casterton, Rutland, 1828
Pencil on medium-weight, buff, handmade, Whatman-type, rag, wove paper, 161 x 254 mm, mounted on a larger sheet of similar weight and type of paper, slightly lighter in tone, cut down irregularly to 173 x 263 mm with two pencil keylines [partly trimmed away] and inscribed, lower left, with title ‘Tolthorpe Mill, Rutland’
Inscribed by the artist with date in pencil, on drawing lower right, ‘June 20, 1828‘, and on the verso along the top edge in pencil, ‘At Tolthorpe, Little Casterton, Rutland’.

This is a painstakingly-drawn landscape scene dominated by a large tree in the centre, overhanging a small stream at the left which leads the eye toward a large tithe-barn like building in the left middle distance. To the right, at a higher level than the stream, above a bank covered in large butterbur leaves, is another stretch of water, wider and stiller than the stream. Beyond that, a figure carrying a stock and accompanied by a small child follows a path gently rising left to parkland trees. The specific subject can be identified as the view down the river Gwash to the south side of Tolethorpe Mill, as seen from the mill island with the head race to the right with the path beyond rising to the grounds of Tolethorpe Manor.

A previously discussed subject, part #7 ‘Forestead and Island, Little Casterton’ is dated 19 June 1828 and shows a view on the river Gwash at nearby Little Casterton. I had not then noticed the inscription on the present drawing, which dates it to the following day. Other drawings in the series show views in the area of Woodstock Park in Kent dated over three days from 15 July 1828.

None of the drawings is signed, nor is their authorship otherwise identified, but as previously discussed, the geographic spread of subjects points to their being by a member of the Twopeny family. Little Casterton is just north of Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was the living of the Reverend Richard Twopeny (1757-1843). He was the third son of William Twopeny, a wealthy lawyer of Rochester, Kent, who in about 1780 established the family seat at Woodstock, and the uncle of David Twopeny (1803 – 1875) who is proposed as the most likely author of these drawings.

Ordnance Survey 1884

Tolethorpe Mill is a few hundred yards downstream of the Old Rectory at Little Casterton, the home of Revd Richard Twopeny. In the previous article (part #12) we discussed a drawing made a couple of weeks earlier in the Rectory garden.

Tolethorpe Mill near Little Casterton
Photograph by David Hill, 6 February 2020

The mill today is somewhat changed from that shown in the drawing. The drawing appears to be the only known record of its early nineteenth century appearance. Milling appears to have been carried out on the site for centuries. J.N.Brewer’s, Beauties of England and Wales, Vol.12, part 2, 1813, claims that there were four mills in the area as early as Domesday (i.e., 1085-6) p.109:

The English Heritage listing appraises the existing structure as mostly later nineteenth century, with vestiges of an eighteenth century building [here].

“Watermill and attached cottage. Late C18, altered and extended late C19, turbines inserted early C20. Coursed squared limestone and brick with ashlar and brick dressings. Collyweston stone slate roofs and 3 tall brick stacks. Mill building of 3 storeys, the late C18 section over the mill-race projecting slightly. Fenestration not regularly spaced and of C19 date except for one C18 two-light chamfered stone-mullioned window which survives on the ground floor over the mill-race, to the left of a cambered-headed entrance. Second entrance to left of projecting section, in stone lean-to, with Dutch door. First floor windows have cambered brick heads and cast-iron glazing bars, with fixed margin lights around a lozenge-patterned louvre. Second floor has similar though smaller windows to eaves. INTERIOR has large wooden beams, some re-used, supporting wooden floors. Brick baking oven to ground floor. Room over mill race contains late C19 cast iron machinery including dynamo, pump, drive shaft gearing and line shafting plus electric switchboard and control panel. First floor has single set of grinding stones in wooden housing and further line shafting. Second floor has set of wooden storage bins within late C19 wooden queen post roof trusses. Cottage of 2 storeys, with central cambered-headed entrance, with 12-pane sash window to left, and twin 12-pane sash windows above. Central ridge stack, heightened in brick. Gabled brick early C20 extension to rear. INTERIOR has single plain fireplace on first floor with original late C18 dog grate.”

The building in the drawing however, looks to be much older than the eighteenth century. My initial description likened it to a large tithe-barn, and were I to infer the age from that, I would have certainly said that it was medieval. In any case it can be seen that the later nineteenth century rebuild completely altered the character of the building. It seems possible, however, that lower part of the building immediately to the left of the three-storey block, follows the structure of the original building.

When I visited Little Casterton on 6 February 2020, I was shown round the village by the church by Mr Arthur Hinch, whose memory of life in the village stretches back over seven decades. He told me that the mill still ground corn when he was young, and that the building also contained a bread oven. When the miller was baking, and the oven fired up, the villagers were invited to the mill to share the oven as a common facility.

 

On this occasion I could not get to quite the exact viewpoint of the drawing, which is on the mill island, now part of the owners’ private garden. It seems clear, enough, however that apart from the nineteenth century mill rebuilding little else has changed in the general layout.
As with the previous drawing, however, I was struck by how Cotmanesque was both the subject and the treatment. This drawing makes a still more specific comparison. Apart from trees, Cotman was also particularly interested in riverside plants. He made dozens of studies throughout his career, but he was particularly focused on such matters in the years 1803-5, so much so that his patrons remarked upon his peculiarity and Cotman played it up as a distinguishing eccentricity.

John Sell Cotman
Study of plants, c.1814
Pencil on white, wove paper, 92 x 138 mm
Leeds Art Gallery, 1949.0009.0030
Image courtesy of Leeds Art Gallery.
See this in ‘Cotmania’ the online catalogue of the Leeds Cotman collection here.

The Leeds collection has several examples of such studies, and about 1805, he developed this peculiarity into a rather beautiful watercolour.

John Sell Cotman
Leaves by a Stream called ‘At Kirkham’, 1805
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 257 x 436 mm
Norwich Castle Museum, 131.235.951
Image courtesy of Norfolk Museums, as reproduced in D.Hill, Cotman in the North, 2005, pl.92

The drawing of butterbur leaves in the present drawing is particularly accomplished, and once again suggests a familiarity with Cotman’s idiosyncrasy.

TO BE CONTINUED:

Next, Tolethorpe Mill from downstream

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