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William Tomkins 1730-1792
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William Tomkins 1730-1792

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A view of Chamberlain's Mill at Bere Regis

 

Oil painting on canvas 23.5 x 38.5 inches and cContained in a carved and gilded frame

 

Signed with initials "W.T." and dated 1768

 

Provenance: Private collection, Dorset, until sold at auction at Riddett’s, Bournemouth. 3 October 1995, (lot 816)

 

This fine view is dated 1768, and is by the London-born topographical painter William Tomkins. Tomkins also painted occasional animal pictures and still-lives, but he is best known for being one of the first generation of English painters of the picturesque view. His style is a development of the earlier "bird's eye" view tradition of landscape painting, and uses a lower point of view where the emphasis is on strict topographical accuracy. His paintings are therefore of the utmost historical interest, and are seldom sullied by the "romanticisation" of the succeeding generation of English landscape painters who placed considerations of composition ahead of literal accuracy.

Tomkins was an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, but seems to have been itinerant throughout the whole British Isles. Paintings by him from places as far apart as Cornwall and the Highlands of Scotland were abundantly exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of Artists, though he seems to have had a penchant for painting in the West Country. Numerous views of the area are known, including a view of Plympton (RA 1780) and a set of four views of Tapeley Park, all of which were with Lane Fine Art in the last five years. He seems to have been patronised by the highest levels of local society, and is recorded working for Lord Clifford (1772) Viscount Lisburne (1773) Joseph Parker at Saltram (1772, now National Trust), Sir Charles Kyme Tynte (1771) and Henry Luttrell at Dunster (1773) and many other major landowners. He emerges as one of the most favoured painters of landscapes and Gentlemen's Seats of the 18th century.

“Chamberlaines-Mill is a farm two miles S. of Bere. On the River Piddle. It anciently belonged to the abby of Bindon. In 33 H. VIII. William Lovel, of Tarrent Rawson, held there one mill, 60 acres of land, 16 of meadow, 200 of heath and furse, of the manor of Bindon, by fealty and rent of 2s. The Mortons of Milbourn held two messuages, one cottage, one water-mill two gardens, 80 acres of pasture, 20 of wood, 40 of turf and heath, called Chamberlain’s-Mill, of the manor of Bindon, held as before; clear yearly value 3l. 6s. 8d.. In 1653 Sir George Morton’s old conventionary rents here, value 3l. 6s. 8dd. Were sequestered. These it came to Edward Morton Pleydel, esq..” (John Hutchins, “History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset” (1774) Volume I, page 43)

Chamberlain's Mill was a early water driven mill of a type which existed in many English villages well into the nineteenth century, when they were gradually replaced by industrialised steam driven engines for grinding corn. It was located just outside the picturesque village of Bere Regis A few working examples still exist, for instance, one at Mapledurham belonging to the Eyston family. According to a label attached to the reverse of the picture, the Chamberlain family, owners of this mill, were ancestors of the Prime Minister Nevill Chamberlain, though this assertion may be fanciful.

The mill survives in much altered form, though it is still listed as of historic interest, Grade II. At the date (1984) of its listing, it was described thus: “House with attached water-mill. Mid Cl9 - the mill may be of earlier origin. L-shaped plan. House has brick walls in Flemish Bond with burnt headers. Low-pitched hipped slate roof, brick end stacks. 2 storeys. C20th glazed verandah at front. Central entrance door. Ground floor has one french door and one double-hung sash window with centre glazing bar under gauged brick arch. First floor has 3 similar sash windows. Mill - attached to house on south-west - has brick walls and slate roof. 2 storeys and attic. Casement windows with cast iron lights. Loft doors in gable end at first floor and attic levels. Added car port in angle between house and mill. Mill machinery survives.”