Sunday 23 June 2013

The home of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

One of the advantages of living in Buckinghamshire, as I do, is that many of the locations used in films made at Pinewood Studios are on one's doorstep. The Royal Saracens Head pub, which appeared in Thunderball (Bond makes a call from a telephone box outside) is a short drive away from me in Beaconsfield, and Stoke Park and St Giles Church at Stoke Poges, seen in Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only respectively, are within easy reach. Another nearby location is the windmill at Ibstone, near Stokenchurch, which was home to Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and last week I finally drove out there to take a look.

The best approach to the windmill is by foot from the south, beginning at Turville, a picture-postcard village situated along the floor of Hambleden valley. Parking the car next to the church of St Mary, I quickly found a public footpath that took me north up the slope of the valley and towards the windmill, which sits on the top of the hill. The climb was a steep one, and given that it had rained earlier in the day, rather slippery, but it was well worth it, as the view from the top over the valley is spectacular.
View of the windmill looking north from Turville

Unfortunately, the windmill is not accessible to the public, and the property to which it belongs, Cobstone Mill, is surrounded by a high fence, which gives visitors very restricted views of the mill once they're at the top of the hill. But no matter. I was thrilled to have found the windmill, and I enjoyed the walk.

Being a historical monument, the mill is described on Buckinghamshire's Historic Environment Record (HER), a database of all historical and archaeological sites in the county. The windmill itself was built around 1830 and continued in use until c 1910. By 1912, the site was deserted and the sails broken. Caractacus Potts must have worked very hard to restore the mill, as coincidentally the events of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang take place shortly after the magical car races her last grand prix in 1909. The windmill is dodecahedron in plan and comprises a blackened brick ground floor, with timber frame and weatherboard above, and a distinctive ogee or S-profiled roof. The structure was converted into a house in 1975 for actress Hayley Mills.

The roof of the windmill

The windmill's appearance in the film is also a matter of official record. The HER, mentioning the mill's starring role, describes how the mock sails fitted to the structure revolved without the use of canvas. Ah, the magic of the movies!

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