Mill memories: Derek Rowles and Valerie Miller

Derek Rowles contacted us when a photo of Brixton Windmill in a newspaper triggered his memory.

“A photograph of Brixton Windmill recently published in the Telegraph caught my attention and seemed instantly familiar. After a little research it became apparent that this is likely to be the same windmill as that painted by my late aunt, Marjorie Rowles (1900-1971) whilst at the Slade School of Art.”

Marjorie Rowles

“The originals of these two paintings are still in the family’s possession and featured in an exhibition of Marjorie Rowles paintings at Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery in 2004 arranged by my sister Valerie Miller BA and myself, together with Gloucester City Council.”

In her explanatory notes on the exhibition, Valerie wrote:
Marjorie studied at the Slade under Professor Henry Tonks and the Gloucester-trained artist Wilson Steer. Tonks encouraged his students to paint first with a limited palette (white, black, raw umber and yellow ochre), and it was he who suggested they visit “the last windmill in London before it was pulled down”.

The first painting (above) shows the windmill with an old lady, children and a fox (unfinished) in the foreground. Marjorie commented: “The East End children were enchanting. They stood around an old lady who had a tame fox.”

The second painting, above, called “Return from the Stag Hunt”, is thought to have originated following Tonks’ choice of the windmill as the subject for the students’ summer competition, titled “Don Quixote”. It shows two riders on horseback passing in front of the windmill.

Derek continued: “During her time at the Slade, Marjorie lived with her aunt, Marie Moore, who taught in the Lambeth area. Marjorie exhibited her paintings widely throughout the UK and Ireland and also at Le Salon in Paris and the Venice Biennale in the 1930s.

“My aunt, who died in 1971 and whose work was not adequately acknowledged during her lifetime, would have been amazed that her work is still being discussed after so many years!

“In addition, my late father was managing director and chairman of WS Barron & Son of Gloucester, a company that specialised in the design and manufacture of milling machinery, including grindstones. During his time he helped several millers still involved in stone grinding by locating and reconditioning original French burr stones and later manufacturing composite stones using other materials. I, too, later worked for this company and still have some of their original catalogues. Sadly, the company no longer exists.”

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