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Gems of the Archive: Drama, Scandal and Mills

With a title that sounds like it comes straight from a John le Carré spy novel, our Gems of the Archive story featuring the unusual life of Karl Wood is an intrepid tale of adventure and scandal, passion and faith.

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Like any good action film hero, Karl Wood had a quest: to publish a book of sketches and paintings of all the remaining mills still standing in post-Second World War Britain. This ambitious mission took him from Cornwall, to the Isle of Wight, to the Shetland Isles and everywhere in between as he dedicatedly sought to preserve, in attractive pen and ink drawings, the fast-declining remnants of these once-grand stalwarts of British heritage.  He is seen outside West Mill, Smarden in the newspaper cutting.

He wasn’t quite an Oscar winner and never graced the red carpet, but Wood did receive some recognition in the newspapers of the time: the pictures attached show cuttings from Home Chat (1935) and from the Yorkshire Post (1940) – the latter of which tells about Wood’s mission to visit the mill on South Havra, a tiny remote Scottish island. You can read more about this adventure in the Gem article itself here.

A less well-publicised and rather closer to home debacle of Wood’s occurred in the summer of 1945, on a trip to sketch Bursledon Windmill near Southampton, Hampshire. From Wood’s account, it appears that he had asked the owner for permission to draw his mill before commencing his art, but was rather rudely rejected.

‘Caretaker woman positively refused my painting this from the field and we had to do it looking through a hole in the hedge. This was the most flagrant rudeness I’ve ever experienced, save once, in painting mills. Mrs Bailey was the name’.

Not to be deterred and refusing to allow such a discourteous person to stop him on his mission, Wood simply left the field and instead, painted the mill whilst looking through a hole in the hedge!

The manner in which the account is written builds a picture of Wood’s eccentric character and guile. He was clearly very irritated by this exchange, even going to far as to name and shame the mill’s owner.

Another of his trips, however, went even more awry – whoever thought that an innocent expedition to draw windmills could end in being thrown in gaol?!

Read the full Gems of the Archive article here and find out how a life of many parts was spun together like an interwoven story plot, taking you on a journey embroiled in drama, scandal – and mills.

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More information on Karl Wood, including his windmill sketches, can be found on our catalogue here and also in Lincolnshire County Council’s archives, and in Gainsborough Heritage Centre’s archives.