The Constable painting - 'The Gleaners - 1824'

By Steve Myall

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This painting by John Constable depicts the land on which Montpelier Street, Victoria Street and Victoria Road were built, and shows Vine’s Mill and Clifton Gardens Mill at the top of the hill. During their visit to Brighton in 1824 John Constable and his wife Maria and family stayed in Western Cottages, as a guest of Kemp’s sister, Mrs. Ann Sober, during which time Constable painted the windmills on Church Hill.

There are several oil paintings of Vine's Mill by John Constable. Among them, 'A Mill near Brighton (Vine's Mill)'  is in the V & A  and 'The Gleaners' (illustrated above) painted Aug. 20th 1824, which is said to show Hodson's Mill and Vine's Mill. This painting is in the Tate Gallery, London, and was included in the ‘Brighton Revealed’ exhibition of 1995. The catalogue entry reads ‘The sails depicted seem to be those of Vine’s Mill, on the right, and of Hodson’s Mill, in the centre. This identification would confirm the inscription on the label attached to this work, which suggests the view is to the north-east’.

However this description is an unlikely identification, for several reasons. First, Hodson’s Mill, on a site a few yards to the east of what is now the junction of West Hill Street and West Hill Road, was positioned very close to a line north-east of Vine’s Mill. So if Constable had positioned himself looking north-east towards Vine’s Mill, Hodson’s would have been directly behind it. To see the two mills in the position shown in the painting, the artist would have had to position himself looking due east, rather than north-east.

Secondly, not only is that orientation contrary to the label attached to the painting, but the lie of the land looking due east towards the mills is completely different from what is seen in the painting, which is the fairly steep southern slope of the south-western part of Church Hill. From the east, the land just rises gently to West Hill and the artist would have seen the whole of Vine’s and Hodson’s Mills.   

Thirdly, with the exhibition catalogue description there is the problem of the roof and chimney shown between the mills. From the east the land between Hodson’s and Vine’s mills is that part of Dyke Road from which Albert Road and Alexandra Villas turn off. The only building near that point at that time was the Workhouse, which did not have a chimney on its end gable, and would have stood much higher on the horizon.

The explanation that is more in line with the lie of the land is that the artist is indeed looking north-east, as the label on the painting suggests, but that Hodson’s is not one of the mills. During his 1824 visit to Brighton, Constable was staying at Western Cottages, later re-named Sillwood Road, which is just south of Western Road and a little to the east of the junction of Montpelier Road. If the artist had walked from his lodgings straight up the pathway that was to become Hampton Place, and set his easel down as he crossed the track-way that was to become Upper North Street, beside where Hampton Villa stands today, he would have seen two windmills to the north-east, both partly

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The junction of Upper North Street with Montpelier Street and Hampton Place, from where Constable viewed the Church Hill windmills.

 

 

obscured by the rising land of Church Hill, which is as they appear in his painting. He would also have just been able to see the roof of Mr. Vine’s cottage between them. But he could not have seen Hodson’s Mill which would have been too far beyond the crown of the hill, and in a line directly behind Vine’s Mill anyway. So in Constable’s sketch, the mill to the left, which he placed in the centre of his composition, is Vine’s.  To the right of that is the chimney of Vine’s cottage, and the mill on the far right-hand edge of the picture is Clifton Gardens Mill. This picture by Constable is the only known depiction of Clifton Gardens Mill.

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Above is the 1822 map by W. Belch which also shows the still undeveloped nature of our area.  Looking from the left, the Chalybeate mineral spring, now St. Ann’s Well Gardens, is clearly shown. The dotted line is the parish boundary between Hove and Brighton. The road going from south to north, up to the ‘T’ junction, is the newly created Montpelier Road, with Kemp’s Temple home, just three years old at this date, on the left near the junction. At the ‘T’ junction, Montpelier Road meets the Road to Blatchington, going from left to right, and this is the track way that, by 1845, had been named Clifton Hill. The right hand end of this road meets Dyke Road, which at this date is still called Church Hill. At this junction can be seen Vine’s Mill. The small square to the right of the mill is Vine’s Cottage, now Rose Cottage on the corner of Vine Place and Dyke Road. Immediately above Vine’s Mill, at the top of the map, is Hodson’s Mill, which site is now occupied by Windmill Terrace, a row of modern terraced homes on the south side of West Hill Road. On the other side of the Road to Blatchington, opposite Vine’s Mill can be seen the long rectangle of the soap and candle factory, which building became the first Children’s hospital. Opposite this junction, on the right hand side of Dyke Road is the Church Hill Workhouse, built 1820/21. Just below that, St. Nicholas’ Church is noted.

The large open, undeveloped space in the middle of this map, immediately below Vine’s Mill, is the landscape of Constable’s painting, but Clifton Gardens Mill is not depicted.

The locations of the various places of interest are shown below:

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This page was added on 18/04/2011.

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