In 1913, George Wyndham MP visited his great friend Hilaire Belloc in Sussex and they travelled on to France. They talked about immortality while walking round woods at Bougival. Wyndham declared that the soul was immortal. Belloc agreed he shared this view, but only through the cold acceptance of authority. After they parted, Wyndham sent a letter:
Now I would not for the world – a phrase, but let it pass – have missed revisiting with you the woods that were part of your boyhood, and therefore – à ma guise – an index to Man’s Immortality.
Several days later, Belloc was walking with Maurice Baring in London when he saw the news that Wyndham had died, aged only 50. In a period of grief, he travelled to Lourdes where his wife Elodie and their two daughters were staying. On their return, he witnessed Halnaker Mill in ruins and this experience led to one of his most powerful and poignant poems – one of mortality, decline and decay.
Spirits that call and no one answers –
Ha’nacker’s down and England’s done.
Wind and Thistle for pipe and dancers,
And never a ploughman under the Sun:
Never a ploughman. Never a one.
Here is Belloc singing his Ha’nacker Mill:
In 1778 a Slindon windmill was still present on the hillock that is approached by Mill Lane, to the west of Baycombe Wood – and above Courthill Farm. It was rebuilt in 1456, but it must have gone long before the young Belloc roamed the Northwood landscape around 1880. Perhaps someday it will be re-erected.
Halnaker Mill sits on a Scheduled Ancient Monument as it is the location of a Neolithic earthwork. It is in the care of West Sussex County Council.
Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc By Joseph Pearce
other diverse renditions of Ha’nacker Mill:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP11rvMIaZw Ha’nacker Mill performed by Ben Whalen
http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W6057_66736&vw=dc (1 minute preview of Ha’nacker Mill song): composer Peter Warlock (father of art critic Brian Sewell)