Every fan of the 1968 musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang remembers inventor Caractacus Potts’ beautiful workshop, but what many do not know is that the windmill where it was filmed was once owned by Hayley Mills, the star of numerous Walt Disney films of the 1960s.
In 1967, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli sent location scouts throughout the English countryside to select a picturesque windmill to become the workshop of the magnificent inventor Professor Potts, portrayed by Dick Van Dyke. In the parish of Ibstone in Buckinghamshire, they discovered Cobstone Mill, a lovely 1816 smock mill that was used to grind cereal until the late 1800s. After a fire damaged the center post, the mill went into disrepair and, by the time the scouts discovered it, it needed extensive renovation. Broccoli footed the bill for a cosmetic restoration….of the exterior only. Paper sails were fitted to mock blades that actually worked, making the sails turn in the wind. Since the scenes featuring the interior of the workshop would be shot on a soundstage, there was no need for repairs to be made on the inside of the mill.
Three years after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was released in theaters, Hayley Mills and her husband, director Roy Boulting, discovered the mill and purchased it at an auction for £30,000. Over the next four years, they invested nearly £90,000 in restoring the mill, which proved to be quite a challenge. By 1975, they had the mill up for sale…at a cost that just about covered their restoration expenses. It looks like Mills was put through the mill for that purchase.
Since the 1960s, Cobstone Mill has been seen in television episodes of The New Avengers, Midsomer Murders, Jonathan Creek, and Little Britain. Today, it still stands proudly overlooking the village of Turville and is admired by the occasional Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fan who happens to be passing by.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”
This article originally ran last year but is being reprinted as this week’s Sunday Funday post!