George Cruikshank, The Wonderful Mill, c.1805
The Wonderful Mill must rank alongside the Tythe Pig as one of the most commonly used satirical tropes of the mid-to-late eighteenth-century. Variations on the theme of a machine capable of reversing the aging process appeared in multiple print editions published between the 1770s and early 1800s and the design was taken up and reproduced extensively on all manner of printed creamware pottery.
The Mill’s origins are unclear, although similarities between the central image of the giant crank-powered grinding machine and Dutch satires published in the wake of the Peace of Utrecht, raises the possibility of later British editions being based on an older Continental template. The earliest known reference to the design comes from Sayer & Bennett’s 1775 catalogue, in which Old Women and Old Men Ground Young is listed alongside “moral and instructive Emblems for the entertainment of Children – Commonly called TURN-Ups”. The image’s subsequent adaption for use in adult satire chimes with the theories that Marcus Wood has advanced about the links between children’s illustrations and radical satire in the Peterloo era, and suggests that it may be possible for historians of print to extend the chronological and thematic scope of Wood’s theories in future. This change of audience also presumably coincided with the production of a slightly saucier variant of the design (right), in which a crowd of young men waits to canoodle with the batch of freshly milled young lovelies .
The design proved particularly popular with potters, so much so that ceramic versions of the image are now far more common than their printed counterparts, and it is known to have been used on a variety of creamware goods including mugs, plates, jugs and teapots. At least two major variations of the image were produced for use on pottery; a tamer version in which the young men and title are omitted (left), which carries the verse: “Good lack how wonderful to view it / I neer believd it till I knew it / Come here ye toothless lame & Grey / Come & be Ground without delay”; and another entitled Old Women Ground Young which is accompanied by the rhyme: “Good lackaday, cries out the grinder / I shan’t want work, indeed I find Sir / This grinding is a bonny trade, my fortune shortly will be made.” Multiple adaptations of the image also appeared in print, with the British Museum holding two particularly interesting examples of the design from the early 1800s, the first being produced by the thirteen year old George Cruikshank for a set of children’s illustration and the second satirising Mary Ann Clarke’s ability to ‘grind’ humble tradesmen into senior army officers.