Joseph Mallord William Turner

Tunnels at Castle Mill Basin on the Dudley Canal, from the Mouth of a Limestone Mine


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 120 × 203 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 59 a

Catalogue entry

Finberg was unsure whether this drawing, inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, showed Tamworth (see under folio 52 verso; D22072; Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 51c) or Dudley.1 Derek Gittings, of the Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust, has identified the scene as Castle Mill Basin, east of Forest Road at the north end of Castle Hill, not far from the Black Country Living Museum: ‘The basin is part of the Dudley Canal tunnel which takes the Dudley No.1 Canal under the town of Dudley and also served as the hub for a system of underground canals.’2
The loose surrounding marks show the viewpoint as a rocky opening; compare the similar treatment of a view from a cave out to the beach at Tintagel in the 1811 Cornwall and Devon sketchbook (Tate D41338; Turner Bequest CXXV a 57). Mr Gittings has observed: ‘Castle Mill Basin [has] a large triangular mine entrance overlooking it, giving a view of the tunnel entrances. This entrance was visible until a few years ago before it was covered by concrete stabilisation work by Dudley Council.’ He continues: ‘There are a number of descriptions, paintings, sketches and engravings of the Castle Mill Basin, mainly from the early-mid nineteenth century. It appears that it was a popular site for artists and travel writers and many of the views are from the mine entrance’.3
In particular, Mr Gittings has noted a work by the Birmingham watercolourist Joseph Barber (1757–1811), acquired by Dudley Art Gallery (now part of Dudley Archives) with a contribution from the Canal Trust. Barber’s more developed composition is similarly framed by the natural proscenium arch of the mine entrance, with a small figure manoeuvring a boat beyond; it was evidently drawn from a few steps to the right, with the walkway over the tunnel entrance on the right here brought into the foreground, and the same house shown among the trees above.
The semi-subterranean setting faintly recalls paintings by another Midlands artist, Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797), looking out from a grotto on the Gulf of Salerno (versions: Derby Museum and Art Gallery; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). The mundane Dudley basin was evoked in full-blown Romantic mode in an 1825 account of Dudley Castle and its surroundings by a local author and antiquarian, the Reverend Luke Booker:
Finberg 1909, II, p.731.
Email to the author, 8 October 2019.
Booker, A Descriptive and Historical Account of Dudley Castle, and Its Surrounding Scenery, Dudley 1825, p.10, quoted in ‘Dudley: Art Gallery: 3115 Joseph Barber (1757–1811): Dudley Castle Mill Basin’, in National Art-Collections Fund Review 1985, London 1985, p.156.

Matthew Imms
August 2013

Booker 1825, pp.10–11.
See ‘Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve’, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, accessed 11 July 2013,; and ‘The Geology of Wren’s Nest Nature Reserve’, BGCS: The Black Country Geological Society, accessed 11 July 2013,

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