Mapledurham Water Mill: From Taboo Filming Location to Black Sabbath Album Cover

Mapledurham village, Oxfordshire, seen in Taboo, Black Sabbath album artwork and The Eagle Has Landed film stills

This is a post about a water mill in a cosy English village. Sounds pretty boring, right? Well, add a dose of Tom Hardy and a pinch of Ozzy Osbourne and things get more lively; Mapledurham water mill is perhaps the world’s most famous backdrop right now, thanks to TV, music and film.

The site, part of the Mapledurham Estate in Oxfordshire, was recently used as a filming location for the TV series Taboo, plus it appeared in the background of Black Sabbath’s self-titled album, released on Friday 13th February 1970. Now Black Sabbath have played their last ever gig, fans are craving a nostalgia fix.

There’s already a fan trend to pose in front of the willow tree and the water mill in tribute to the cover, but my money’s on an influx of loyal metal heads paying a visit in the coming months.

Red-brick English farm building with river nearby, seen in Taboo TV drama by Tom Hardy
The water mill, as seen from the road. Tom Hardy’s character, Delaney, was ambushed by an attacker just outside the mill building.
Taboo episode 4 and 5 images of Delaney at the farm and an assassination attempt
Stills and promotional shots from Taboo, featuring the water mill and assassin from Episode 4, and the gunpowder mixing from Episode 5. Credit: BBC/FX.

Mapledurham on TV: The Taboo Filming Location

Tom Hardy devotees will want to see where Taboo’s co-creator and lead actor (playing the troubled James Keziah Delaney) has been lurking. The water mill is significant to Taboo viewers, as it’s part of an isolated farm where Delaney’s illegitimate son lives.

It’s also where Delaney had a bloody showdown with a would-be assassin and, in the most recent episode, we saw Delaney rope his son into making gunpowder from stolen goods held on the farm, assisting the fiery Cholmondley (played by Tom Hollander). Atlas of Wonders has a full guide to Taboo filming locations, including Hatfield House and the Cutty Sark.

Mill wheel from The Eagle Has Landed film, in reality a working mill in Mapledurham, near Reading, UK
Watch out for Nazis in disguise… especially Michael Caine. Note this wasn’t the same wheel where the soldier met his grisly end.
Eagle Has Landed stills of Mapledurham location shots and press articles about the film
The board on the right is inside Mapledurham’s village church, St. Margaret’s, showing cuttings and photos from the filming in the 1970s.

The Real Studley Constable in The Eagle Has Landed

The next Mapledurham culture reference is more obscure, unless you’re a fan of BBC2 TV movies (it’s often repeated on there, mainly at Christmas or on a dreary Sunday afternoon). The Eagle Has Landed, a classic war thriller from 1976, is one of my all-time favourite films, and the vast majority of it was shot in and around the Mapledurham estate. It stood in for the fictional Norfolk village of Studley Constable and, if you’ve read the Jack Higgins book the film is based on, you’ll know Mapledurham was an excellent choice.

The water wheel played a pivotal role, as a disguised Nazi soldier ended up impaled there when he dived into the river to save a child. Cue Michael Caine, as Kurt Steiner, holding the entire village hostage in the church, as part of his mission to kidnap Winston Churchill (it’s a long story). During filming, a fake part of the mill, with its own wheel, was added so it could be spectacularly blown up.

I’ve previously blogged about another filming location for The Eagle Has Landed, Charlestown: a harbour in Cornwall, where they’ve also shot parts of Poldark. Things have now come full circle, as Charlestown was another location featured in Taboo.

Cornish harbour with tall ship and traditional houses
Charlestown, Cornwall, as seen in The Eagle Has Landed, Poldark and Taboo.
Donald Sutherland and Jenny Agutter filming The Eagle Has Landed with crew - outdoor scene with church in background
Donald Sutherland and Jenny Agutter discussing a scene in the churchyard at Mapledurham, on the set of The Eagle Has Landed. Credit: Get Reading (getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/gallery/filming-the-eagle-has-landed-10424015).

Finding the Filming Locations

So why are the same locations reused again and again? Not only do producers and art directors know they’re photogenic, but they know local people will be used to film crews traipsing around. Many period dramas require specially built sets, because so much of the landscape has changed in the British Isles, and it’s an utter nightmare to get past health and safety restrictions and remove signs of modern technology in many of our cities.

For example, the team working on Taboo created an entire set at Tilbury Fort, in Essex, which stood in for the run-down 1814 Wapping streets where Hardy’s character, James Keziah Delaney, plots his next move. There’s no way a contemporary London location could have been used for these scenes. However, other London locations did make the cut, such as Trinity Church Square.

In other period pieces, Dublin is often used to represent Georgian-era London, because its Georgian townhouses are so well-preserved; Lacock village is the go-to backdrop for Jane Austen-esque dramas. In London, you’ll recognise the Inns of Court from the likes of Downton Abbey, Silk, and Denial.

Real life location behind Black Sabbath 1970 album cover, in UK village
If those trees look familiar, you’ve probably seen Black Sabbath’s self-titled album.
Black Sabbath 1970 LP art with woman in black cloak against willow tree and mill
The unforgettable cover art, featuring ‘Louise’. The back cover had more foliage taken from the left-hand side of the frame. Credit: Marcus Keef/Vertigo Records.

The Woman in Black: Capturing Sabbath’s 1970 Album

As for the Black Sabbath connection to Mapledurham, there’s also a story behind this famous album cover. The woman in the photo was called Louise, and there are rumours she may have been a witch; Loudwire has picked up a few leads on where she might be now. In 2014, the album cover was adapted for a trainer design by Converse, for its second Black Sabbath collaboration.

The iconic photo was shot by Marcus Keef – real name Keith Macmillan – using a technique called false colour photography to create the eerie red, pink and yellow tones (subject matter aside, it’s not a million miles from the infrared photography used to dramatic effect by Richard Mosse, in his series ‘The Enclave’, documenting war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Soldiers’ uniforms and landscapes became unnervingly pink, making them stand out from typical photojournalism efforts in war zones). Keef’s image is also just the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Taboo, as one of Delaney’s Shamanistic visions.

If you want to visit the Mapledurham Estate, unfortunately it doesn’t open for the season until Easter, so you can’t fully recreate the Black Sabbath moment just yet. However, you can explore the rest of the village and glimpse the water mill – that’s if fans of Taboo and The Eagle Has Landed don’t crowd your view…

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