Frank W. Gregory (1917-1998) A Milling Hero

Restoration of Nutley Mill

November 02nd 2014 by Elizabeth Trout

Click here for more information on Nutley Mill.

A group gather on the rear ladder of the windmill to get a good view of the Morris Dancers. Hopefully the sweeps were not turning at this moment!

Nutley Post Mill is always quoted as the first mill restoration project that Frank was involved with. In 1969, it was the last open trestle post mill in Sussex and one of only five in England. It was in a parlous state and Rex Wailes refused to go inside it because the woodworm had eaten away at it. Tony Shaw, a local headmaster was instrumental in forming the Uckfield Preservation Trust that leased the mill from Lady Castle Stewart in order to restore it. According to a newspaper article that appeared in 1979, Ken Hamlin contacted Tony Shaw to tell him about the scale model of Nutley that he was making. As a result of this, he was asked to become the Works Manager on the restoration of the real mill. The final member of the main restoration team was Frank who had been brought in as “a leading expert on windmills in the South-East”. However, throughout the restoration, these three were ably assisted by volunteers from SIAS, especially Brian Pike. A restoration appeal was launched in June 1969 with Lady Castle Stewart agreeing to match every £1 raised up to £500. Frank gave talks to different groups in aid of the appeal.


Frank and a colleague put their weight against the tailpole to turn the restored mill to face the wind

Although there was a steering committee, according to Bob Bonnett, not much was written down to record the different stages of the restoration. However, Frank kept a copy of the original sketches, reports on the state of the timbers and schedules of work that he and Ken Hamlin had produced. Martin Brunnarius in his book The Windmills of Sussex (1979) says that Frank was responsible for setting out and fitting some of the main timbers and the trestle. Frank received a letter dated 22 September 1969 in which the writer notes that the oak for the trestle had been delivered and, “the consensus of opinion seems to be that it is good stuff and work has already started on it”. However, six months later, a scarcity of oak or elm stopped work. A friend of Frank’s, Tom Sparkes of Sanco Trading, took it upon himself to contact the BBC in the hope that they would do a feature on the mill that might bring forward a sponsor for the remaining wood. There is no mention as to whether Nutley appeared on a BBC programme.

At the start of repair work in 1968, the front (breast) wall of the mill body had to be entirely rebuilt. The mill was left standing while it was repaired, rather than being entirely dismantled, with the result that it remains 'the old mill', rather than a replica

Frank’s practice of recording precise measurements was useful for solving problems of construction or mechanics during restorations. A progress report to the Uckfield & District Preservation Trust in June 1970 reported how the team had rectified a serious problem in the crown tree, an irreplaceable key timber, by opening up the beam to take a steel joist, packing it with scraps of timber and pouring in a large quantity of glue to set the whole; the beam and the glue had been provided free. Frank’s part was to take on the arduous and tricky job of cutting a groove 8 inches deep by 3 inches wide and 10 feet long into the oak crown tree using only a broad chisel. Rodney de Little remembers Sidney Ashdown recalling an occasion when he and Frank had another problem to solve at Nutley. Frank was so precise in his measurements that he was convinced that there would be “enough room between the cross tree and the post to the depth of a penny”. Frank was right. Sidney Ashdown sent a couple of letters to Frank arranging to work on the stones in November 1971 and again in July 1972 to work on the bedstone. An article in a local newspaper appeared describing the Nutley restoration; Frank was photographed lifting the floorboards with a chisel and mallet.

Right side wall of the mill with the side girt and the end of the crowntree exposed. The side girt was so decayed it had to be entirely replaced

Nutley Mill was restored in just three years between 1969 and 1972 mainly by members of the Nutley Preservation Trust; they even worked when there was snow on the ground. Costs were kept to a minimum because little was spent on professional advice and most of the labour was provided by volunteers; ultimately the restoration cost about £10,000. It was practical restoration involving a high quality of workmanship. Mr F. Child of Crowborough wrote to Ken Hamlin on 1st May 1970:

By the way, Mr Ashdown was staggered and most impressed with what you and the boys have achieved at Nutley; his standard is high and you seem to have passed.


Frank puts his back to the tailpole to turn the mill to face the wind, after first lifting the tail ladder clear of the ground using the talthur

By April 1972, the restoration of Nutley had been recognised nationally as a resounding success, gaining an Architectural Heritage Award. Some of the work involved would have daunted professional millwrights. The fact that this was the first restoration where all the work was done by amateurs makes it even more remarkable that it was completed within just three years. By the end of 1972, Nutley was able to grind corn again.

Frank Gregory sets the canvas on one of the common sweeps

However, once restored, the structure and fabric of a mill has to be maintained and repaired. Working parties that had met every weekend to restore the mill were eventually reduced to twice a month, especially before open days. In January 1973, the sweeps had to be replaced and donations were received that exceeded the £50 target. It was hoped that they would be erected by the Easter open day. However, the sweeps were of an unusual spring-type; with no pattern to copy, mill experts had lent photographs and sketches of other mills and these were used to design the sail frames and intricate mechanism to control them. In October 1979, Tom Evans wrote to Frank regarding the deterioration of the tail wheel due to the cogs being removed but not replaced. It was agreed that Tom would organise the repairs and Tony Turner subsequently replaced all 112 wooden cogs.

Frank adjusts the lever on one of the spring sweeps to keep the tension on the closed shutters

The Friends of Nutley Mill was formed in 1973 to maintain the mill and show visitors around. Frank regularly acted as a guide to various school parties and local groups including SIAS and the Brighton & Hove Junior Chamber of Commerce. He had his own set of keys, so that he could come and go as he pleased; Ken Hamlin was concerned that mill enthusiasts might arrive and find no one available to show them round. Frank agreed to become a Trustee for Nutley Windmill when the licence was renewed in 1983. He also wrote a guide booklet in 1987. Lady Castle Stewart handed the mill and land over to the Uckfield & District Preservation Society in 1995.

Bob Bonnett evaluates Frank’s contribution at Nutley:

Without Frank’s enthusiasm and expert help this would not have been possible nor achieved. He remained in close contact with us in life and, in death, some of his ashes were scattered at the mill. Nutley Mill is one of only five mills of this type in the country and now the only one working.

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