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

Restoration of Polegate Mill

November 02nd 2014 by Elizabeth Trout

Click here for more information on Polegate Windmill.

The mill at the start of restoration work in 1966, its sweeps and fantail dismantled

On 17th March 1936, Frank did a very nice pen and ink drawing of Polegate Mill along with some quick technical sketches. One of the earliest letters in Frank’s collection, dated 16th October 1952, is from the miller A.E. Ovenden to Mr Chandler describing how the patent sail worked.

One of several drawings of the mill by Frank Gregory showing the tower and internal machinery in sectionFrank was the prime mover in the restoration of Polegate Tower Mill. In 1961, in a letter to the Society of Sussex Downsmen, he expressed his concern about the fate of Polegate and asked if there were plans for its preservation. They wrote to the East Sussex Planning Officer and in a reply in on 10th January 1962 indicated that the council wanted the mill restored. They also offered a grant towards the costs. Although the then owner had been granted permission to convert it into a residence, a preservation order was eventually made. Mr Ovenden, the miller offered the mill and the ¼ acre site to the Eastbourne & District for £1,000 on condition that it was preserved. The estimated costs for repair were £35,000 and an appeal was set up in 1964 to purchase, repair and preserve the mill. The Eastbourne & District Preservation Society became the official owners on 2nd April 1965.

The mill seen in the process of restoration, with only two sweeps fitted.Frank and Betty promoted the appeal at every opportunity and made some sizeable donations as a result. They had an appeal box in their house for visitors to contribute. Frank did his usual lectures and slide shows to support the appeal. Mr Ovenden sent a letter to Mr Chandler on 9th April 1964 and mentioned going to one of Frank’s talks where over 100 people were present. Betty organised several slide shows as well and sold numerous draw tickets. Roland Clack, Chairman of the Eastbourne & District Preservation Society wrote to Frank on 31st July 1965 inviting Frank to become a council member. Frank obviously agreed because it was reported in the August newsletter. However, he retired at the first AGM on 17th March 1966; Frank was not a committee man.

A crane lifts the fourth sweep ready for bolting into position on its supporting middlingEdwin Hole completed a report and estimates on Polegate in 1962 and a copy was sent to Frank on 11th April 1964. Hole removed the stocks in November 1965 but, for some reason, was unable to complete the rest of the work. On 11th October 1966, Roland Clack invited Frank to meet with Mr Hole and various others to discuss what still needed to be done. This meeting successfully paved the way for Hole to resume work after Easter 1967. Polegate was fully restored including new sweeps, fanstage and interior. C.P. Davies queried the use of a dummy fan and winding gear. However, he later offered to edit Frank’s notes for the Polegate Museum. The Duke of Devonshire officially opened the restored mill on 1st July 1967.

Restored with four sweeps but without the walkway or reefing stage that encircled the mill at first floor levelFrank helped set up the Polegate Windmill Museum and became a regular guide.. A letter dated 12th July 1966 from the Curator of Hastings Museum suggests approaching Mrs Griffin for relics of the mill. The Polegate Windmill museum was officially opened on Sunday 5th May 1968 by Rex Wailes. He made a scale model of a post mill that he donated to the museum and report of the model appeared in the Evening Argus of 5th May 1968. Frank also visited the mill with 140 members of the Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society on 25th May 1968. In 1976, some artefacts that were donated to the museum in 1976 came from Hogg Hill Windmill, Icklesham; Frank was involved in the restoration of Hogg Hill Mill in the 1980s.

According to Martin Brunnarius, Frank’s involvement was crucial at Polegate:

Detail of the new staging at first floor level, fitted during the 1980sMr Gregory played an important part in the organisation of the programme which, involving work both amateur and professional, resulted in a complete restoration of the whole mill. This included a new fanstage, a set of working sweeps and refurbishing the interior. In the adjoining museum, there are photographs taken as the work progressed and a number showing the state of Sussex windmills through recent years. A fine working model of a Sussex post mill takes pride of place at one end of the room. This, exact in scale and detail, is the result of hundreds of hours spent by Frank with the tools of his profession.

Frank was invited to join the Polegate Management Committee on 2nd May 1984. Later that year repairs were necessary to the fantail and new stocks and sails were required. A quote was received from R. Thompson of Alford, Lincolnshire but after a day on site in 1985, they realised that they could not do the job because of the extent of the deterioration. There is no further information from Frank on the further restoration that was required. Charles E. Waite drew detailed scale drawings of every aspect of Polegate’s construction in the 1980s. In 1990, an extension and improvements to the museum were approved. Frank’s ashes were scattered at the mill after his funeral.

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