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

Restoration of Park Mill, Bateman's, Burwash

November 02nd 2014 by Elizabeth Trout

Click here for more information on Bateman's mill.

The mill in the 1950s - photo by E M Gardner

Frank made several undated technical drawings of the machinery at Park Mill. He also wrote an article on watermills for the Recologea Papers, vol. 3, no. 3, that included drawings by David Martin circa 1969. Recologea was the journal of the Robertsbridge & District Archaeological Society.

An undated draft letter to the National Trust, presumably from SIAS, suggests the possibility of restoring Park Mill. SIAS members had mounted the Wealden Iron exhibition at the mill and were keen to get involved in restoring the mill and the electric power generating plant installed by Rudyard Kipling. Furthermore, SIAS were willing to provide ‘management services’ to coordinate voluntary help and provide specialist skills by members of the Industrial Archaeology Study Group:

... our membership comprises experienced representatives of all professional skills involved and we are in close touch throughout the County with possible sources of parts from other mills, such as may well be helpful in this rebuilding.

Derek Ogden surveyed the mill in March 1969 and made recommendations and an initial costing for repairs of about £2000 for materials. An appeal was launched in May 1969. Frank arranged to make a visit to the mill with the Pathfinders group on Sunday 28th September 1969, in particular to see The Wealden Ironmasters Exhibition. Meanwhile he made a personal visit in July and made the offer of a waterwheel, although he does not state the source of this wheel. However, a letter dated 30th July 1969 from Wilfred Beswick of Heathfield suggests that the wheel was at Hammonds Mill and would require professional help to remove it at a cost of £300 to £500.

Overshot wheel and turbineOn 29th August Mr Beswick contacted I.F. Blomfield, FRAS, at the National Trust. Raymond Hawkins of SIAS wrote to Frank on 28th September 1969 outlining his responsibilities for arranging the work on restoring the waterworks, turbine and generator as opposed to the restoration of the mill building. The letter was confidential as negotiations with the National Trust were in hand. By 4th November, Mr Beswick received a letter from the Mr Blomfield saying that Rex Wailes, the National Trust’s Archaeological Adviser, had given his “enthusiastic blessing to the Study Group’s plans to help with the restoration of the mill”.

A meeting was held on 6th December 1969 to discuss preliminary plans. Frank was there as co-ordinator for natural power. A project team was suggested with Frank named first as a “mill expert of long standing”. The others in the team were The Robertsbridge Society, Col R. Hawkins and Mr F.L. Veale, both MIMechE, and W.R. Beswick, a retired engineer. David Martin would do the drawings. The National Trust approved the proposal to restore the mill in January 1970 and Frank visited the mill to look at its condition prior to detailing the work to be done. A project co-ordination procedure was written in February 1970. Frank offered to give a talk to benefit the Mill Restoration Fund.

Millwright machining cogsFrank wrote to the Kipling Society requesting photographs and drawings in March 1971. They thought that that material would be at Burwash if it existed. In early December 1971, Mr Beswick wrote to other members of the group that in Frank’s view the runner stones could be removed by volunteers during the Christmas holidays. Frank would then bring a set of 15cwt blocks from Nutley windmill. Removing the bed stones might be more difficult. Restoration of the hursting would be carried out by a competent contractor. The millwrighting firm of E. Hole of Burgess Hill was brought in to make the wheel. Frank Gregory knew of the possibility of a second-hand wheel of 9 feet in diameter that could be brought into the Hole workshop for repair and alteration before final assembly at the mill. This may have been the wheel from Hammonds Mill.

Opening ceremonyThe idea was mooted to create a watermill museum at Park Mill. The Industrial Archaeology Study Group wished to take responsibility for the supervision of the mill but they had yet to get the go ahead from the National Trust. On 26th July 1972, Wilfred Beswick wrote to Frank asking for his views on the offer by Mrs Sutherland of two rooms in the adjoining mill cottage for exhibition space. Park Watermill was officially opened on 10th May 1975 and Frank and his wife, Betty were VIP guests.

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