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Frank W. Gregory (1917-1998)

Restoration of Oldland Mill, Keymer

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Oldland Mill being repaired
Oldland Mill being repaired

Frank had a copy of a letter from Ernest Hole to H.E.S. Simmons dated 4th June 1938 describing the remedial work that was done to get it back to working order. They managed to grind two bushels of oats but then one of the sweeps broke off and disintegrated. So it was left as skeleton.  Frank sent information about the brakewheel to the Rural District Council of Uckfield in September 1956 and visited it in August 1960. A mill condition report was prepared by A.J. Haslefoot and Frank Gregory dated 7th August 1976 with various scenarios suggested to either make it safe or workable with Frank preparing the plan of work with help from SIAS members. An estimate of costs was put at £2,000. Following a visit on 8th May 1977, Frank and T.W. Gee suggested a procedure of work. A more detailed general report was prepared by Martin Watts of Bath.

In 1978/79, Hassocks Amenity Association wished to buy or lease the mill from the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS) in order to carry out the restoration. Frank received a letter dated 1st May 1979 from T.W. Gee, indicating that SAS were willing to convey the mill to the Hassocks Amenity Association. Mr Gee as Hon. Secretary also invited Frank to become a Trustee. They had been advised by Mr Hole that the mill was at the point of collapse. Martin Brunnarius suggested on 20th July 1979 a method to reinstate substantial support for the corner posts. A further letter of 28th January 1980 from Iris Annett contained a copy of the new lease from the SAS solicitors. Mr Hawkings-Byass, the owner of the adjoining land on the northern boundary had made suggestions for access to the mill. He also agreed to become a Trustee and was glad that Frank had been approached too.

The Hassocks Amenity Association AGM in April 1980 reported that a separate Mill Committee had been formed including Mr Frank Gregory, a local expert on mills.  An engineer had inspected the mill and plans were being drawn up by an architect. The first task was a ‘spring clean’ followed by the installation of a steel frame to consolidate the base of the mill and prevent it toppling over.  The programme of works was drawn up to preserve the mill. A restoration fund to raise £1000 was launched and donations of £400 were received from the SAS and the Sussex History Society. Frank again organised a slide-show to raise funds.

The minutes of the 23rd meeting of the Mill Committee on 4th October 1982 recorded, amongst other things, that Frank would annotate drawings made of the sweep by Mrs Goodacre. He would arrange to meet her at the mill to explain the parts to her. When the drawings were complete, the sweep would be cut into three and removed from the site.

In May 1984, Amanda Fisher, reporter for the television station TVS came to visit the mill. In a letter of 30th May, she thanked Frank for coming at short notice to show them the mill and to be interviewed on camera.

A rather belated letter to thank you so much for all your kind help when we came to film at Oldland Mill last week. It was such a glorious day in the middle of all this awful rain, we were extremely lucky and the film looks superb. It was good of you to put yourself out at such short notice to come along, show us the mill and subject yourself to an interview on camera. The interview was fine, and thanks to all the information you gave, we’ve been able to make a lovely item for Coast to Coast. I do hope that you’ll enjoy watching the item as much as we enjoyed filming it, and that it will attract a wide response to your appeal.

The timbers for the trestle and the crown tree were shaped and worked on during the late summer of 1985. Once they were installed timber could be ordered for the side girts and upper floors. Frank’s notes/minutes stop here and do not resume until 23rd November 1987. During the intervening period, progress was made on the restoration of the trestle so that it could rotate but the asymmetric design of the main post prevented the trestle from sitting squarely on all four piers. The October 1987 storm had also blown an oak tree over into the side of the mill and some of the weatherboarding had fallen off. The priority was to make the mill watertight. Mr A.J. Annett and P. Bolton were managing the project. A quote of £1,150 was received from Austin Cradles Ltd for scaffolding towers to be erected. No further progress was reported on the drawings, timber, drainage, gantry, lights or roof. The latter was in urgent need of repair. A report dated October 1991 by A.J. Annett listed the work that had been completed to stabilise the mill and the considerable amount of work that still needed to be done.

Frank wrote to Miss Worsley, Secretary of the SPAB Windmills & Watermills section on 16th October 1995. He mentioned an article that had appeared in the Daily Telegraph of 3rd October about the restoration of Oldland Mill. He explained that the mill was vested in the Sussex Archaeological Society since 1927 but had been woefully neglected because SAS were never financially responsible for it. The HAA led by Mr John Annett had negotiated a 20 year lease and a team of volunteers had worked on the mill for the past 11 years. Mr Annett had been Clerk of Works throughout that time and his wife Iris was the Secretary for the first ten years. Frank nominated the Annetts for a Windmill Certificate and asked that it be put to the committee. There is no record that the certificate was awarded at that time. However, the current Oldland Mill Trust website, a news item records that they were presented with a SPAB Windmills & Watermills Conservation Award on 6th December 2009 in recognition of the restoration work done over 29 years.

The Oldland Mill Trust, created on 7th February 1997, transferred the land and buildings to the Hassocks Amenity Association. By 15th May 1997, the Mill Committee had met 110 times. Vincent Pargeter made alterations to the breast frame to comply with the planning application for Listed Building Consent and SPAB requirements; John Annett was working on the drawings for those.

The last minutes of the Hassocks Amenity Association that Frank kept were from 24th February 1998. The first item was apologies for absence from Frank Gregory who was in hospital and a ‘get well’ card was to be sent to him. Some of Frank’s ashes were scattered at the mill in June 1998.