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Frank W. Gregory (1917-1998)

Restoration of West Blatchington Windmill

Click here for more information on West Blatchington mill.

Smock mill, West Blatchington, scaffolded for repairs with one sail missing, July 1966
Smock mill, West Blatchington, scaffolded for repairs with one sail missing, July 1966

West Blatchington Windmill was very close to where Frank lived. He became interested in it from the 1930s. He drew two sketches on 23rd January and 12th May 1935. He also kept newspaper cuttings and copies of other drawings of the mill. Hove Corporation purchased the mill from the Marquis of Abergevenny in 1937 for £3,400 and set about restoring it in 1939.

On 6th February 1970 Frank received a letter from Jack Dove of the Libraries and Museums Department in Hove. This was in response to a letter Frank had sent asking about the fate of West Blatchington and suggested that it could be turned into a folk museum:

I did try to get the Council to do this many years ago but it was rejected. However, we then had the Booker Hall and the situation is very different now. The idea did occur to me when you gave that excellent talk to the Rotary Club recently, but I felt that I would get nowhere single-handed for the Council are hardly culturally minded. I am glad, therefore, to have your letter and I have put this on the Library and Museum Committee agenda for its meeting next Thursday. If you can get any other support, and especially, from a society like the SAS, I would be very glad.

Frank volunteered to help with the restoration of West Blatchington in 1977. He became a mentor and a close friend to Peter Hill who describes Frank’s contribution:

It was to Frank that we at West Blatchington windmill continually turned when we undertook the restoration project back in 1977 and for me to have him as my mentor was akin to having an apprentice master. Not only would he give advice as to how a particular job should be tackled but in many instances he would roll up his sleeves and set-to ….

Stocks on ground awaiting fitting, seen from above
Stocks on ground awaiting fitting, seen from above

On 14th July 1979, West Blatchington was officially opened. The Borough Planning Officer wrote to the County Archivist on 26th July asking if there were any plans or papers in the Abergevenny collection that would help in building a scale model of the mill. Frank was elected to the management committee of the Friends of West Blatchington Windmill and was a keyholder.

After he had helped with the main restoration in the 1970s, Frank kept in close contact, helping with maintenance and repairs during the winter when the mill was closed to the public and open days in the summer. In February 1980, Campbell Reith & Partners made detailed plans of the existing iron cross and stock. In September 1982, 7×5 litres of ‘Snowcem’ was provided free by Blue Circle. At the AGM in October, Frank gave a talk on Sussex Windmills. The barn roof was reslated in the autumn by John Williams & Co.

On 27th January 1983, Frank reported that the back stays were missing and timber for the sweeps had to be obtained by West Sussex Rural Engineering Company. He offered to obtain natural rope and ironmongery to assist access to the dust and bin floors.  Peter Hill and Frank provided an estimate for the timber required for the grain bins and began building them in February. On 18th February 1983, the sweeps were installed.

Raising the sweeps
Raising the sweeps

It was always the intention to make West Blatchington more than simply a restored mill and Frank became involved in the Windmill Exhibition Working Party. Mr J.A. Bayhay, a local architect drew plans for the display area in the barn. Frank often showed people round on open days and school visits; the latter included his own grandsons from a local primary school.

Further repairs were necessary and a tender was accepted by James & Cox Ltd on 23rd January 1986 for between £11,000 and £12,000 of work. On 22nd January 1987 the work started. The cant posts were resined and steel plated lead flashing replaced the felt under the staging. External cladding was done using Western Red Cedar wood and the corners were brass-screwed and bitumened. The cap was weatherboarded. In February vertical cladding was put inside and stained. Phase 2 began was due to begin at the end of March/beginning of April when the spout floor and A frame were strengthened.

A potentially disastrous situation arose when Frank received a letter dated 23rd September 1988 from the Council informing him that there was storm damage to the timber beam at the end of the windshaft. James & Co needed to remove the end clamp and large horseshoe strap to repair the damage. However there was real concern that this would cause the windshaft and sweeps to tip forward. They were looking to Frank for advice and “words of comfort” that this would not happen, and Graham Pledger, the structural engineer, would be on site to supervise. Another letter on 6th October from the Director of Planning told Frank that one of the rods was unconnected. James & Co had been asked to rectify it but had yet to give a quote, let alone a date for the work to be done. Such was the concern that the continued windy weather could cause further damage, they suggested that Frank loosely reconnected it with help from Graham Pledger.

Frank seems to have kept no further information on work at West Blatchington although we know that he kept involved. On 11th October 1994 Frank received his invitation for the Friends of West Blatchington Windmill to attend a reception in the Mayor’s Parlour in Hove. His ashes were scattered at the mill in 1998. Frank’s trilby hat and necker, his mill models and other artefacts belonging to him are now on display in the windmill and exhibition area.