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Mills of Finland

Rex Wailes’ obituary


Rex Wailes' Obiturary in 'The Times', 1986

Mr Rex Wailes. Renowned authority on windmills

Mr Rex Wailes, OBE, who died on January 7 at the age of 84, was the most distinguished man of his time in the study of windmills and watermills, both nationally and internationally.

Born in 1901, he was educated at Oundle and served an engineering apprenticeship with Robeys of Lincoln before joining the family engineering firm of George Wailes & Co in 1924.

He was one of that rare breed of engineers who take an interest in the history of their profession, and he found a very congenial intellectual home amongst fellow-members of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology, which he joined in 1925. He served on the council of the society for many years, becoming president in 1953-55, and delivering a long series of over two dozen authoritative papers on milling.

He also joined the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1929, and took a leading part in the development in its wind and watermill section. In 1965, he represented Britain in the first International Symposium of Molinology in Portugal. His best-known book, ‘The English Windmill’, was first published in 1954.

Towards the end of his career, when he was no longer practicing as a mechanical engineer, Rex Wailes was employed by the Ministry of Works as it then was, as a consultant on industrial archaeology when this subject had just begun to attract national attention in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

From 1963 to 1971 he performed this role as the officer to the newly established Industrial Monuments Survey administered by the Council for British Archaeology, fulfilling a remarkable programme of pioneering activities.

He travelled over much of the country identifying industrial monuments requiring protection, laying the basis for the recording of such monuments, and undertaking countless lectures as a result of which many local societies and conservation trusts were formed, inspired by his crusading spirit. National bodies like the Royal Commission on Historical Buildings in England and the National Trust also have cause to be grateful to him for his advice.

He was made the OBE in 1971 in recognition of these services.