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Tales from Rex Wailes: No half measures

Rex Wailes, like his father, was first and foremost an engineer, but soon became the authority on wind and watermills. As an engineer he was also interested in industrial sites, such as foundries, brickworks and waterworks. One of my other interest is breweries, so I was delighted to see that he had spent some time at Palmer’s Brewery in Bridport, Dorset.
Rex Wailes by steam traction engine outside the brewery, 1962. Image copyright English Heritage
View from the River Brit. Image copyright English Heritage
The brewery dates back to 1794 when the Dorset rope and net maker, the Gundry family built the brewery on the banks of the River Brit. In the late 19th century, two Palmers brothers – John Cleeves and Robert Henry – bought the brewery and gave it their names: JC & RH Palmer. Today, their website points out, their great grandsons, John and Cleeves Palmer, work in the company. 

Until March 2020, in all of the 226 years the mill had not stopped brewing or the waterwheel stopped working. Then coronavirus called a halt on the same day we closed the Archive to visitors. The owners looked after their staff and tenants and are now back in production. One of their well-regarded tours of the brewery is on my bucket list! 

Amongst Rex’s collection held at the Mills Archive are a series of photographs and notes recording his visit to the Brewery in 1962. Most of the photographs were taken by his close friend Joseph Addison. A few illustrative examples are given here showing the waterwheel forged in Bridport by Thomas Helyer and installed in 1879 and interior photographs show the pumping machinery used inside the brewery. Having written this article I came across an attractive photograph taken by my good friend Martin Bodman in 1996 which shows the wheel so impressively that I had to share it!

Waterwheel of 1879. Photo Martin Bodman