Old Bournemouth Streets And Lost Sussex Mills Archives To Be Digitised

By Caroline Lewis | 05 March 2008
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black and white photo of a windmill under construction

Nutley Windmill, near Uckfield, East Sussex, undergoing restoration in which Frank Gregory was a key player. Courtesy HLF and Weald and Downland Museum

Two digitisation projects in the south have just been given a boost by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will see a huge mills archive and a virtual museum of Bournemouth go online.

One of the projects began as a boyhood fascination with the wind and watermills on the Downs around Brighton, which grew into such a passion that Frank Gregory became a noted authority on the construction and repair of mills. And when the time came for Frank to shuffle off his mortal coil, aged 81, he had built up a tremendous collection of 100,000 documents relating to the windmills and watermills of Sussex.

The specialised archive was bequeathed to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester ten years ago. It was an apt place for the photographs and sketches to go as the museum documents historic building and rural trades. The archive is now a superb technical resource for people looking to restore historic mills.

The collection also provides a fascinating insight into the changing rural landscape of Sussex in the 20th century, which until now has been uncatalogued. Now, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund award, volunteers from the Mills Archive Trust and the Sussex Mills Group are going to index, catalogue and digitise Frank’s records. The £49,800 grant will also enable the archive to be made available online.

It is hoped the project will not only bring this aspect of Sussex heritage to a wider audience, but also generate interest in helping to restore and care for surviving mills in the area.

“We are very privileged to have access to Frank’s collection,” said Mills Archive Trust chairman, Dr Ron Cookson. “He created a vital heritage asset and we will be able to give the world a glimpse of the man’s influence and importance.”

photo of a large photographic negative showing a 19th century hotel

A plate negative of the long gone Belle Vue Hotel in Bournemouth, from the Day Collection, which will be put online. © Bournemouth University

In Bournemouth meanwhile, a substantial grant of £440,000 is allowing Bournemouth University and Bournemouth Borough Council to create a virtual world where visitors can explore the town’s heritage.

The Streets of Bournemouth project will feature a core collection of maps and images showing how the town has changed over the last 200 years, and will form a central part of the town’s bicentenary celebrations in 2010.

A key element of Streets of Bournemouth will be the community archive, to which Bournemouth residents past and present can add their own photos, collections, stories and memories. This will be facilitated through Bournemouth’s libraries, with community input creating an ongoing record of the town’s history.

The HLF grant will also enable the conservation of a unique collection of Victorian glass negatives. The Day Collection is a photographic record of the first expansion of Bournemouth but owing to its fragile condition it is not available to the public.

Conservation and digitisation of the collection will enable it to be included on the website for all to enjoy. Many other images, such as the Chilvers Collection of rural watercolours, will also be accessible to the public for the first time on the website.

A programme of exhibitions and education will accompany the website project.

“The Streets of Bournemouth will certainly come to life thanks to this significant award from the Heritage Lottery Fund”, said Bournemouth University Librarian, David Ball. “The university has a strong track record in creating interactive archives and, with the help of our colleagues at Bournemouth Borough Council and a team of volunteers drawn from the community, we are confident that this project will serve as a living history of Bournemouth for many years to come”.

The University and the Council, in partnership with Dorset County Council and Dorset County Museum, launched the Dorset Coast Digital Archive in 2005, relating to the man-made and natural history of the Dorset coast and its hinterland.

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