Rex Wailes was born in 1901 in Middlesex. After leaving school he became an apprentice engineer and joined the family firm George Wailes & Co. in 1924. He stayed there until his retirement, taking over as manager in 1940. The firm finally closed in 1960 due to a compulsory purchase for the widening of Euston Road, London.
In 1923 the Newcomen Society asked Rex to record the windmills in Lincolnshire. By 1929 he was technical adviser to the new Windmill Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). He became the leading British authority on mills and the driving force behind the windmill rescue and repair movement.
He was not only a good photographer, he ventured into many mills that were in a parlous state, recording them and suggesting priorities for attention. His collection, now in the care of the Mills Archive, is a time capsule of photographs, glass plates, large technical drawings, notes and correspondence. It immortalises these fascinating structures, the development of the windmill protection and repair movement, the people involved and the landscape that they shaped. Rex took photos wherever he went, and documented mills and other monuments in meticulous detail.
In 1963 he was appointed as the lead consultant in the UK Government’s survey of all industrial monuments to identify historical sites worthy of preservation. For this work he was honoured by the Queen with an OBE.
In his valedictory lecture he advocated a specialist archive for mill drawings and photographs, emphasising the need for proper indexing and storage in suitable conditions. Exactly half-a-century later the Mills Archive became a nationally accredited repository – Rex’s had come true. He is still remembered for his generosity and care in encouraging and training younger mill enthusiasts. He died at his home at Buckinghamshire in 1986.
STATEMENT FROM THE COMMITTEE
March 06, 1901 - January 09, 1986
The Rex Wailes Collection is the most important mill collection of the 20th Century and records the technology of our industry operating under wind and water power before steam, electricity and the roller mill made their full impact on the business of flour and food production globally. His work covered not only the UK but many other countries besides. His induction pays homage to one of millings hero’s across the centuries.