History of Papermaking in the United Kingdom

The first reference to a papermill in the United Kingdom was in a book printed by Wynken de Worde in about 1495, this mill belonging to John Tate and was near Hertford. Other early mills included one at Dartford, owned by Sir John Speilman, who was granted special privileges for the collection of rags by Queen Elizabeth and one built in Buckinghamshire before the end of the sixteenth century. During the first half of the seventeenth century, mills were established near Edinburgh, at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, and several in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey. The Bank of England has been issuing bank-notes since 1694, with simple watermarks in them since at least 1697. Henri de Portal was awarded the contract in December 1724 for producing the Bank of England watermarked bank-note paper at Bere Mill in Hampshire. Portals have retained this contract ever since but production is no longer at Bere Mill.

There were two major developments at about the middle of the eighteenth century in the paper industry in the UK. The first was the introduction of the rag-engine or hollander, invented in Holland sometime before 1670, which replaced the stamping mills which had previously been used for the disintegration of the rags and beating of the pulp. The second was in the design and construction of the mould used for forming the sheet. Early moulds had straight wires sewn down on to the wooden foundation, this produced an irregular surface showing the characteristic laid marks, and, when printed on, the ink did not give clear, sharp lines. Baskerville, a Birmingham printer, wanted a smoother paper. James Whatman the Elder developed a woven wire fabric, thus leading to his production of the first wove paper in 1757.

Increasing demands for more paper during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries led to shortages of the rags needed to produce the paper. Part of the problem was that no satisfactory method of bleaching pulp had yet been devised, and so only white rags could be used to produce white paper. Chlorine bleaching was being used by the end of the eighteenth century, but excessive use produced papers that were of poor quality and deteriorated quickly. By 1800 up to 24 million lb of rags were being used annually, to produce 10,000 tons of paper in England and Wales, and 1000 tons in Scotland, the home market being supplemented by imports, mainly from the continent. Experiments in using other materials, such as sawdust, rye straw, cabbage stumps and spruce wood had been conducted in 1765 by Jacob Christian Schäffer. Similarly, Matthias Koops carried out many experiments on straw and other materials at the Neckinger Mill, Bermondsey around 1800, but it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that pulp produced using straw or wood was utilised in the production of paper.

By 1800 there were 430 (564 in 1821)papermills in England and Wales (mostly single vat mills), under 50 (74 in 1823) in Scotland and 60 in Ireland, but all the production was by hand and the output was low. The first attempt at a papermachine to mechanise the process was patented in 1799 by Frenchman Nicholas Louis Robert, but it was not a success. However, the drawings were brought to England by John Gamble in 1801 and passed on to the brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, who financed the engineer Bryan Donkin to build the machine. The first successful machine was installed at Frogmore, Hertfordshire, in 1803. Hanging up sheets of paper to dry The paper was pressed onto an endless wire cloth, transferred to a continuous felt blanket and pressed again, it would have been cut off the reel into sheets and loft dried in the same way as hand made paper. In 1809 John Dickinson patented a machine that that used a wire cloth covered cylinder revolving in a pulp suspension, the water being removed through the centre of the cylinder and the layer of pulp removed from the surface by a felt covered roller (later replaced by a continuous felt passing round a roller). This machine was the forerunner of the present day cylinder mould or vat machine, used mainly for the production of boards. Both these machines produced paper as a wet sheet which require drying after removal from the machine, but in 1821 T B Crompton patented a method of drying the paper continuously, using a woven fabric to hold the sheet against steam heated drying cylinders. After it had been pressed, the paper was cut into sheets by a cutter fixed at the end of the last cylinder.

By the middle of the nineteenth century the pattern for the mechanised production of paper had been set. Subsequent developments concentrated on increasing the size and production of the machines. Similarly, developments in alternative pulps to rags, mainly wood and esparto grass, enabled production increases. Conversely, despite the increase in paper production, there was a decrease, by 1884, in the number of paper mills in England and Wales to 250 and in Ireland to 14 (Scotland increased to 60), production being concentrated into fewer, larger units. Geographical changes also took place as many of the early mills were small and had been situated in rural areas. The change was to larger mills in, or near, urban areas closer to suppliers of the raw materials (esparto mills were generally situated near a port as the raw material was brought in by ship) and the paper markets.