Industries: Paper

Pages 195-197

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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The earliest attempt at paper-making in England was made by John Tate, the younger, mayor of London in 1496, who erected a paper mill in the neighbouring county of Hertford. This mill furnished the paper for a book entitled Bartholomaeus Anglicus de proprietatibus rerum, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1495 (?), as we learn from the eighth verse of the 'Prohemium':-

And John Tate the yonger Ioye mote he broke Whiche late hath in Englande doo make this paper thynne

That now in our Englyssh this boke is prynted Inne.

Many subsequent attempts were, however, made before the art was successfully established in this country. Between 1574 and 1576 another eminent London citizen, Sir Thomas Gresham, set up a paper mill on his estate at Osterley Park, Middlesex. This mill formed the subject of an Exchequer inquiry to determine whether it had encroached on the queen's highway or injured the queen's mills. (fn. 1) This inquiry took place in 1584, and from the evidence of the witnesses examined it appears that Gresham's mill stood on the river Brent, 'nere Cruxewell's forde,' that it was erected about thirteen years previously, and that it was a corn-mill when first erected. Not long before his death in 1579 Gresham 'ioyned a paper myll thervnto and yet vsed the same myll a corne myll still, and all vnder one roufe and dryven by one streame.' (fn. 2) Norden, writing in 1593, fourteen years after Gresham's death, states that his mills (for paper, oil, and corn), were then 'decaied, a corne mill excepted.' (fn. 3) Had his life been spared there is little doubt that the great com mercial genius of Sir Thomas Gresham would have made out of this beginning a flourishing industry for our country.

Richard Tottel, or Tottyll, a printer in the City of London, appears next as a paper manufacturer. In a petition addressed in 1585 (?) to Lord Burghley he says that twelve years before he, with some partners, agreed to set up a paper mill, but his companions left the undertaking, on the ground that the project had twice or thrice been attempted before, but without success. He was resolved to persevere and complained of the hindrance of Frenchmen, 'who buy up all our rags.' He prays that the exportation of rags from this country may be prohibited, and that a site for a paper mill may be granted him with sole privilege for thirty years of making paper in England. (fn. 4) Tottel seems to have had no better success than his predecessors. A German named Spilman, or Spielman, who erected a paper mill at Dartford in 1588, was more successful, and is said to have been knighted by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of this national service. (fn. 5) A recurrence of the plague in 1636-7 led to a correspondence between Peter Heywood, a Westminster justice of the peace, and Lord Keeper Coventry. Heywood urged the necessity of seizing the rags sold at rag shops in Clerkenwell, St. Giles's Cripplegate, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Stepney, and St. Katharine's, to prevent their being sold to make paper. (fn. 6) One of the offending paper makers was William Bushee, who had set up a mill in Middlesex midway between Hounslow and East Bedfont. On 8 December 1636 he was summoned to the Middlesex Sessions 'for grindinge ragges in his papermill that came from London, whereby one of his servantes became infected with the plague.' (fn. 7) The popular alarm seems to have stopped the mills from working, and the privy council ordered the local authorities to give help to the workpeople thrown out of their employment. This produced an indignant petition from the inhabitants of Middlesex and Bucks who lived in the neighbourhood of the mills. The correspondence provides us with some useful facts. There were at least four paper mills in this district: that of William Bushee, one of Edmond Phipps at Horton, one probably belonging to Richard West at Poyle, and the mill at Colnbrook, which may have been held by Henry Harris. The petitioners complained that the landlords by converting their corn mills into paper mills advanced their rents from £10 and £15 to £100 and £150 per annum, that the papermakers brought many indigent persons into their parishes whom they ought to maintain, and their workmen had double wages in comparison with other labourers and might well save, that the paper made was so 'unuseful' that it would bear no ink on one side, and was sold at dearer rates than formerly. For these and other reasons the petitioners, so far from consenting to the paper-makers, desire if possible that their mills may be suppressed or removed further off. (fn. 8)

In spite of these and other attempts in various parts of the country to manufacture paper, the greater part of the paper used in England, and certainly that of finer quality, was imported from abroad. In 1675 a patent (fn. 9) was granted to Eustace Burneby for 'making all sorts of white paper for the use of writing and printing, being a new manufacture never practised in any our kingdomes or dominions.' Burneby must have had some success, for three years later a book was presented to the king, (fn. 10) 'being printed upon English paper and made within five miles of Windsor by Eustace Burneby, esq. who was the first Englishman that brought it into England, attested by Henry Million, who was overseer in the making of this royal manufacture.' Burneby's mill is said to have been at Stanwell, Middlesex, but its success was short-lived.

The Craftsman (No. 910) records that William III granted certain Huguenot refugees, Biscoe and others, a patent for establishing paper manufactories, but that the undertaking was not successful. In 1713 Thomas Watkin, a stationer in London, brought the art of manufacturing paper to great perfection, in consequence of which numerous paper mills were established in England. (fn. 11)

On 17 September 1787 Samuel Hooper, a bookseller and stationer of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, patented (fn. 12) 'a new method of making or manufacturing printing paper particularly for copper-plate printing.' Hooper is said also to have produced, in 1790, paper of various qualities from leather cuttings and refuse paper. (fn. 13) Other inventions for bleaching rags for paper were registered by Hector Campbell on 28 November 1792 (No. 1,922) and by John Bigg on 28 February 1795 (No. 2,040).

In 1804 Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, stationers and paper manufacturers of London, erected their first paper-making machine at Boxmoor, Herts. This, with many improvements by subsequent inventors, continued to be for many years the principal type of papermaking machinery. The excise returns for 1835 (fn. 14) show that seventy London manufacturers of stained paper paid a total duty of £35,012 9s. 7d., while the total for all England was £49,746 8s.

Wall Papers.- The manufacture of paper hangings in England is said to have begun about 1746, when it was started by Potter of Manchester. Paper-staining as an industry has long been carried on in Old Ford. About the beginning of the 19th century the founders of the firm of John Allan & Son came up from their native county of Elgin in Scotland and settled in the East of London. Here they created a large business which in 1876 employed 150 hands and produced wall paper of every kind, suitable for the cottage, the mansion, or the palace. (fn. 15) There is no industry in which the influence of the artistic revival in England has been more apparent than in this manufacture. Among the firms who have taken a prominent part in the production of paper hangings of good quality are those of Jeffrey & Co., Morris & Co., and Crace. There are more than twenty other trades connected with the paper industry. Among the more important paper-makers in Middlesex at the present day are the Colnbrook Paper Mills, Ltd., Poyle Mill, Colnbrook; Isaac Warwick & Co., Wraysbury Mill, near Staines; the Patent Impermeable Millboard Co., Ltd., Sunbury Common; and the West Drayton Millboard Co., Ltd.


  • 1. Exch. Dep. by Com. Hil. 26 Eliz. no. 6.
  • 2. Ibid. Trin. 2.
  • 3. Speculum Brit. (1723), 37.
  • 4. S.P. Dom. Eliz. clxxxv, 69.
  • 5. Lewis Evans, Anct. Papermaking (1896), 6.
  • 6. S.P. Dom. Chas. I, cccxxxi, 31.
  • 7. Midd. Sess. Rolls (Midd. Co. Rec. Soc.), iii, 167.
  • 8. Rhys Jenkins, 'Paper-making in England, 1588-1680' in Lib. Assoc. Rec. Nov. 1900, p. 584.
  • 9. 21 Jan. 1675, no. 178.
  • 10. Paper and Paper-making Chronology (1875), 21.
  • 11. Matthias Koops, Historical Account of Substances used to describe Events and to convey Ideas (1801), 225-6.
  • 12. No. 1622.
  • 13. J. Munsell, Chronology (1870), 43.
  • 14. Excise Commissioners' Rep. xiv, 44-5.
  • 15. Crory, East Lond. Industries, 17.