Birth of an Industry

The First Machines

Demand for paper increased and by 1800 there were over 500 British paper mills making paper by hand.

Apsley Mill Paper-making machine

Apsley Mill Paper-making machine
Picture: Dacorum Heritage Trust

The challenge to mechanise the process was taken up by Nicholas Louis Robert, working at St. Léger Didot’s paper mill in Essonnes, France. Robert designed and built the first ‘endless wire’ paper machine in 1798.

The plans were brought to England in 1801 by Didot´s brother-in-law, John Gamble, where Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier became involved in the project.

They commissioned Bryan Donkin, a skilful and innovative engineer, to improve the design and the first commercial papermaking machine in the world was installed at Frogmore Mill in 1804, after trials there during the previous year.

The Fourdrinier brothers gave their name to the machine that had bankrupted them by 1810, but they had helped to transform a cottage industry into a highly industrialized one.

The modern papermaking industry was born at Frogmore Mill.

John Dickinson – The Pioneer

In the 19th century, adaptations of the ´Fourdrinier´machines took the production of paper into a whole new era.

Bank notes, envelopes, postage stamps, greetings cards, postcards, wallpaper, and even transfers for designs onto pottery, were all bye-products of this revolution.

John Dickinson, having already patented a machine to cut paper made on a ´Fourdrinier’, devised the Cylinder Mould Machine in 1809, which operated on a different system. The fibres in the pulp were deposited onto a revolving, hollow, brass cylinder. The forming paper was then transferred onto an endless felt web.

Dickinson bought Apsley and then Nash Mills, in partnership with George Longman, and the business grew rapidly. By 1830, Dickinson had built paper mills at both Home Park and Croxley.

Dickinson registered over 16 patents in his lifetime and saw the industry expand world-wide. His stationery company lasted for nearly 200 years and became a focal point of local employment.

The British Paper Company

Paper is made from natural cellulose fibres, which can be recycled. At first, old cotton and linen rags were used, sometimes hemp ropes and vegetable fibres. Today, wood pulp is the main source.

At Frogmore Mill, Herbert S. Sanguinetti established the British Paper Company in 1890, and waste paper has been recycled here since that date. Lower grade papers and card for products such as bus tickets were the main products. The mill still makes paper and card on the steam-driven ´Fourdrinier’ machine, installed in 1907.

Special papers can be made, with inclusions – grass from Wimbledon, old bank notes or even elephant dung!

It once had its own Fire Brigade, similar to Dickinson´s, an essential safeguard in the life of a paper mill.

As it moves forward into yet another century, the spirit of its past owners and millworkers goes with it.

By the Dacorum Heritage Trust

The Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd.

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