Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Paper-making in England


Nearly eighteen centuries have rolled away since the art of making paper from fibrous matter, reduced to a pulp in water, was first discovered by the Chinese. The leaves of some trees, and the skins and intestines of animals, had previously been made fit for writing on; wherever the Egyptian papyrus was introduced, all these things fell into disuse, except parchment. But when the Saracens conquered Egypt, in the seventh century, papyrus could no longer be procured in Europe, and parchment became extremely dear. In China paper is mostly made from the inner bark of the bamboo, from cotton and linen rags, and from rice-straw. The Arabians, in the seventh century, either discovered or learned from the Chinese the art of making paper from cotton; this they carried to Spain, where they also made paper from linen and hemp. The oldest manuscript on cotton paper is one which Montfauçon saw in the French king’s library, bearing the date of 1050, but supposed to belong to the ninth century. In Spain, flax being grown, linen rags were substituted for cotton, because the latter was only to be obtained by importation.

Mr. Ottley, a sound authority, contends that paper was manufactured from mixed materials from a very early period; and that the notion of distinguishing the kinds by one sort being made of linen, the other of cotton, rags, is wrong; for one is as ancient as the other, and they were often intermixed (“Archæologia,” xxvi. 69, 70).

We have in the Tower of London a letter addressed to Henry III. (between 1210 and 1222) upon very strong paper, and certainly made, in Mr. Ottley’s judgment, of mixed materials; while in several of the time of Edward I., written upon genuine cotton paper, of no great thickness, the fibres of cotton present themselves everywhere at the backs of the letters so distinctly that they seem as if they might even now be spun into thread. The antiquity of linen paper is a much disputed question. The earliest distinct instance found by Mr. Hallam, and believed by him to have been hitherto overlooked, is an Arabic version of the aphorisms of Hippocrates, the manuscript bearing the date of 1100. It does not appear whether it were written in Spain or brought from Egypt or the East. Peter, abbot of Clugni, in a treatise against the Jews, speaks of books “ex rasuris veterum pannorum,” interpreted “of linen rags.” “And,” says Mr. Hallam, “as Peter passed a considerable time in Spain, about 1141, there can remain no rational doubt that the Saracens of the peninsula were acquainted with that species of paper, though perhaps it was as yet unknown in every other country” (“Literature of Europe,” vol. i. p. 58). Andrès asserts, on the authority of the members of the Academy of Barcelona, that a treaty between the Kings of Aragon and Castile, bearing the date of 1178, and written upon linen paper, is extant in the archives of that city. Andrès refers the invention to the Saracens of Spain, using the flax of Valencia and Murcia; and conjectures that it was brought into use among the Spaniards themselves by Alfonso X. of Castile.

Bagford speaks of a letter from the King of Spain to Edward I., which is on what he calls “a species of paper,” and is of an earlier date by twenty years than any paper that has fallen under the notice of the Rev. J. Hunter (“Archæologia,” xxxvii. p. 448). In this article from the great abundance of accounts written on paper coming into England from our Aquitanian possessions, and the small number of documents originating in England in the same early period, written on any other material than parchment or vellum, Mr. Hunter concludes that paper was a substance much more familiarly known in the South of France than in England; whence arises a strong probability that it is to our connection with our Aquitanian provinces, especially with Bordeaux itself, that we owe the first introduction of this most valuable substance into England. Indeed, paper having the same mark being found in documents prepared at nearly the same time at Bordeaux and in England, seems to show either that we received our paper from Bordeaux, or that Aquitaine and England were supplied from the same market. Whence we may also infer that we are to trace this most ingenious and admirable invention through Spain, and possibly the Moorish provinces, to the people, not yet ascertained, with whom it originated (“Archæologia,” xxxvii. pp. 453-4).

Mr. Hallam records his having seen in the Chapter-house at Westminster, a letter written from Gascony, about 1315, to Hugh Despenser, upon thin paper, to all appearance made like that now in use, and with a water-mark. Among the Cottonian manuscripts several letters are written on parchment; and paper does not appear, at soonest, till near the end of the reign of Edward III. Sir Henry Ellis has said that “very few instances indeed occur before the fifteenth century of letters written upon paper.” It is remarkable that the earliest linen paper was of very good manufacture, strong and handsome; and the first printed books are frequently beautiful in the quality of their paper. From Spain linen paper passed into France, about 1270, thence into Germany about 1312, and from Germany to England about 1320 or 1324. We may here remark that the use of linen or cotton, or the two intermixed, is the radical distinction of our modern paper from the other substances (such as the papyri, the palm-leaves, the fabric supposed to be formed from fibrous matter found in the mummies of Egypt) which were in ordinary use in Europe.

It is commonly thought that Dartford is the place where paper was first made in England; but it is proved beyond doubt that a paper-mill existed in England almost a century before the date of the establishment at Dartford. In the “Household Book” of Henry VII. we read—

1498. For a rewarde geven at the paper mylne, 16s. 8d.
1499. Geven in rewarde to Tate of the mylne, 6s. 8d.

And, in the English translation of “Bartholomœus de Proprietatibus Rerum,” printed by Wynkyn de Worde, in 1495, we read of John Tate the younger having lately, in England, made the paper which was used for printing this book. The lines, which occur at the end of the volume, are as follows:—

And also of your charyte call to remembraunce
The soule of William Caxton, first printer of this boke
In Laten tonge at Coleyn (Cologne) hysself to avaunce,
That every well-disposed man mote (may) be broke,
Which late hathe in England doo make this paper thynne,
And now in our Englysshe this boke is printed inne.

We also gather from an early specimen of blank verse, entitled “A Tale of Two Swannes,” written by William Vallans (it is believed, a native of Ware), and printed in 1590, that the mill belonging to John Tate was situated at Hertford. One of the notes in the poem states that, “in the time of Henry VIII., viz., 1507, there was a paper-mill at Hertford, and (?) belonged to John Tate, whose father was Mayor of London.” (The author, however, is here mistaken in his chronology, as Henry VIII. did not begin to reign till 1509.) The extract from the privy purse expenses of Henry VII., under the date of May 25, 1498, “for a rewarde geven at the Paper Mylne, 16s. 8d.” most clearly has reference to this particular mill, as the entry immediately preceding shows that the king went to Hertford two days before, viz., on the 23rd of May. And, in Herbert’s edition of Ames’s “Typographical Antiquities,” we read that “this mill was where Seel or Seal Mill is now at the end of Hertford town, towards Stevenage; and that an adjoining meadow is still called Paper Mill Mead. This Seel Mill, so denominated from the adjoining hamlet, was erected in the year 1700, and is noted for being the first that made the finest flour, known by the name of Hertfordshire White. It stands upon the river Bean, in the middle of three acres of meadow-land, called Paper Mill Mead, so denominated in the charter of King Charles the First to the town of Hertford, for the fishery of a certain part of that river” (A. Grayan, “Notes and Queries,” No. 117).

Now, the paper-mill at Dartford was established at least 110 years later than that at Hertford, in 1588, by John Spilman, “jeweller to the Queen,” who was pleased to grant him a licence “for the sole gathering, for ten years, of all rags, &c., necessary for the making of such paper.”

The particulars of this mill are recorded in a poem by Thomas Churchyard, published shortly after its foundation, under the following title:—

A description and playne discourse of paper, and the whole benefits that paper brings, with rehearsall, and setting forth in verse a paper-myll built near Darthforth, by an high Germaine, called Master Spilman, jeweller to the Queene’s Majyestie.”

The writer says:—

“(Then) he that made for us a paper-mill,
Is worthy well of love a worldes good will,
And though his name be Spill-man by degree,
Yet Help-man now he shall be calde by mee.
Six hundred men are set at work by him,
That else might starve, or seeke abroade their bread;
Who now live well, and go full brave and trim,
And who may boast they are with paper fed.”[1]

Sir John Spielman was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He is buried in the church at Dartford, beneath a sumptuous tomb, which, in 1858, was restored by the “Legal Society of Paper Makers,” the funds being subscribed by the trade in different parts of England, especially in the county of Kent.

But we find a paper-mill mentioned by Shakspere, who, in his play of Henry VI., the plot of which appears laid at least a century previously, refers to a paper-mill. In fact, he introduces it as an additional weight to the charges which Jack Cade is made to bring against Lord Say.

“Thou hast most traitorously corrupted,” says he, “the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school; and whereas before our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be used, and, contrary to the king, his crown and dignity, thou hast built a paper-mill.”

Mr. Herring, who has written the best and most practical account of paper-making and its history, tells us that North Newton mill, near Banbury, in Oxfordshire (then the property of Lord Say and Sele), had been set down as the first paper-mill erected in this country, and that referred to by Shakspere. Upon hearing this, Mr. Herring communicated with Lord Say and Sele, as to the plausibility of the supposition, when his lordship at once terminated the probability of this mill taking the precedence, even of Sir John Spielman’s, by informing him that the first nobleman succeeding to that title who had property in Oxfordshire, which he acquired by marriage, was the son of the first Lord Say, to whom Shakspere makes reference.

Sir Richard Baker (who died in 1607) has an entry in his “Chronicle,” that in the reign of James I. “coarse paper, commonly called white brown paper, was first made in England, specially in Surrey, and about Windsor.”

The making of paper in England had, however, made little progress even so late as 1662, when Fuller complained that the manufacture was not sufficiently encouraged, “considering the vast sums expended in our land for paper out of Italy, France, and Germany, which might be lessened were it made in our nation.” But, in 1690, an Act was passed to encourage the making of paper for writing and printing in England, our manufacturers being taught by French refugees. Thomas Watson, a stationer, by the introduction of foreign improvements, in 1713, gave a great impulse to the manufacture.

Paper continued to be made by hand until early in the present century, when the Fourdriniers completed their self-acting machinery, which imitates and improves the hand process, and makes paper of any size or length with a rapidity which leaves the other mode at an immeasurable distance. The invention was perfected at Tewin Water, in Hertfordshire, at a cost of 60,000l. Their patent right was, however, invaded, and they lost a considerable sum of money due to them from the imperial treasury of Russia; though, to enforce his claim, Henry Fourdrinier, at the age of seventy-five, with his daughter, made a special journey to St. Petersburg. The Fourdriniers then petitioned the British government, the revenue having benefited half a million a year by their inventions, when their claim was inadequately recognised by a parliamentary vote of 7000l. It was then resolved to purchase, by the subscription of the paper-makers, annuities for the surviving patentee and his two daughters: ere this was done the father died, in his eighty-ninth year; but his two surviving daughters receive a small pension from the Crown. If ever solid recompense was rightly asserted for individual exertion, it was surely due to the inventor of paper-making machinery, since the conductors of the metropolitan newspapers could never have presented to the world such an immense mass of news and advertisements as they now contain, did not this invention enable them to make paper of any size required.

A sheet of paper nearly three miles long and four feet wide was made at Whitehall Mills, Derbyshire, in 1830.

Down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, cotton, flax, and hemp were the only materials, except rags, used in the manufacture of paper. Cotton and linen rags are now chiefly used for this purpose, because they are more easily and cheaply converted into pulp, and furnish a better article when finished than other fibrous materials. But the comparatively high price of rags, and the enormous demand for cheap paper, have compelled manufacturers to turn their attention to other sources of supply; and for a century and a half past efforts have been unceasingly made to manufacture paper from the fibres of different species of vegetable substances. The following précis of these experiments will be found in “The Exchange,” for 1832:

In this review of the attempts made to obtain paper from other materials than rags, we have mentioned only a few of the most important facts. Many thousands of inventors and manufacturers, many years of incessant labour, and millions of pounds sterling, have been expended in experiments upon wood, straw, and similar substances; but the problem of obtaining good paper, at a moderate cost, from raw vegetable fibre, is yet only partially solved. Neither straw, nor wood, nor any similar material, has superseded linen and cotton rags. The raw fibre papyrus was used for thirteen centuries; the reign of rags has now lasted twelve and a half centuries; and it appears probable that the time for returning again to some cheap vegetable fibre is fast approaching.

Probably the most practical of the above substitutes was straw, the first useful paper from which was made in 1800, and used in a book printed by Burton, of London, of copy of which was presented by the Marquis of Salisbury to King George III. The work is entitled “An Historical Account of Substances used in Paper-making.” Cobbett, in 1828, employed, experimentally, some paper made from the husks of Indian corn, but with little success. The substitution of straw in 1800 was regarded of great national importance, and highly deserving support. It was negected for many years, but straw is now extensively used in paper-making in England, and on the Continent. New Zealand flax (Rhormium Tenax) has lately been tried, and found admirably adapted for making paper, which it is declared is superior both in strength and capability of finish, to the paper made from most of the rags now used.

Paper-making by machinery may be thus briefly described. The pulp is first made to flow from the vat upon a wire frame, or sifter, which moves rapidly up and down. Having passed through the sifter, the pulp flows over a ledge in a regular and even stream, and is received upon an endless web of wire-gauze, which moves forward with a shaking motion from side to side, assisting to spread the pulp evenly, and allow the water to pass through the wire, by which means the pulp solidities as it advances. Before the pulp quits the plane of the wire, it is pressed by a roller covered with felt, and is then taken up by an endless web of felt, which, gradually moving forward, absorbs a further portion of the moisture. It is again pressed between rollers, and after being passed over cylinders heated by steam, it is cut by machinery into sheets. Thus in two or three minutes the pulp, which is introduced upon the web at one extremity of the machine, is delivered at the other in the state of perfect paper. By this process twenty-five square feet can be made in one minute; or 15,000 square feet in a working day of ten hours.

The vexatious excise duty on paper was removed in 1862, when the Exchequer lost 1,000,000l. on that year by the change.[2] The average value of paper manufactured in Great Britain may be set down at 4,000,000l.

The subject of watermarks in paper is an inquiry alike useful and curious, since it assists in elucidating the history of paper-making, and the mark of the manufacturer has often been found of use in detecting literary forgeries, and frauds in the falsification of accounts. To pursue the inquiry here would far exceed our limit; but the reader will find an able contribution of specimens, by the Rev. Joseph Hunter, “Archæologia,” xxxvii.

One of the oldest water-marks in existence is an open hand, whose middle finger is connected by a straight line or stem with a star. This appears on a sheet of paper of the manufacture of Flanders, which at that time supplied all the paper needed for the correspondence of England. Upon a sheet of paper is written a letter, preserved in one of the Museums at Venice, which was addressed to Francesco Capello, by King Henry VII., from “our manor of Woodstock,” on the 20th of July, 1502. Mr. Herring, however, states its introduction at 1530, adding that it gave the name to “Hand” paper. Note paper once bore a tankard, but it has now the royal arms in a shield, without motto or supporters. Post is marked with a postman’s horn, in a shield with a crown. Copy has a fleur-de-lys only. Demy, and several larger sorts, a fleur-de-lys in a crowned shield. Royal, a shield with a bend sinister, and a fleur-de-lys for crest. Mr. Herring traces the term cap to the jockey-cap, or something like it, in use when the first edition of Shakspere was printed. The date given to Foolscap in the “Archæologia,” xii., is 1661, and the following traditional story is related of its origin:—

When Charles I. found his revenues short, he granted certain privileges, amounting to monopolies; and among these was the manufacture of paper, the exclusive right of which was sold to certain parties, who grew rich, and enriched the Government at the expense of those who were obliged to use paper. At this time all English paper bore in water-marks the Royal arms. The Parliament, under Cromwell, made jests of this law in every conceivable manner; and, among other indignities to the memory of Charles, it was ordered that the Royal arms be removed from the Paper, and the fool’s cap and bells be substituted. These were also removed when the Rump Parliament was prorogued; but paper of the size of the Parliament’s journals still bears the name of “foolscap.”—“Notes and Queries,” Second Series, No. 13.

In a chapter on the colouring of paper, Mr. Herring relates that the practice of blueing the paper-pulp had its origin in an accidental circumstance. About the year 1790, at a paper-mill belonging to Mr. Buttenshaw, his wife was superintending the washing of some fine linen, when accidentally she dropped her bag of powder-blue into some pulp in a forward state of preparation, with which the blue rapidly incorporated. On Mr. Buttenshaw’s inquiring what had imparted the peculiar colour to the pulp, his wife, presuming that no great damage was done, took courage, and confessed the accident, for which she was afterwards rewarded by her husband, who, by introducing to the London market the improved blue make, obtained for it an advance of four shillings per bundle.

John Timbs.

  1. Communicated by Dr. Rimbault to “Notes and Queries,” No. 59.
  2. About A.D. 500 the Emperor Theodoric abolished the duty on papyrus, which contributed to the revenue of the Roman empire, and upon which fresh imposts had been laid by successive rulers, until they became oppressive. Cassiodorus congratulated the whole world on the repeal of the impost on an article so essentially necessary to the human race, the general use of which, as Pliny says, “polishes and immortalises man?”—Mechanics’ Magazine.