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British Industrial History

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Bowater Paper Mills

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1914 W. V. Bowater and Sons purchased a site at Northfleet on the south side of the Thames estuary near Gravesend in May for a paper mill; this was the firm's first step towards becoming a paper manufacturer.

The war interrupted the firm's plans and it was not until 1923 that the construction of a paper mill could be considered.

1923 Bowater Paper Mills Ltd was incorporated as a subsidiary to erect the mill and supply newsprint paper[1]. The contractor was Armstrong, Whitworth and Co, a major armaments manufacturer that had turned to other activities after the end of the war.

There were serious flaws in Armstrong's design of the Northfleet mill, and modifications had to be made during construction. These changes led to large cost overruns and delayed the commencement of full production from July 1925 until almost a year later.

The resolution of the serious problems at Northfleet was the work of Eric Vansittart Bowater and this achievement was his stepping stone to the leadership of the firm.

1928 Eric Bowater was determined to establish Bowater as a major force in UK paper making as fast as possible. He negotiated the sale of a controlling interest in the firm to the newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere, which reduced the family's shareholding to 40 percent. Rothermere's backing allowed Bowater to raise the finance to double the output of the Northfleet mill in 1928.

He looked immediately for further opportunities to expand and a new project was initiated to build a large paper mill on the Mersey, near Liverpool, which was financed jointly by Bowater, Rothermere, and Beaverbrook newspapers. The latter entered a long-term contract to receive supplies of newsprint from the new undertaking.

By the end of 1930 the output of Bowater's mills was 175,000 tons of newsprint per year, 22 percent of the UK's total output. In order to achieve this result, it had been necessary to cede control of the business to the 2 press barons. Rothermere's business, however, was badly affected by the slump at the beginning of the 1930s.

1932 In order to raise cash, Rothmere sold his shareholding back to Bowater. Beaverbrook followed suit. Eric Bowater thus found himself in absolute control of the firm again, now the UK's largest newsprint producer.

Newspaper circulation rose again in the 1930s and Eric Bowater's response was to double the capacity of the Mersey mills.

1936 Purchased paper mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley, owned by Lloyd Group, which doubled the firm's output of newsprint to around 500,000 tons per annum. In little more than a decade since the start of manufacturing, Bowater was producing 60 percent of British newsprint and had become the largest newsprint undertaking in Europe.

1947 The name of Bowater Paper Mills Ltd was changed to Bowater Paper Corporation[2]

1998 The Sittingbourne and Kemsley plants were acquired by Finnish-based paper company Metsa Serla.

2006 The decision was made to close the Sittingbourne Mill with the last reel being produced on 23 January 2007.

Today the Sittingbourne site has been redeveloped, whilst the Kemsley mill is owned by D. S. Smith. With an annual production capacity of around 800,000 tonnes, it is the second biggest recovered fibre-based paper operation in Europe. Currently the plant produces K-Light testliner in white and brown, dual purpose liner/fluting, standard fluting and plasterboard liners.

See also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times 31 Mar 1927
  2. Companies House filing