Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,502 pages of information and 233,941 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Paper Mills

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By 1800 the number of paper mills had reached around 429 in England and Wales, and 32 in Scotland where the industry was centred on Edinburgh, Leith and along the River Esk, and around Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The nineteenth century saw the beginning of re-cycling within the industry with patents taken out for the extraction of ink from old paper and of re-pulping. These years also saw the rise of trade associations (unions) for employees. The years covered by this small collection saw a period of expansion within the paper industry in Britain.

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 paper machine 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. 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.

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