This history of papermaking is presented in three parts.  This second article is taken in whole from the May 1990 issue of Family Tree Maker magazine.  The author, Ms. Jean Stirk, is a well-known authority on the early history of paper making in Great Britain continues her series below.

Old Occupations: The Paper Makers; April, May & June 1990 issues of Family Tree Magazine, © Jean Stirk. Reproduced by kind permission of the author and the publishers. 
Family Tree Magazine website:

The Paper Makers

The employer

The general pattern of business in paper making centered on a minority of owners/manufacturers, many others who leased paper mills (sometimes from paper makers) and those who formed partnerships1 with others in the same line, or had "sleeping partners" (often stationers or printers with an obvious vested interest in paper) or an investor who was prepared to back the concern. The usual commercial reasons, a need to expand or extend the range of product, or the temptation of a business on offer (apparently a bargain) and the vagaries of the trade, determined the pattern of organization. It is reflected in the number of partnerships in which any one person was involved, such as those of Smith in: Smith, Pine & Allnutt (late 1700s), Smith & Allnutt (early 1800s), Smith & Tassell (1830s) and Smith & Monkton.

1 The London Gazette (first published 1665) listed Dissolution of Partnerships from 1750(annual index separate from main index) but there was no requirement to notify so it was not a comprehensive list There are no copies most major libraries.


Mortgage or rent2, insurance3 (essential against fire with rags, paper and possibly a wooden mill house) and the costs of wages, machinery and raw materials with unavoidable excise duty to pay, lead easily to financial ruin. Many mills were worked on for short periods by the same firm. To help combat the problems of difficult financial circumstances, some paper makers used their premises for some other occupation where possible. At Hellesden in Norfolk, for instance, in the trade directory a man was listed as a miller, oilmaker, cutter of wool and flock, and also as a paper maker.
In 1686 the first joint stock company in the manufacture of writing paper was set up, called the Governor & Company of White Paper Makers in England, and expected to produce 100,000 reams in 12 mills that had 20 vats working. Shares were issued of a nominal ₤50 value, increased to ₤150 by 1694, yet the company had disappeared by 1698. Such a varying of fortunes over a relatively short period is a pattern repeated many times in this trade over the centuries; it seems to be an industry particularly prone to political and financial pressures. Between 1860 and 1900, on average, two new mills were established per year but many did not survive. The London Gazette lists bankruptcies4, and paper makers appear there all too frequently; for example, in 1876 there were 37 bankruptcies, and 40 in the following year.

2 Lists of tenants with rents due may survive in estates, manorial, ecclesiastical or private records in appropriate Local Studies Libraries or County record Offices. Rate books with rates due may be found in parish records. From a series of these records a date span of tenure and occupation may be defined.
3 Register of Policies from hand in Hand Fire and Life Insurance Society (1690-c1820), Sun Fire Insurance Office (1710-1863) and Royal Exchange Assurance (1753-c1830)

Spreading the plague

Dependence on the supply of rags was a real problem. In the early days of the industry, when the plague became rife in the main towns such as London, Oxford and Gloucester in the 1630s, many blamed the collection of rags from poor people as responsible for spreading the plague. A law was passed declaring that all rags within ten miles of any royal residence should be burnt; a death knell to many such businesses at a time when traveling any distance by horse and cart was slow and extremely difficult. The paper makers were already unpopular because they had converted many corn mills, and dammed rivers to produce a head of water affecting irrigation for local farmers; the noise of hammering the rags was untenable in certain places. When a local rate was proposed to help the paper manufacturers who were without their raw materials because of the plague scare, there was general uproar and the proposal was dropped immediately.

Paper tax

A tax on paper, introduced in 1696, was finally abolished in 1860, to the relief of the manufacturers, having varied from 1s 6d per ream of demy in 1711, to 3d per pound for white paper and 1.5d per pound for brown paper in 1803, revised in 1839 to 1,5d per pound for all types, with a five percent variation for large post paper and a ten percent variation for smaller sizes.
This led to the introduction of slightly underweight paper saving 3d per ream, taking advantage of the variation allowed. There were some who evaded tax, leading to the bizarre situation in Newcastle in 1825 where of a dozen or so paper makers, only two were out of prison. Mill numbers originated with this tax: the famous No 1, Dartford, Kent, one of the first "white" mills in this country; No 2 was Pickford in Hertfordshire. There were so many irregularities in assessing and collecting the tax that in 1816 the Excise department made a survey of all paper mills, and these lists4 by collection districts, show the name of the paper maker or pasteboard maker, the name of the mill and the excise number

4 1816 Excise Lists: photocopies in major Local Studies Libraries or County Record Offices.


Once paper could be made in an endless web by machine in quantity, price per ton became more favorable to the customer; between 1800 and 1860 it had been cut by two thirds. The rapid increase in the number of newspapers being printed increased demand considerably, two and a half times the number produced in 1851 over the following six years and an increase from 18 to 84 daily newspapers. Circulation of The Times in 1790 was 2,000 and by 1861 the print run was up to 65,000.

Import and Excise duty

Imposition of import duty on rags and excise duty on paper produced were always thorns in the side of the manufacturers, their business further curtailed by the free import of foreign paper. When 50% duty was imposed on rags in 1872 the National Association of Paper Makers pleaded with the Government to remove or reduce this tax – to no avail. Mill owners were forced to cut prices, some to extent of losing money. Eventually John Evans of Dickinsons (Hertfordshire) and Thomas Routledge developed the first alternative to rags, the use of esparto grass fiber; later Edward Partington developed another, different alternative: chemical wood pulp. Between 1870 and 1880 output doubled to 300,000 tons of paper in the year.

Read Part 1 of the paper making history by Ms. Jean Stirk
Read Part 3 of the paper making history by Ms. Jean Stirk

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