By Haydn Brown.
The first paper-mill to open in Norfolk was at Kings Lynn in 1695. The second paper-mill was at Taverham, in the grounds of Taverham Hall on the river Wensum and near the village which lay some five miles outside of Norwich. Both Mills at Kings Lynn and Taverham were converted from being fulling Mills for the treatment of woollen cloth – a popular choice as the water powered hammers used to beat the cloth could easily be converted to making pulp for paper.
Although Taverham Mill opened in 1701 for the purposes of manufacturing paper it was first mentioned in Domesday with the village being listed as Taursham. The earliest written record of any sort of mill there was in 1274 when it was listed as being a corn mill; later it would go on to grind bone for fertiliser, furze for animal fodder, being a saw mill and then a ‘fulling’ mill’. However, for almost 200 years,Taverham Mill was best known as a paper mill, first for hand made sheet paper then converting to machine produced paper in bulk.
During the time when the Mill produced hand made sheet paper, women would first collect rags from many miles around Taverham and bring them to the mill where they removed all buttons and hooks and stripped the rags into into shreds. The material was then soaked, cleaned and left to ferment to different colours. This process was then accelerated by the addition of lime obtained from a pit nearby in Costessey Lane. It was then mechanically pummelled by hammers driven by cams operated by the waterwheel. The resulting pulp was then run off into large flat screens and trays to settle, dry and be pressed. The river provided the clean water.
Particularly during this period, the Mill had three plants, one for making the oil gas which the Mill used for lighting the works that usually ran both night and day; the other two plants were separate for the purposes of making brown paper and the other white. Such a business policy was instrumental in the Mill breaking the near monopoly of the White Paper Maker’s Co which tried to put through an Act of Parliament to stop the use of white rags to make brown paper in order to keep the price down.
Taverham Mill operated as a paper mill from around 1700 to 1899 and from it’s very beginning advertised itself as making ‘paper suitable for printing’ although there was then no printer to make use of it. Lacking this essential industry, Norwich was obviously keen to attract a printer after Parliament, in 1695, had refused to renew the Licensing Act which controlled printing. Prior to that, only London and the two university towns of Oxford and Cambridge had been allowed to print. Whilst Bristol had been quicker off the mark than Norwich in setting up a printing office, it was Norwich that produced the first newspaper outside London. It was then a young printing craftsman from London called Francis Burges settled in Norwich.
It was he who produced one of the earliest references to the mill in a small booklet he published by way of justification for his introduction of printing to Norwich in 1701. Entitled “Some observations on the Use and Origin of the Noble Art and Mystery of Printing” he stated that “Paper for printing may be bought cheap at the paper-mills at Tabram within 4 miles of Norwich.” This comment was in answer to a criticism that paper was more expensive in Norwich than in London. Also, and in all probability, the paper-maker to whom Burges was referring to was William Paultlock of Taverham Paper Mill who was there until 1711 when his death was announced in the Norwich Gazette of 25th August of that year. The advertisement containing this announcement shows that Paultlock also worked a corn-mill – and his name is connected that of Lyng mill; it stated: “all persons indebted to him were required to pay their debts to his executor, or else they will be sued”.
Subsequent ownerships of Taverham Paper Mill remained a mystery up until 1758 when John Hamerton & Co, a paper manufacturer at that time, is recorded, as having an apprentice named John Golden. Then it was noted that Hamerton insured the Mill in 1768. Shortly after this, and up to 1782, he went into partnership with a John Anstead whereby John Hamerton & Co would operate at Lyng Mill and Anstead & Co would run Taverham Paper Mill. This arrangement ended on friendly terms on 10th October 1782 when the two businesses continued as separate entities.
The Partnership of HAMERTON and ANSTEAD expired on the tenth day of October last, they therefore take this opportunity of resuming their joint Thanks to their Friends for the Favours conferred on them, and beg Leave to inform them, that the Trade of the above mills will in future be carried on for their separate Accounts by John HAMERTON, at Lyng, and John ANSTEAD and Son, at Taverham, where the Favours of their Friends will be very thankfully received – Any Person who has any Demand on the said Partnership Account are desired to send their Bills that they may be discharged. They have by them a regular Assortment of every Kind of Paper (that is to say), Writing and Printing Imperial, Writing and Printing Royal, Writing and Printing Medium, Writing and Printing Demy, Writing and Printing Post, Writing and Printing Copy, Writing and Printing Foolscap, Writing and Printing Pot, Crowns of every Sort and every sort of Packing Paper for the Manufactory, particularly of Atlas, large and small; Elephant, large and small, Royal, large and small, Demy, large and small; Brown and Hand Elephant, Brown and Hand Royal, Shop Paper, Bonnet Paper that will fence Water, and every Article whatsoever in the Paper Trade. The best Price is also continued for fine Rags, and every kind of Paper Stuff.
Norfolk Chronicle – 1st February 1783
John Anstead continued as the proprietor of Taverham Paper Mill until at least 1786 when the Norfolk Chronicle in August of that year advertised the sale of Anstead’s “furniture, stock and trade (including dairying and brewing utensils, horses, cows wagons carts and ploughs).” Thereafter, Miles Sotherton Branthwait, the Squire and owner of the land on which the Paper Mill was situated, took the Paper mill into his own hands, employing the former proprietor of the business, John Anstead, as his employee manager and equipping the Mill with brand new vats and formes.
In the absence of any detail to the contrary, it is assumed that Branthwait ran the Mill’s business until his death in 1807 at a comparatively young age of 52 years. His manager, John Anstead, had died a short time previously; he was aged 77 years.
Upon the squire’s death in 1807 the mill was again let as an independent business, and the lease was taken over by a partnership of two Norwich businessmen, Francis Noverre, John Gilbert, and the famous Norwich printer Richard Mackenzie Bacon. The three partners were new brooms in the paper making trade and immediately set about investing large sums in modernising the Mill. They swept away all recently installed but now obsolete equipment used for hand-made paper and, instead of these old-fashioned tools installed, on 1st July 1807, a newly invented paper making machine called the Fourdrinier costing more than £1,000. Taverham Paper Mill was one of the first mills in the country to be supplied with this newly patented machine, and it served four vats. The new machine produced a continuous roll of paper on a belt of wire moulds and it was only during the drying process that this form of paper making was cut into sheets.
Unfortunately the sudden increase in the amount of paper that the new machinery could produce caused the bottom to fall out of the market for paper, and in 1812 the Partnership was dissolved and by 1816 the Mill was declared bankrupt. There may, of course, have been other mitigating reasons for this failure and it had been suggested that teething troubles with the early design of the Fourdrinier machine. However, if this had been a factor then it would have been insignificant because, as stated, the machine did produce sufficient volume to collapse the market.
The manager of the Mill at the time of the bankruptcy was a John Burgess who was considered to be an expert in operating the Fourdrinier machine. It was maybe because of his expertise that Burgess continued to operate the Mill on behalf of the creditors until such times as new owners emerged. Coincidentally perhaps, it was from about this time that he was to prosper financially for by 1820 he was certainly wealthy enough to start buying property in Norwich and Costessey where he bought several cottages, including the White Hart pub which he rebuilt ten years later.
By 1830, Taverham Paper Mill had been acquired by Robert Hawkes, a wealthy Norwich merchant.
Robert Hawkes originaled from Caister, have been born there in 1773. He began his career as an apprentice to a haberdasher but improved his prospects significantly when he married a Miss Jermy, daughter of a rich fellmonger ( dealer in animal hides) who lived in the Cathedral Close in Norwich. Hawkes then became a great businessman in Norwich with several businesses involving wool but also cotton goods and, of course, a principal interest in the up-to-date Taverham Paper Mill.
For one year in 1822 he had been Mayor of Norwich when he spent freely on the celebrations surrounding his inauguration on Guild Day – such as Snap, the Dragon who led the parade and ‘snatched boys’ caps, also, his attendant Whifflers would have been out as usual. Other more uncommon displays were over each end of Bethel Street (where he lived) were erected triumphal arches, decorated with flowers and at the top of the arch opposite St Peter Mancroft church was concealed a band of musicians playing to the crowds. Then, at the end of his 12 month tenure and in recognition of his term in office, the Aldermen commissioned a portrait of him by Benjamin Robert Haydon,
Following the arrival of Robert Hawkes. it was John Burgess who received another a further boost by being made a partner in the Company; a wise move in view of the fact that Burgess knew far more of macine paper making than Hawkes. Whilst the Mill was to operate under the name of Robert Hawkes & Co. there was probably no one alive who knew more about making paper by machine than John Burgess. Under his guidance, the Mill was manufacturing some of the finest quality paper available. Amongst its customers across East Anglia was the Cambridge University Press – a demanding customer; nevertheless, Taverham paper was used for the 1st revised edition of the Bible. Other customers were the Times and Mirror Newspapers and the Oxford English Dictionary. It has also been suggested that the business produced paper for the Bank of England, but it would have been highly unlikely that this would have been for Bank Notes since these required a highly specialise specification, better handled elsewhere.
In Business, as in life generally, there are both good and bad experiences; 1830 was just one example. It was in this year when, one Saturday afternoon in December, the Mill was attacked by machine-breakers who caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage. The Fourdrinier machine was badly damaged in one of what was called ‘the Captain Swing riots’. The name “Swing Riots” was derived from ‘Captain Swing’, the fictitious name often signed to the threatening letters sent to farmers, magistrates, parsons and others. ‘Swing’ was regarded as the mythical figurehead of the movement; apparently, the word was a reference to the swinging stick of the flail used in hand threshing. The Swing letters were first mentioned by The Times newspaper on 21 October 1830. For his part in the riot at Taverham a Robert West, gardener, was transported to New South Wales, where he died in 1837. Another rioter, identified as having been present at Taverham on that afternoon, was brought to trial only to be acquitted by a sympathetic jury.
This turn of events seems to have discouraged Robert Hawkes and although his company was compensated for the damage, he decided to sell his share of the business and retire. The new partners with whom John Burgess now found himself saddled with were two young men from wealthy local families. Unlike Robert Hawkes, they had no other business interests and no doubt they tried to meddle at the Mill. Burgess was used to having a free hand to run the business and, whatever was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’, he soon left the partnership to take the lease on the vacant paper mill in Bungay. It was certainly a come-down in professional terms, since the Bungay mill was engaged in making brown wrapping paper by hand, instead of the machine-made white printing paper in which he was so experienced. However, on the credit side, he was at last his own boss again.
From around 1836 Taverham Paper Mill was taken over by Robberds & Day who also operated the mill at Lyng. This was yet another episode in the continuing survival and running of the Mill. Certainly, it seemed that the Mill always managed to overcome difficulties and did trade successfully. However, hindsight showed that beyond the 1820’s things gradually deteriorated with the Mill’s structure becoming old and dilapidated. In 1839 the roof fell in, resulting in the death of one of the workers.
A melancholy accident happened at Taverham Paper Mill, on Wednesday morning last, by the falling in of the floor of a rag loft. There were at the time sixteen persons at work in the room underneath cutting and weighing rags, and it was at first feared that many of them had perished, and it was soon found that a man (the overseer) and a woman had been killed, the remainder of the persons were taken from the ruins, and had providentially received no serious injury. A Coroner’s Inquest was held on the bodies of the deceased man and woman, when a verdict of Accidental Death was returned.
Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 18th May 1839
(Although not named in this newspaper report, the man killed was Richard Clarke.)
Then, a month later there was an entirely different incident which did not reflect well on the Mill or its owners – it was only a small scale theft but it received a weighty legal response:
Thomas Skipper was on Monday last brought before Saml. Bignold, Esq. on the charge of stealing a brass cock or syphon, weighing 160 lbs. the property of Messrs. Robberds and Day, paper manufacturers, at Taverham in this county, in whose employ the prisoner has lately been at Lyng. He was apprehended in London, by Sergeant Peck, A., of the Norwich Police force, and was by Mr. Bignold remanded for further examination.
Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 29th June 1839
Thomas Skipper, aged 28, was convicted of having, in the month of Oct. last, stolen from a cottage at Taverham, one metal cock and plug, the property of Henry Robberds and Star??ing Day. – The prisoner was found guilty and was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation.
Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 6th July 1839
Thomas Skipper had been captured following an advertisement in the Police Gazette on 1st April 1839. After sentencing, he was sent to the Prison Hulk ‘York’ at Gosport where he served four of his seven years. A petition was raised in 1841 requesting Skipper’s early release from prison.
Robberds & Day operated Taverham Mill until around 1841 when the Mill ceased production, employees laid off and the machinery put up for sale. Fortunately for these villagers the Mill was purchased by Messrs. Blyth and Milbourn who put in further investment and instructed a William Thorold, millwright, engineer and founder to refit the mill and sell the old machinery – as shown by the following entries in the Norfolk Chronicle:
Taverham. – This quiet sequestered village has been for some time past in a very depressed state in consequence of the stoppage of the Paper Mills. We understand that Mr. Bligh, of Ipswich, has taken the mills, and that in this rural retreat the hum of busy industry will soon again be heard. Mr._Thorold, of this city, has engaged to remove the whole of the old works for the assignees. The new proprietor intends to fill the building with entirely new apparatus and machinery of the most improved kind, and he expects to manufacture some kinds of paper much cheaper than they can be produced at present. From the practical knowledge of the business possessed by Mr. Bligh, there is every prospect that these mills will in future be worked with more success than they have hitherto been.
Norfolk Chronicle – 30th April 1842
To Paper Makers
Steam Boiler, eight horse power, Force Pump, with Pipes and Apparatus, Water Pump, Iron Pipes, Water Wheel, Head Frame, Gate Tackle, Bars of Foreign Iron, Pit Wheel and Pinions, Iron Screws and Presses, Indigo Mill. Donkin’s Patent Paper Machine, with Rollers, Rule Carriages and Apparatus, removed from the Paper Mills, at Taverham.
Respectfully informs the Public, he is Instructed to
SELL by PUBLIC AUCTION,
On Wednesday, the 5th of April, 1843,
At the Foundry Bridge Wharf, and Jay’s Wharf, St. Margaret’s, Norwich.
THE FOLLOWING VALUABLE
AT THE FOUNDRY WHARF
Beginning at Eleven o’clock,
A Capital STEAM ENGINE, eight horse power, Force Pump with pipes and apparatus, Steam Cage, two Safety Valves, Steam Pipe and Cock, Iron Pipes and Brass Cocks, eight Iron Screws with nuts and plates, Machine Water Wheel, nine feet nine inches diameter, Water Wheel Shafts, two Plimmer Blocks and Brasses, splendid Iron Press, with Iron Screw of very great Power, Pit Wheel, in two parts, new Pit Wheel and Pinions, two Spur Wheels, an Indigo Mill complete, quantity of Foreign Iron, and a variety of Screws, Bolts, Water Pump and Pipes, &c. &c.
Immediately after the Sale of the above will be Sold
AT JAY’S WHARF, ST. MARGARET’S,
Donkin’s Patent Paper Machine, with all the rollers and apparatus thereto belonging, two large Felts, Brass and Iron Rollers, a large Vat lined with lead, brass cock, &c. with sundry parts of Machinery, &c. &c.
Further particulars may be had on applying at Mr. Spelman’s Offices, St. Giles’ Street, Norwich.
Norfolk Chronicle – 1st April 1843
The new investment provided by Messrs. Blyth and Milbourn was helped considerably by the arrival of the railway from London which reached Norwich in 1845. This enabled the Times newspaper to continue to use Taverham paper to produce its newspaper and this certainly continued when Delane Magnay & Co. took over the Mill; they also operated the nearby Bawburgh paper-mill. They instigated further rebuilding and re-equipping, ushering in the final chapter of the story of paper making in Taverham.
Delane intended to use Taverham Mill to continue producing paper for The Times; and the recently opened railway line from London to Norwich made this a practical proposition. He had however omitted to inform John Walter II, the owner of The Times newspaper, of his intentions. Delane was apparently hoping to keep his paper making business a secret, but inevitably the truth leaked out. Worse still, it seems that he was overcharging The Times for his paper!
What followed was an awful rumpus; W. F. A. Delane was sacked from his job on the management of The Times and a colleague who was wholly innocent of any wrongdoing committed suicide. It looked as if Taverham Paper Mill would never again supply newsprint to The Times. In the end, however, a compromise prevailed with John Walter II’s younger son, John Henry Fraser Walter, being introduced into the partnership. He was, at first, a sleeping partner who took no active part in the running of the Mill, but he did make occasional visits to Taverham from his home in Nottinghamshire where he owned a coal mine. This fact is known from a passing reference to his presence in Drayton in a book on the life of Canon Hinds Howell, the Rector of Drayton. Drayton is the next village to Taverham where the other partner, Frederick Magnay, lived. He was one of the active partners in the Mill, and son-in-law of W. F. A. Delane. Other active partners were William C Delane (the bachelor son of W. F. A. Delane), J. H. F. Walter (who was educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford) and Frederick Magnay. When he retired in 1884, Walter took over the business.
Apart from owning and running Taverham Mill, J. H. F. Walter also had other business interests, including a shipping company which operated from the Port of Norwich. He was Director of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society and of the local Savings Bank. He was active in the Triennial Festival (the music festival that was held every three years from the 1824 until 1989, when it went annual) and was President of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society. He was a committee member of the Norwich Society from its beginning in 1923, and co-founder of the Friends of Norwich Museum. If that was not enough, Walter was also President of Norfolk Cricket Club.
From 1846 until the late 1880s the Taverham Mill was at its zenith, employing 3 water-wheels (two of 4 metre diameter and the other of 2 meters), 11 steam engines and two wells of clean water for the paper and 3 sluice gates. The mill also employed 150 workers, the majority of whom were women, but only men staffed the night shift. A blacksmith was also established at the bottom of Sandy Lane and the cottage there was known for many years as “The Old Forge”. However, things were changing in the paper industry and pulp was begining to be made from esparto grass rather than cotton rags as previously. Then came improvements to the pulp bleaching process which ushered in the use of wood pulp for paper making. Wood pulp was produced in Scandinavia and the paper mills on the coast had a major advantage in being able to take the dried pulp straight from the ships.
Coupled with this was the growth of population following the industrial revolution when it was realised that, logistically, Taverham was not ideal for paper manufacturing. In the days of horse drawn traffic, mills were dotted all over the country so that no long journey was required to the nearest town, printer or customer. The coming of the railways also contributed to the chage by encouraging more centralised mills beside railway lines. Then there was the vast increase in paper consumption during the latter part of the 19th century, which meant that in order to compete, it would be be necessary to install expensive, sophisticated and faster machinery. Transport costs were also rising, both for outgoing products and incoming raw materials, especially the coal used by the steam engines and the heating units. J. H. Walter & Co were only tenants of the Taverham Hall Estate and it was doubtful that the landlord would sanction further expansion and industrialisation of the village. This change meant Taverham mill was no longer profitable:
Messrs. J. H. Walter & Co., proprietors of Taverham Mills, the last remaining of the old paper mills in Norfolk, have issued a circular stating: “Early in the year we had to submit to a very heavy reduction in the price of paper. We felt that we could only carry on the mills at a serious loss, and the balance sheet, which we have just got out, fully confirms our impression. We have, therefore, decided to shut down as soon as possible.
Norfolk Chronicle – 9th September 1899
J.H.F. Walter & Co were the Taverham Paper Mill’s last owners, closing it because they were unable to make the Mill pay. Following the closure in 1899, one of the Mill’s old scrapped boilers was used as a blacksmiths shop at Drayton. A few years later, during the World War of 1914-18, the cavalry used the Mill’s ‘redundant’ wells. Today, only the sluice gate now remains to mark the site of the mill.