diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 07, 2018

And while I'm doing Frogmores...

Where was the world's first mechanical paper mill? Not in China, nor the industrial north of England, but in Hertfordshire, just south of Hemel Hempstead. The River Gade was ideal for manufacturing, not just as a source of water but because as a chalk stream it was clear and clean. A chain of small paper mills grew up around the end of the 18th century, initially with every sheet made by hand, and one was selected to try out a new French patent (because the French were otherwise preoccupied with revolution at the time). The pioneering choice was Frogmore Mill, which today lives on as a small business and visitor attraction - the Frogmore Paper Trail.



I'll confess a local interest. I grew up in Croxley, home to the John Dickinson paper mill, indeed my Dad grew up a stone's throw away across the canal. John Dickinson was by far the biggest employer in the village, and I'd always thought Croxley was the jewel in their crown, ever since seeing countless boxes of Croxley Script paper stacked up in the school secretary's office. In fact Apsley Mill was bigger, having become the site where John Dickinson turned their paper into stationery products like feint-ruled ledgers and embossed notepaper, and Frogmore Mill also became part of the JD portfolio. The easy availability of paper also explains why Watford became a nationally-renowned centre for printing... indeed much of the economic history of southwest Hertfordshire can be attributed to the chain of events kicked off at Frogmore.



To go on a tour of Frogmore Mill you need to turn up on a Thursday, or on the first Sunday of the month. I did the latter, and had time to pootle round the shop (which is open daily except Saturday) before the tour began. Golly, the paper they make on site is lovely, from the coloured notepaper stacked in racks on the far wall to the large sheets of handmade art paper, roughly edged and embedded with seeds and leaves and petals. It probably wouldn't do for painting on, but if you were ever planning on mounting stuff, or doing something a bit showy for a celebration, it'd go down a treat.



The tour kicks off with a demonstration of how paper used to be made by hand, the slow technique illustrating why mechanisation was a game-changer. You might even get to have a go yourself. Remember to stir the mix of water and pulped rags vigorously before you dip the mesh, otherwise the resulting sheet of paper might be rather weak. Be sure to sponge as much moisture as you can out of the frame, otherwise it may stick when you lift it off the paper towel. And keep your fingers crossed the member of staff doesn't leave your sheet on the hotplate or the glazing machine for too long, otherwise all your best efforts will have been in vain and your final souvenir will be a torn, shrivelled mess.



The demo takes place in one corner of a small museum, which includes a satisfying number of models, and a history of paper manufacture down the Gade valley. I was fractionally over-excited every time I found something related to Croxley, but you don't need to be local to be intrigued. There's even a corner devoted to Postman Pat stationery, which it seems helped prevent the collapse of the John Dickinson brand for a crucial last few years. Another corner is set up as a letterpress facility, and was in use by a separate group during my visit, indeed if you've ever fancied trying printing, bookbinding, or any one of a number of paper-based workshops, Frogmore might have something to offer.



It's on the large paper-making machine in the mill building proper where most of the real business takes place. This Edwardian contraption was built to test consistency before much larger jobs were launched, but the process is still much the same, indeed recognisably similar to the 1803 original. Mulchy water bubbles in, is squeezed to create a continuous roll of paper, then passes through several heated rollers before winding round a spool at the far end. Frogmore still employs someone to make the stuff, be that parchment for City livery company certificates, banana pulp for Lush gift boxes or recycled paper primed with elephant poo for sale in the shop at Whipsnade Zoo.



Passing further into the mill, things get a bit older and somewhat less well maintained. That's been good news for various movies and drama series who've used the upstairs space at Frogmore to film action sequences requiring a generic "decaying industrial" backdrop. The Flash's lair in Justice League? That was just outside Hemel Hempstead, although I suspect they cleaned the pigeon mess up first.



It was great to see a full-size paper making machine in the penultimate shed, a massive thing with variable-width feed and dozens of heated rollers... although there's no chance of it ever being brought back into working order, for economic reasons, so it may just continue to decay. And right down at the far end is the Apsley Mill fire engine, which still gets out to appear at rallies and the like, surrounded by a display to satisfy the most ardent Dickinsonophile. A fire brigade was always essential in a paper mill, we were told, which helps to explain why the building on the site today is by no means the original. The website suggested that the full tour should last 45-60 minutes, whereas mine lasted double that, and along the way explained much about the valley in which I grew up. [virtual tour]



Apparently narrowboat trips operate from outside the main entrance in the summer, but although I saw the boat laid out with chairs, there was no sign it was heading anywhere. Instead I walked along the Grand Union towpath, this being the most pleasant way to make the 15 minute connection to Apsley station. The adjacent site of the former Apsley Mills is now a trading estate and apartment complex, with waterside pub and Holiday Inn, linked by a spiral footbridge sponsored by an estate agents. But there are a couple of repurposed mill buildings left, one with a splendid Basildon Bond clock on the front and a John Dickinson plaque on the rear.



Hertfordshire is still a hotspot of paper production - the world's largest newspaper printing plant is on the other side of the county outside Waltham Cross. But it's Frogmore where the mass-produced revolution began, helping to bring books and newspapers and printed information to a fast developing society, and spreading ideas that changed the world. It's great to know that some of that history lingers on, and the rollers still turn, and paper's not yet had its day.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain
#coronavirus

read the archive
Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv