Newsletter 101, Summer 2013 © Hampshire Mills Group
HMG members visit the Paper Trail at
Frogmore Paper Mill
by Peter Mobbs
Recently our Chairman, Andy Fish, organised a visit to the
the world’s oldest mechanised paper mill - Frogmore Paper
Mill at Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. Marketed as ‘The
Paper Trail’, this was a most enjoyable and informative
visit so here are a few memories of my day at the mill.
On arrival we were greeted with a very welcome cup of tea or
coffee and biscuits; and then given a brief but fascinating
talk introducing us to the basic background of papermaking
The paper mill exists where it does for several reasons:
i) a strong, fast flow of good quality water to soak the
raw materials and power the machinery;
ii) the availability of coal (transported along the Grand
Union Canal) which was necessary to produce heat to dry the
iii) proximity to London which provided a rapidly
increasing demand for paper.
It seems that for many centuries paper making (by hand) was
a time consuming, labour-intensive process. However,
roughly 200 years ago, a Frenchman came up with a concept
for automated paper production. At that time extreme
political instability in France prevented development of his
new process, so, after devious, high powered financial
transactions arrangements were completed to enable
development of the revolutionary process the concept was
brought to England, where it was developed and became
patented as the “Fourdrinier process”.
As with many mills, virtually all traces of the water wheel
had decayed beyond recognition. However, extensive
restoration has recently been undertaken but on a less than
adequate budget. Picture 1
shows an interesting water wheel concept - although not a
faithful re-construction it effectively illustrates the size
and characteristics of the original wheel.
At the start of our tour of the facility we saw an
interesting illustration of the way that the fibrous
material is processed for papermaking
picture 2. Then the hand paper-making
process was demonstrated using a fine meshed screen
picture 3. Next we were shown a
demonstration of the Fourdrinier process on a
“research scale” machine.
A uniform layer of fibres in water is channelled on
to a moving belt picture
4. Water is sucked out of the fibre from
below and an extremely flimsy paper sheet is formed.
This is transferred on to a much longer moving
belt picture 5.
This belt passes over a series of steam heated
rollers to remove the water
Finally the paper is pressed between steel rollers
see picture prior to being wound on the take up
spool. picture 7.
It appeared to be difficult to achieve the correct
speed between all sections of the machine. While we
were watching the paper broke
times. I asked why this happened. Our guide, with
great patience, explained “Because we were
watching!” We also saw a much larger production
machine picture 8,
now de-commissioned as the owners can no
longer afford the high running costs.
After lunch we saw a fascinating exhibition of
printing machines and typesetting equipment
including the “Hot metal” rotary printing process
used for many years by the newspaper industry.
At the end of our tour was the Gift shop; there we
browsed a fascinating range of specially crafted
paper for paper enthusiasts, hobbyists and artists.
These papers were produced using various exotic
fibrous materials including elephants’ dung and
grass clippings from the Wimbledon central tennis
To round off the day we were given a leisurely
cruise in the barge, Bryan Donkin, from the
warehouse wharf to the first lock on the Grand Union
Canal – the route the barge would have taken when
bringing cargoes of rags to the mill.
I felt Frogmore Mill is a truly wonderful place
visit which totally absorbed us during our 6 hour
Well worth a visit. “A jewel in its crown”!
Photographs taken by: 1.Eleanor Yates; 2 & 8
John Mears; 3,4,5,6,7 Sheila M. Viner.