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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 technology.

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 paper;

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.



Picture removed



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 picture 6. 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 four 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 court!

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 to visit which totally absorbed us during our 6 hour stay.  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.


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