Hampshire Mills Group



Henri de Portal

extracts from “Highways and byways in Hampshire”  1908.

Portal's paper milling and bank note paper production continues to this day - now part of the De La Rue company, the world 's largest commercial security printer and papermaker.  Portals was taken over by De La Rue in 1995.  A link to the company website history page is here.



From the days when the young son of Charles the Simple was smuggled out of Laon, hidden in a truss of straw, and brought to Athelstan's Court at Winchester, Hampshire has given refuge to many a fugitive from France.  The founder of the Laverstoke paper mill was one of these.  He was a descendant of a Castilian noble in the train of Elvira, daughter of Alphonso IV, on her coming to France at the close of the eleventh century, who became the ancestor of a powerful family in Languedoc and Dauphine.  The de Portals for over two centuries were Capitols of Toulouse, but when the Reformation of the Christian faith, like its inception, brought  "not peace but a sword",  they were among the first of the French noblesse who suffered for their convictions.  

A century completed their overthrow, for Louis XIV broke the Charter which protected what little liberties they might enjoy.  There-with the Huguenot de Portals lost lands and lives, but three of the family escaped from torture and death to find eventual refuge in England.  Of Jean Francois de Portal's escape and after adventures there is no record beyond that he died in London years later, but the tale has been handed down how, when ruin came on the Chateau de la Portalerie, an old nurse concealed the children in an oven, and when this homely refuge had baffled the searching of the angry soldiery, young Henri de Portal and his brother, Guillaume, were hidden in wine casks and were safely smuggled by faithful friends and servitors on board a lugger.  Their perilous journey ended safely, and it is believed the friendly port at which they landed was Southampton.    Friendly, that is, for refugees who counted freedom of faith a dearer possession than lands and country, for there was little friendly feeling towards France in the seaport her navy had so often attacked.


To Southampton, at any rate, young Henri eventually came, and there found already established the Huguenot colony that centered round the French church of St. Julian.  With the aid of his fellow emigrants the lad obtained employment in one of the mills at South Stoneham, run by those of his tonfrires who were skilled in the manufacture of paper.   There he learnt his trade and, more important still for the fortunes of himself and his family, met Sir William Heathcote, then, like himself, a young man.  Report tells how the charm of the clever young Huguenot won him the friendship of his influential neighbour; at any rate, we find the Squire of Hursley actively forwarding the Frenchman's fortunes, and when the tenant of Bere Mill, near Whitchurch, died in 1710 Sir William offered the lease to his friend, the widowed Madame Deane being very thankful to be quit of it. 

To Bere Mill accordingly came de Portal with a contingent of French workmen.  Later it was to this quaint old mill-house of yellow-washed brick Henry Portal brought his bride Dorothy, the daughter of Mr. Henry Hasker of Overton. 

The paper mill proved a successful venture, and commercial papers of all kinds were supplied from it so largely that in 1718 a lease was taken of the neighbouring mill of Laverstoke, in order to extend the business.    In 1727 Henry Portal obtained the privilege of making the notes of the Bank of England, in addition to his other work.  It was doubtless a fortunate circumstance for him that at this juncture Sir Gilbert Heathcote, the uncle of his friend at Hursley, was Governor of the Bank of England.  So greatly did the business prosper that Henry Portal built another mill at Laverstoke.   Thus for nearly 200 years the business has been handed down from father to son, an almost unique instance in the history of English manufactures.

Henri de Portal was naturalised at the Court of Quarter Sessions in 1711; being described in the document as "Henry Portall, of South Stoneham, gentleman." 

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