The world we know today has been shaped by communication – the spread of information, ideas and knowledge between people and peoples. Over the course of our history we have used many different materials to display or carry our messages – rock and stone, wood, clay, bark, wax, silk, cloth, reeds (papyrus) and skins (parchment and vellum) – but, undoubtedly, the material that has played the most significant role of all has been paper.
Invented in China around 200 BCE, the technology of papermaking did not reach Western Europe for another 1000 years and it was a further 450 years before it reached England. However, paper’s unique ‘hi-tech’ properties – easy to use, lightweight, strong, durable, highly portable, flexible and easy to manufacture in volume – soon led to it becoming the medium of choice for virtually all recording and communication. Even so, it was not until the invention of a mechanised paper manufacturing process that paper’s true power was unlocked.
Only with the availability of a mass-produced, inexpensive communication medium were we able at last to properly exploit the true potential of the printing press. The marrying of mechanised papermaking with mechanised printing in the latter part of the 19C ushered in the era of ‘mass circulation’ newspapers, education for all and the worldwide exchange of knowledge that fuelled the great expansions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
From plans for buildings, cities, planes, trains and automobiles; books on fact, fiction, science, arts and crafts; newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, flyers and posters; letters, bills, reports and post; paper has played a key role in shaping almost every aspect of the world we know today.
Paper as we know it today first appeared in China nearly two thousand years ago. Although the word paper is derived from the papyrus used over 5000 years ago in Egypt, the two are only loosely connected.Read more
It wasn’t until the 3rd century that the secret art of papermaking began to creep out of China, first to Vietnam and then Tibet. It was introduced into Korea in the 4th century and spread to Japan by the 6th century where, during the 8th century, the Empress Shotoku undertook a massive project to print a million prayers on individual sheets of paper, each mounted in its own pagoda.Read more
From its introduction into Europe, the 'secret' of papermaking slowly made its way northward hampered by a variety of political, economic and religious vested interests and protectionism.Read more
With the ever increasing demands that the new Industrial Revolution was creating for communication, the mechanisation of papermaking became a priority - in keeping with the spirit of the new age.Read more
Meanwhile, in 1809 at Apsley Mill next door to Frogmore Mill, John Dickinson installed and patented a different kind of paper machine. Instead of pouring a dilute pulp suspension on to an endlessly revolving flat wire as in the Fourdrinier process, this machine used a cylinder covered in wire as a mould.Read more
The earliest know English document written on paper is dated 1309. However, paper was not to be made in England until over 150 years later. The first recorded paper mill in the United Kingdom was Sele Mill near Hertford owned by John Tate. Founded around 1488, this mill was visited by King Henry VII some 10 years later and a report of it was printed by Wynken de Worde. Sheets bearing John Tate’s watermark have been found in books printed in 1494.Read more
The increasing demands for more paper during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries led to shortages of the rags needed to produce the paper. Part of the problem was that no satisfactory method of bleaching pulp had yet been devised, and so only white rags could be used to produce white paper. Chlorine bleaching was being used by the end of the eighteenth century, but excessive use produced papers that were of poor quality and deteriorated quicklyRead more
For a place that might justifiably be said to have truly 'changed the world', there is not a great deal of information documenting its early history or even its immediate, post paper-machine history although its history has been a long one......Read more