The History of Paper Mills in Hertfordshire

Pickford 1775 (on the Lea in Batford)

Pickford Mill house, before demolition in 1971. All indications of mill-race or pond have disappeared beneath the factory units.
Cat no Digitised slides 138
Extract from 1898 OS map showing the millpond and mill-race
LHS archives, photo Rosemary Ross, May 2012

The earliest reference to Pickford is found in a Sun Fire Insurance Co policy dated 1st Feb 1775, which records that Francis Owen insured “his corn and paper mills….utensils and stock”

Between 1786 and 1800 in the parish registers nine births were recorded and the four fathers concerned were described as “papermakers”.  From this one may fairly conclude that Pickford was a small vat mill.

About this time it was taken over by Thomas Vallance, who had previously leased Hatfield Mill.  This he let to Thomas Creswick in 1796, to whom he subsequently sold the lease in 1800.  It is therefore possible that Vallance may have gone to Pickford as early as 1796.  The mill remained in the occupation of the Vallance family for more than 30 years.  In 1813 Thomas Vallance and his eldest son Edmund gave up their wholesale stationery business in Cheapside, and limited themselves to the selling of paper made at Pickford where they took up residence.  By 1816 the mill, now No 404 in the Uxbridge Collection on the Excise List, had passed to Edmund, who was succeeded by his younger brother William in 1824.

However, in 1833 the mill was purchased by Edward Jones, of Budge Row, London.  In 1785 at the early age of 10 he had entered the paper-staining business of Mr Heath, of Well Court, Queen Street, London, and eventually became a partner.  Later, in 1810, he started on his own account as a wholesale stationer and hot-presser, and because business flourished he purchased Pickford Mill in 1833.  Unfortunately the manufacture of paper was not successful and by 1847 the mill had been given up.  The business he began has now become the large firm of Samual Jones & Co., who specialise in gummed papers.

His successor, Shadrock Clark, was the last paper maker to occupy Pickford Mill.  His tenure was very short for in 1849 he became bankrupt.

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  • In 1821 Elizabeth Read visited family friends at The Dissenting Grammar School for Boys at Blakesley’s (now Harpenden Hall). During her visit she recorded riding past Pickford Paper Mill on Saturday, 22 September. On 28 September she visited the paper mill at Two Waters, Hemel Hempstead. Her diary describes the visit:

    “We asked for admission and were conducted through a pretty garden to the yard where Mr Nichols met us and conducted us first to the place where rags are torn to pieces or ground and put into vats to soak – in one of these is a wheel to reduce the pulp to a finer quality. We then went to the machine and found it in a very large room – at one end are vessels containing the pulp – it is conducted from these by pipes into another where it is mixed with water – it runs from this on on the machine, which is a sort of cloth of fine wire stretched out for several yards over rollers and rather ascending from the vessel that the water might run down and nothing but the pulp be left on the wires. The machine is kept in a constant jogging motion that the pulp may be kept of an equal thickness. It then passes between two heavy rollers one of which is covered with a sort of felt and after being carried a little further it is wound round a large reel. When a great quantity is wrapped round this it is lifted up and another put into its place in a curious manner – the paper is then cut off the first and taken into the drying rooms divided into parts each containing five or six sheets. They are then beaten with sticks by little boys till the sheets are separated, when they are sorted and packed for sale.”

    LHS archives: BF 20/8(b)

    By Rosemary Ross (26/03/2014)

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