Paper Valley People

If you are interested in family history and personal connections to mill workers, please follow this link Workers in the Gade Valley paper mills.  Coming soon.

The valley of the River Gade from Hemel Hempstead down to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire became one of the major paper manufacturing areas of England from 1770 onwards. In Hemel Hempstead four mills, all recorded in the Domesday Book, were converted from their earlier uses to the manufacture of paper between 1755 and 1778. These mills were amongst the very first in the world to be mechanised.

In 1803 Frogmore Mill became the world’s first mechanised paper mill closely followed by Two Waters Mill (1805), Apsley Mill (1807) and Nash Mill (1811). The John Dickinson Stationery Company operated two of these mills and spurred on by their great success, built two more – Home Farm (1825) and Croxley (1830) – as well as leasing Batchworth Mill.

The whole process of industrialisation was greatly aided by the opening of the Grand Junction Canal in the valley in 1798 and later on by the London – Birmingham Railway in 1837.

With paper in quantity being made in the area, naturally printing followed closely behind. John Peacock started printing in Watford in 1832 and the town rapidly expanded as a source of printed materials.

But the town’s reputation as a major international printing centre really began in the early twentieth century when a number of local firms started experimenting with colour printing. The Sun Engraving Co Ltd was established in 1918 and its rival, Odhams Ltd, established itself in Watford in 1936. The Sun and Odhams were two of the largest printing houses in Britain, producing millions of colour magazines each week using a pioneering technique of four-colour rotary gravure printing, for which Watford became world famous.

By the 1930s, one-in-thirteen of Watford’s population was involved in the industry, thus placing the town at the heart of the greatest concentration of printing in the world.

Lewis Evans

The second son of John Evans and a great-nephew of John Dickinson, Lewis had mathematical and scientific interests which ideally suited him to a career in the paper industry. He became a partner in 1881, then a General Manager in 1889 and later Chairman. During his period in the company the expansion and modernisation continued apace and included replacing the waterwheels with water turbines and introducing a railway link into the Croxley works. He was a flamboyant character having swum the Niagara river some 100 yards below the falls. He was often to be seen locally riding his silver plated penny-farthing bicycle. Later when he acquired a motor car it became stuck on the hump-back canal bridge close to Nash Mills. The opening up of agencies in South Africa was a particular interest of his recognised the danger of fire to paper mills and formed the first fire brigade for them. Soon acquiring a horse drawn steam pump for increased efficiency. He acted as captain of the brigade and there are pictures of him as the Fire captain wearing a silver helmet.

A portrait of Lewis Evans with some of his navigational instruments.

Outside his business life he played a part in the life of the County acting as High Sheriff in 1914, he was also a staunch churchman assisting with the Diocesan finances. He had inherited his father’s love of collecting but his interests were in ancient mathematical, navigational and astronomical books and instruments. His collection, believed to be one of the finest in the world, was donated to Oxford University and can now be seen there in the Museum of the History of Science. Its presentation brought him an honorary doctorate.