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.
Other early mills included one at Dartford, owned by Sir John Spielman, who was granted special privileges for the collection of rags by Queen Elizabeth and one built in Buckinghamshire before the end of the 16th century.
During the first half of the 17th century, further mills were established near Edinburgh, at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, and several in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey.
During the first half of the 18th century, the Hollander Beater (or rag-engine) was widely introduced into the UK, replacing the stamping mills that had previously been used for pulping rags. In December 1724, Henri de Portal was awarded the contract for producing the Bank of England watermarked bank-note paper at Bere Mill in Hampshire. Portals, now part of the De La Rue group, have retained this contract ever since but production has now moved to the Overton Mill. In 1757 James Whatman developed a new ‘woven’ wire fabric for his paper mould leading to his production of the first Wove paper, a significant improvement on the laid pattern of the earlier moulds. With its straight wires, the traditional mould produced paper with characteristic ridges that did not give a clear sharp ink impression when printed. The new Wove pattern provided the solution.
By 1800 there were 430 paper mills in England and Wales and less than 50 in Scotland, mostly operating a single vat, and, of course, producing paper by hand. Total output was just 11,000 tons (an average of 23 tons per mill) and the process is estimated to have consumed 24 million lbs of rags. UK demand for paper exceeded home supply and was supplemented by imports, mainly from the continent.