was born in the small village of Tregony in Cornwall, the son of Edward and Dorothy Allen, who were members of the Methodist Society.
When John was still an infant the family moved to Plymouth to follow business interests. As a young man, John opened a malting business alongside his father, before taking over the more substantial Norley Brewery in Plymouth. Under the name “Pope and Allen, Maltsters of Plymouth”, they carried on a large brewing business for many years. Amongst his other business connections, John Allen managed the Delabole Slate Quarries, acting as Chairman of Directors.
John Allen married Elizabeth Carter in 1825 at Charles Church in Plymouth. They had two sons, John and Edward and three daughters, Amelia, Elizabeth and Julia.
In 1849, as a speculative venture, John Allen purchased Stowford Paper Mills at Ivybridge.
“ Mr Allen immediately showed his business capacity by increasing the manufacture of paper from four tons per week to thirty tons and as years passed the works were added to, until they grew into the present extensive establishment, embracing the costliest of machinery, and as complete a manufactory of the kind can be found in England. The little town of Ivybridge owes the main part of its well-being to the prosperity of these works, the greater portion of the labour of the district being absorbed by the firm.”
Allen rebuilt the main 80 foot, 5-storey mill building with its infamous rag loft. The exterior carries the inscription “Stowford Paper Mills A.D. 1862”. He purchased two new paper machines, including one which received a gold medal at the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London in 1862. It had been made by the renowned firm of G and W Bertram & Co, located at Sciennes, Edinburgh. Additionally, Allen purchased new rag boilers, breakers and beaters, all necessary in the manufacturing of high-quality paper. Without his investment, it is doubtful whether the mill would have survived. This was truly the golden age of prosperity for the mill, the people employed there and the village of Ivybridge generally.
Apart from the paper mill, John Allen rebuilt his own residence Stowford Lodge, a seven bedroomed house with servant’s quarters, which overlooked the mill site. The property made predominantly of limestone included granite outlines. A sweeping staircase led to a stained-glass window depicting Sir Francis Drake receiving a knighthood aboard The Golden Hind from Queen Elizabeth I, after his successful circumnavigation of the world. The house, as well as commanding a view of the mill grounds, offered spectacular views over the Erme Valley and the moorland of Hanger Down.
To support his paper mill Allen had an extensive rag store at Kinterbury Street in Plymouth. This employed a large number of women in the sorting of old fabrics, many arriving through the docks at Millbay. These would provide the raw material in the manufacturing of paper. In 1887, this store suffered a devastating fire making life unpleasant for residents of neighbouring streets (Old Town Street, Treville Street and Whimple Street) with offensive odours and rat infestations caused by piles of rotting rags.
As well as acquiring Stowford Paper Mills, John Allen also purchased an old woollen manufactory at the other end of the village. He used this facility for the pulverising of the incoming rags from Plymouth, producing what is known to papermakers as “half-stuff”, using the power supplied by the existing waterwheel. The site became known as Lower Mill and the partially processed half-stuff was taken to Stowford Mills by horse and cart for processing into finished paper. The existing leat and aqueduct which channelled water to the mill and waterwheel were modernised during Allen’s time. Significant improvements were completed in 1896, a date shown on one of the arches of the aqueduct.
John Allen’s acquisitions did not rest there, he also purchased a considerable tranche of land around Ivybridge namely at Costley Meadows and Filham Moor. Around 1869 pipes were laid from Stowford Mills to one of these fields where settling beds were established. These beds served to remove solids from the mill waste water before it was discharged into the river. The waste water was crudely treated by filtering through cinders, originally from the mill’s coal-fired boilers. There was also an area where waste from the Rag Loft was dumped – something which manifested itself later when the land was redeveloped for housing in the 1980s.
The arrival of the railway in 1848 greatly improved the distribution of paper from the mill. However, transporting paper and receiving raw materials from the railway siding at the station entailed negotiating the narrow Ivy Bridge. To improve the situation Allen arranged for a new bridge to be built and this was completed in 1859 close to the entrance of Longtimber Woods. The bridge bears the inscription ‘J.A. 1859’.
Outside of business John Allen had a strong connection with Wesleyanism. Early in life he became a member of the Methodist Society, and he soon became a leading layman, not only in his own circuit, but throughout the district. Arriving in Ivybridge he was instrumental in providing a more “commodious chapel in which the villagers and himself might worship” but despite his best efforts in purchasing a site on which to erect a new chapel, he had to settle for building on the old site at Chapel Place. This chapel served the congregation for several years, until, “by the liberality of Mr Allen, a minister was appointed to reside in Ivybridge, and the immediate growth of the congregation soon demanded a still larger chapel”. Mr Allen, together with his sons, built at new fine limestone Methodist Church a “beautiful and commodious structure” in 1874. The cost of the land and the building, which amounted to £6,000 was met entirely by the Allen family. Close to the church, Allen built a row of cottages for workers at the mill. These are still referred to as “Allen’s cottages” today.
John Allen occupied several local posts of trust including J.P. and Chairman of the Ivybridge Local Board, the main body for local administration tasked with providing a clean water supply and good sanitation for Ivybridge. Although frequently desired to represent his ward in the Council of Plymouth, he always declined municipal honours. He was a consistent supporter of Liberal principles, but never took any very active part in politics
John Allen died on 17 October 1877. His health had begun to fail about three years before. It was felt that he never fully recovered the loss of his wife on 9 September 1875, and the untimely fate of his daughter who drowned in the mill pond within the grounds of Stowford Paper Mills on 23 January 1877. His daughter, the wife of the Rev. W.P. Slater, principal of the Wesleyan College at Taunton, had taken a walk alone in the grounds of the mill and appeared to have suffered an epileptic fit before falling into the water.
John Allen was held in high esteem within Ivybridge, reflected by the large crowd which escorted his coffin to Ivybridge Railway Station where a private train took him towards his final resting place. Arriving in Plymouth, the funeral party was met by many more local dignitaries all wishing to pay their final respects. John Allen was interred in the family vault at the Wesleyan burial ground attached to Ebenezer Chapel in Plymouth.
Following his death, his sons John and Edward continued running the successful Stowford Paper Mill. The family would eventually run the enterprise for a total of 60 years.
1801 – 1877
Born in Cornwall
Owner of Stowford Paper Mill from 1849