Stowford Paper Mill

Part 1 – The early years

Paper making in Ivybridge began towards the end of the eighteenth century. William Dunsterville, a Plymouth businessman, purchased the lease for the Barton of Stowford from the Lukesland Estate in 1787. His prime interest was to establish a paper mill adjacent to an existing corn mill and leat. It would be easy to believe that it was the purity of the water which determined the siting of the paper mill beside the River Erme but in fact it was because of the power the river provided. Paper was made from rags which required a mechanical process to break down the fabrics into the discrete fibres necessary to form paper and water wheels would normally provide the power.

Background image: Stowford Paper Mills mid nineteenth century

Stowford Paper Mill

Part 1 – The early years

Paper making in Ivybridge began towards the end of the eighteenth century. William Dunsterville, a Plymouth businessman, purchased the lease for the Barton of Stowford from the Lukesland Estate in 1787. His prime interest was to establish a paper mill adjacent to an existing corn mill and leat. It would be easy to believe that it was the purity of the water which determined the siting of the paper mill beside the River Erme but in fact it was because of the power the river provided. Paper was made from rags which required a mechanical process to break down the fabrics into the discrete fibres necessary to form paper and water wheels would normally provide the power.

Dunsterville died in 1797. He had disposed of the Stowford Estate including the paper mill and corn mill a year earlier, to a local inn keeper Henry Rivers. This entrepreneur was not interested in running the mill himself as he leased it to Francis Fincher. He was an experienced paper maker, having run another mill elsewhere. He eventually purchased Stowford Mill in 1816.

 

Upon the death of Francis in 1824 the business passed to his sons. Under their management the mill appeared to prosper. This was a time of pre-mechanisation, so paper was made entirely by hand. A ‘vatman’ would dip a mould into a vat full of a water and suspended fibres. The mould was like a sieve, permitting water to drain through, leaving a sheet of paper on the surface. The fibres for paper making came exclusively from cotton or linen rags. The fabrics were macerated in water using hammers or breaker engines. The wet sheets were transferred from the hand mould on to a felt by a ‘coucher’. Piles of sheets were then pressed to remove moisture in a large wooden screw press and later ‘air dried’ in drying lofts. To make the paper resistant to ink penetration the individual sheets were immersed in a solution of gelatine (a process called tub sizing).

 

Paper was viewed as a valuable commodity and the government raised a tax on it at the point of manufacture. Mills were numbered to aid the tax collection by the excise officer and for many years mills were referred to by their excise number. The original number allocated to Fincher was 272.

 

The paper making industry was now entering a phase of rapid change. The mechanised paper making machine had been invented in France but was now being developed further in England by a leading engineer, Bryan Donkin. The project was funded by two brothers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier who were paper merchants from London.

 

In Ivybridge however, the business under the Fincher family was faltering and by 1834 the company filed for bankruptcy. It was put up for sale on several occasions afterwards. The events following are not exactly clear but it was during this time that the first mechanised ‘fourdrinier’ paper machine was installed at Stowford Paper Mill. This 48” wide machine transformed paper production and would have almost certainly been made by Bryan Donkin.

Dunsterville died in 1797. He had disposed of the Stowford Estate including the paper mill and corn mill a year earlier, to a local inn keeper Henry Rivers. This entrepreneur was not interested in running the mill himself as he leased it to Francis Fincher. He was an experienced paper maker, having run another mill elsewhere. He eventually purchased Stowford Mill in 1816.

 

Upon the death of Francis in 1824 the business passed to his sons. Under their management the mill appeared to prosper. This was a time of pre-mechanisation, so paper was made entirely by hand. A ‘vatman’ would dip a mould into a vat full of a water and suspended fibres. The mould was like a sieve, permitting water to drain through, leaving a sheet of paper on the surface. The fibres for paper making came exclusively from cotton or linen rags. The fabrics were macerated in water using hammers or breaker engines. The wet sheets were transferred from the hand mould on to a felt by a ‘coucher’. Piles of sheets were then pressed to remove moisture in a large wooden screw press and later ‘air dried’ in drying lofts. To make the paper resistant to ink penetration the individual sheets were immersed in a solution of gelatine (a process called tub sizing).

 

Paper was viewed as a valuable commodity and the government raised a tax on it at the point of manufacture. Mills were numbered to aid the tax collection by the excise officer and for many years mills were referred to by their excise number. The original number allocated to Fincher was 272.

 

The paper making industry was now entering a phase of rapid change. The mechanised paper making machine had been invented in France but was now being developed further in England by a leading engineer, Bryan Donkin. The project was funded by two brothers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier who were paper merchants from London.

 

In Ivybridge however, the business under the Fincher family was faltering and by 1834 the company filed for bankruptcy. It was put up for sale on several occasions afterwards. The events following are not exactly clear but it was during this time that the first mechanised ‘fourdrinier’ paper machine was installed at Stowford Paper Mill. This 48” wide machine transformed paper production and would have almost certainly been made by Bryan Donkin.

PAPER MILLS, IVYBRIDGE DEVON.

To be sold by Private Contract…

Situate in Ivybridge aforesaid, together with an excellent Paper Machine thereto affixed, capable of making paper 48 inches in width, and all the Vats, Gearing, Shafts, and other Apparatus, to the same belonging.

The above Premises are eligibly situated on the River Erme, with a never-failing supply of water, of excellent quality for making paper, and offer peculiar advantages to the capitalists. The Machine has been erected at a great expense within the last two years, since which a very extensive business has been carried on. The Dwelling House is of large size, and adjoins the Mills …

 

Newspaper advertisement 11 July 1839

PAPER MILLS, IVYBRIDGE DEVON.

To be sold by Private Contract…

Situate in Ivybridge aforesaid, together with an excellent Paper Machine thereto affixed, capable of making paper 48 inches in width, and all the Vats, Gearing, Shafts, and other Apparatus, to the same belonging.

The above Premises are eligibly situated on the River Erme, with a never-failing supply of water, of excellent quality for making paper, and offer peculiar advantages to the capitalists. The Machine has been erected at a great expense within the last two years, since which a very extensive business has been carried on. The Dwelling House is of large size, and adjoins the Mills …

 

Newspaper advertisement 11 July 1839

In 1843 the mill began producing paper with a clear watermark “Stowford Mill 1843”. The motivation appears to stem from the fact that excise duty could be recovered on exported paper carrying both the producer and date of manufacture, which the incorporation of a watermark fulfilled.

SM1843.

In 1846, when Stowford Mills were reallocated the excise number of 191, the mill was occupied by Matthew Towgood, a papermaker from Huntingdonshire. However, the owner was undoubtedly William Ackland who described himself as “proprietor, wholesale stationer and rag merchant of Plymouth”.

In 1843 the mill began producing paper with a clear watermark “Stowford Mill 1843”. The motivation appears to stem from the fact that excise duty could be recovered on exported paper carrying both the producer and date of manufacture, which the incorporation of a watermark fulfilled.

SM1843.

In 1846, when Stowford Mills were reallocated the excise number of 191, the mill was occupied by Matthew Towgood, a papermaker from Huntingdonshire. However, the owner was undoubtedly William Ackland who described himself as “proprietor, wholesale stationer and rag merchant of Plymouth”.

John Allen

Mr Allen was a man of thorough business habits, working upon his motto, “Perseverentia et fideliter,” with great consistency. A steady-going straightforward man, never in a hurry, never ostentatious, pursuing the even tenour of his way with great calmness of judgement, and in all his dealings with others successfully combining gentleness and strength.

Excerpts taken from the report of his death on 17th October 1877.

In 1849 William Ackland sold the paper mill to John Allen for £10,000. Allen was not a papermaker, so the mill was a speculative purchase. His business interests at the time included a slate quarry at Delabole. The mill employed around 60 men and 100 women when Allen took on the mill. Women were employed to carry out many of the laborious jobs such as the sorting of the rags as well as counting and sorting the paper sheets.

 

Newspapers around this time interestingly carried warnings to young women highlighting the dangers associated with wearing the fashionable expanded dresses (crinolines) in the workplace. Paper mills had an abundance of moving machinery, all potentially hazardous.

 

The receipt of raw materials and the despatching of paper was significantly improved by the arrival of the railway to Ivybridge in 1848. The mill did not have a siding and materials, including coal, were brought to the mill by horse drawn cart. Paper was sent out in a similar fashion. The horses were stabled in the lower yard. In 1859, in order to improve the passage of materials to and from the mill (and to avoid the narrow Ivy Bridge), Allen built a new mill bridge across the river opposite the offices. This bridge bears the inscription “J.A. 1859”.

 

Apart from Stowford Paper Mills, Allen acquired another small water-powered mill in Keaton Road. Formerly a woollen mill it became known as Lower Mill and was used to process rags converting them to ‘half-stuff’, a partially processed raw material for papermaking. In 1875, Allen established an engineers’ shop below Lower Mill at Factory Bridge. Engineering took place there right up to the 1940s. Another enterprise which was to benefit the local community was the gas works which Allen built on land at Keaton Road in 1875. When Stowford Mill was sold in 1924 the gas works was purchased by the Devon Gas Works Co., and Lower Mill by local firm, Heath’s Ivybridge Electric Supply Co.

In 1849 William Ackland sold the paper mill to John Allen for £10,000. Allen was not a papermaker, so the mill was a speculative purchase. His business interests at the time included a slate quarry at Delabole. The mill employed around 60 men and 100 women when Allen took on the mill. Women were employed to carry out many of the laborious jobs such as the sorting of the rags as well as counting and sorting the paper sheets.

 

Newspapers around this time interestingly carried warnings to young women highlighting the dangers associated with wearing the fashionable expanded dresses (crinolines) in the workplace. Paper mills had an abundance of moving machinery, all potentially hazardous.

John Allen

Mr Allen was a man of thorough business habits, working upon his motto, “Perseverentia et fideliter,” with great consistency. A steady-going straightforward man, never in a hurry, never ostentatious, pursuing the even tenour of his way with great calmness of judgement, and in all his dealings with others successfully combining gentleness and strength.

Excerpts taken from the report of his death on 17th October 1877.

The receipt of raw materials and the despatching of paper was significantly improved by the arrival of the railway to Ivybridge in 1848. The mill did not have a siding and materials, including coal, were brought to the mill by horse drawn cart. Paper was sent out in a similar fashion. The horses were stabled in the lower yard. In 1859, in order to improve the passage of materials to and from the mill (and to avoid the narrow Ivy Bridge), Allen built a new mill bridge across the river opposite the offices. This bridge bears the inscription “J.A. 1859”.

 

Apart from Stowford Paper Mills, Allen acquired another small water-powered mill in Keaton Road. Formerly a woollen mill it became known as Lower Mill and was used to process rags converting them to ‘half-stuff’, a partially processed raw material for papermaking. In 1875, Allen established an engineers’ shop below Lower Mill at Factory Bridge. Engineering took place there right up to the 1940s. Another enterprise which was to benefit the local community was the gas works which Allen built on land at Keaton Road in 1875. When Stowford Mill was sold in 1924 the gas works was purchased by the Devon Gas Works Co., and Lower Mill by local firm, Heath’s Ivybridge Electric Supply Co.

Stowford Paper Mills were now entering a golden age. Under the name of John Allen & Sons, the paper mill was rebuilt and expanded. In 1862 new rag boilers, breakers and beaters were installed along with two new paper machines. These were laid down on sole plates (machine foundations) of 100 inches to give paper widths of 70 and 72 inches to the new No.2 and No.3 paper machines respectively.

 

In 1862, George Bertram, co-founder of an engineering and millwright company based at Sciennes Works in Edinburgh exhibited a paper-making machine at the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London. This Bertram No.23 paper machine received a gold medal and was subsequently purchased by John Allen and installed at Stowford Mill. The second paper machine was supplied by T.J. Marshall & Co., a company attributed with the invention of the dandy roll and the mechanised process of watermarking. The no.1 machine remained in operation until 1910, (lasting 73 years) no doubt with some changes along the way. It was sold to Colthrop Paper Mill in Thatcham, Berkshire.

Stowford Paper Mills were now entering a golden age. Under the name of John Allen & Sons, the paper mill was rebuilt and expanded. In 1862 new rag boilers, breakers and beaters were installed along with two new paper machines. These were laid down on sole plates (machine foundations) of 100 inches to give paper widths of 70 and 72 inches to the new No.2 and No.3 paper machines respectively.

 

In 1862, George Bertram, co-founder of an engineering and millwright company based at Sciennes Works in Edinburgh exhibited a paper-making machine at the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London. This Bertram No.23 paper machine received a gold medal and was subsequently purchased by John Allen and installed at Stowford Mill. The second paper machine was supplied by T.J. Marshall & Co., a company attributed with the invention of the dandy roll and the mechanised process of watermarking. The no.1 machine remained in operation until 1910 (lasting 73 years) no doubt with some changes along the way. It was sold to Colthrop Paper Mill in Thatcham, Berkshire.

By 1867 John Allen had completed the reconstruction and enlargement of the mill. To show their gratitude, the employees presented him with a special time piece .

Mr. John Allen, the senior partner of the firm of John Allen and Sons, having on Thursday last taken up his residence in the house he has recently built at Ivybridge, was presented by the employees of the Stowford paper mills with a very valuable timepiece, selected from the stock of Mr. Goulding, Plymouth, as a mark of the respect and esteem in which he is held. Mr. Allen, in reply, said that he was quite unprepared to find awaiting him such a handsome and valuable testimonial from the workpeople of his establishment, and should ever value it most highly, not so much for its intrinsic worth as for the proof it gave him of the cordiality of feeling and attachment existing between them, and which nothing should be wanting on his part to maintain, and to all who had taken part, by subscription or otherwise, he tendered his warm and grateful thanks, and assured them of the solicitude he should always feel in doing all he could to promote their welfare. We hoped at no very distant day to have an opportunity of expressing his feelings in a more substantial manner.

 

Western Morning News 05 February 1867

By 1867 John Allen had completed the reconstruction and enlargement of the mill. To show their gratitude, the employees presented him with a special time piece.

Mr. John Allen, the senior partner of the firm of John Allen and Sons, having on Thursday last taken up his residence in the house he has recently built at Ivybridge, was presented by the employees of the Stowford paper mills with a very valuable timepiece, selected from the stock of Mr. Goulding, Plymouth, as a mark of the respect and esteem in which he is held. Mr. Allen, in reply, said that he was quite unprepared to find awaiting him such a handsome and valuable testimonial from the workpeople of his establishment, and should ever value it most highly, not so much for its intrinsic worth as for the proof it gave him of the cordiality of feeling and attachment existing between them, and which nothing should be wanting on his part to maintain, and to all who had taken part, by subscription or otherwise, he tendered his warm and grateful thanks, and assured them of the solicitude he should always feel in doing all he could to promote their welfare. We hoped at no very distant day to have an opportunity of expressing his feelings in a more substantial manner.

 

Western Morning News 05 February 1867

John Allen’s residence mentioned in the article was Stowford Lodge. This grand residence overlooked the paper mill and was to provide a home for future owners and Mill Managers for the decades ahead.

Habitual travellers on the South Devon line will be familiar with the outward appearance of this establishment, with its tall chimney and clustering out-buildings, and with the long rows of gas lights visible at night through the windows – for, so far as the mechanical portion of the operations is concerned, paper-making is a business that proceeds night and day.

 

The Ivybridge Paper Mills first became the property of Messrs. Allen in 1849 at which time they were producing 2½ tons weekly. Since that period they have been largely extended, and, in fact, entirely remodelled, and the present weekly make is about 30 tons. With the exception of wrapping paper, chiefly made for home use as packing, nothing but writing paper is manufactured at Ivybridge. In all between 400 and 500 hands are employed in the mill, a large proportion of whom are women and young girls, besides 150 more women cutting rags at Plymouth. None of the females are occupied at night. All the work what can be done on the piece system is so carried out; and at rag cutting, which is paid by the hundredweight, a woman can earn from 8s to 10s a week.

 

The principal building of the mill is nearly 80 feet high, and consists of five floors. Round this are grouped the other departments, one of which – the salle – where the paper is finished and packed, being far too small for the present business, is about to be made half as large again. Adjoining the main building is the chimney stack, which was erected by the Messrs. Allen, and is a fine piece of brickwork 150 feet high. At the other end of Ivybridge Messrs. Allen have an auxiliary mill for rag-cutting, where the gas is made by which not only their premises, but the village, is lighted, pipes having been laid for the latter purpose by a company. At the lower works is also an engineers’ shop, in which much of the machinery and the engines has been made.

There are in all eight steam-engines in the mill – two large ones of 250 horse-power in the main building; one of 60 horse-power for driving the glazing apparatus, &c., in the salle; two smaller engines to each of two paper-making machines, and one small engine to a third. The chief motive power of the general machinery for the preparation of the rags is derived from a turbine of 250 horse-power, driven by water from the Erme, which enters the mill in a large launder, for driving and for use in the preparatory processes – spring water being used in the more delicate operations. The large engines first mentioned supply the power in case of any falling off on the performance of the turbine, which of course happens in dry seasons. From the room above the pit in which the turbine works, the driving belts radiate in all directions through the building, forming a whirling maze that in the comparative gloom of this one apartment bewilders the visitor. The main shaft communicates directly with the engines, so that there is neither loss of time nor power in case their services have to be called into requisition. Before the water which has been taken from the Erme is allowed to flow into that river again, after discharging its various functions within the mill, it is passed through a series of six settling ponds, in which the solid matter held in suspension are precipitated. Arrangements are in progress which will render the purifying process even more absolutely effective than at present.

 

For driving the engines, and for supplying the steam required in the processes of cleaning the rags, there is a separate building – a range of six large Cornish tubular boilers, two of them supplied with horizontal tubes on Galloway’s principle, and the whole fitted not only with the ordinary safety valves, but with Hopkinson’s patent valves, which are weighted inside beyond the control of the stoker, and which operate not only when the pressure is too great but when the water falls below its proper level. The boilers are also fitted with fusible metal plugs and are fed by a pump and by patent injectors. They have likewise a self-acting steam damper. About 120 tons of coal are consumed weekly, Messrs. Allen finding plenty of employment for the siding on the railway a short distance beyond the viaduct above the mill.

 

In order to guard against fire there is a large engine on the works about the size of that belonging to the West of England Company in Plymouth, in addition to a number of places in the mill where the water supply can be brought by means of hoses.”

 

A description of Stowford Paper Mills from a newspaper article
Western Morning News 23 March 1869

Habitual travellers on the South Devon line will be familiar with the outward appearance of this establishment, with its tall chimney and clustering out-buildings, and with the long rows of gas lights visible at night through the windows – for, so far as the mechanical portion of the operations is concerned, paper-making is a business that proceeds night and day.

 

The Ivybridge Paper Mills first became the property of Messrs. Allen in 1849 at which time they were producing 2½ tons weekly. Since that period they have been largely extended, and, in fact, entirely remodelled, and the present weekly make is about 30 tons. With the exception of wrapping paper, chiefly made for home use as packing, nothing but writing paper is manufactured at Ivybridge. In all between 400 and 500 hands are employed in the mill, a large proportion of whom are women and young girls, besides 150 more women cutting rags at Plymouth. None of the females are occupied at night. All the work what can be done on the piece system is so carried out; and at rag cutting, which is paid by the hundredweight, a woman can earn from 8s to 10s a week.

 

The principal building of the mill is nearly 80 feet high, and consists of five floors. Round this are grouped the other departments, one of which – the salle – where the paper is finished and packed, being far too small for the present business, is about to be made half as large again. Adjoining the main building is the chimney stack, which was erected by the Messrs. Allen, and is a fine piece of brickwork 150 feet high. At the other end of Ivybridge Messrs. Allen have an auxiliary mill for rag-cutting, where the gas is made by which not only their premises, but the village, is lighted, pipes having been laid for the latter purpose by a company. At the lower works is also an engineers’ shop, in which much of the machinery and the engines has been made.

 

There are in all eight steam-engines in the mill – two large ones of 250 horse-power in the main building; one of 60 horse-power for driving the glazing apparatus, &c., in the salle; two smaller engines to each of two paper-making machines, and one small engine to a third. The chief motive power of the general machinery for the preparation of the rags is derived from a turbine of 250 horse-power, driven by water from the Erme, which enters the mill in a large launder, for driving and for use in the preparatory processes – spring water being used in the more delicate operations. The large engines first mentioned supply the power in case of any falling off on the performance of the turbine, which of course happens in dry seasons. From the room above the pit in which the turbine works, the driving belts radiate in all directions through the building, forming a whirling maze that in the comparative gloom of this one apartment bewilders the visitor. The main shaft communicates directly with the engines, so that there is neither loss of time nor power in case their services have to be called into requisition. Before the water which has been taken from the Erme is allowed to flow into that river again, after discharging its various functions within the mill, it is passed through a series of six settling ponds, in which the solid matter held in suspension are precipitated. Arrangements are in progress which will render the purifying process even more absolutely effective than at present.

 

For driving the engines, and for supplying the steam required in the processes of cleaning the rags, there is a separate building – a range of six large Cornish tubular boilers, two of them supplied with horizontal tubes on Galloway’s principle, and the whole fitted not only with the ordinary safety valves, but with Hopkinson’s patent valves, which are weighted inside beyond the control of the stoker, and which operate not only when the pressure is too great but when the water falls below its proper level. The boilers are also fitted with fusible metal plugs and are fed by a pump and by patent injectors. They have likewise a self-acting steam damper. About 120 tons of coal are consumed weekly, Messrs. Allen finding plenty of employment for the siding on the railway a short distance beyond the viaduct above the mill.

 

In order to guard against fire there is a large engine on the works about the size of that belonging to the West of England Company in Plymouth, in addition to a number of places in the mill where the water supply can be brought by means of hoses.

 

A description of Stowford Paper Mills from a newspaper article
Western Morning News 23 March 1869

This description of the mill from 1869 provides some interesting facts about the site, particularly the sources of power and the size of the workforce. Water from the River Erme was abstracted via a sluice beyond the the viaduct into a purpose built leat. This open stone-lined watercourse fed into the mill pond near to Stowford Lodge and later into the mill’s launder, a word of Cornish derivation meaning gutter (originally a trough in tin mining – from the Cornish language ‘londer’). After travelling along the launder the water would pass down a long iron pipe of some four feet in diameter to the turbine. The column of water sufficient to generate enough power to operate four rag engines simultaneously. The water would be discharged back to the river via a large tunnel.

The number of workers at the mill quoted in the newspaper article would seem high, although other articles regarding the female workforce around this time estimated that there were between 200 and 300 women alone working at the mill, so perhaps this is not too far away from reality. Production of some 30 tons of paper per week ranged from writing and printing papers to envelopes, cartridge papers and blottings. It is also interesting to note the scale of the rag sorting operation in Plymouth. Allen owned a substantial rag store at Kinterbury Street in Plymouth.

Learn more about John Allen's watermarked paper grades >

John Allen’s influence on Ivybridge extended beyond the paper mill. Allen, a devout Methodist, funded the construction of the Methodist Church along with a row of 10 neighbouring houses in Fore Street, providing accommodation for his workforce at the mill. He expected his employees to worship every Sunday. These are still known today as Allen’s Cottages.

Allen's Cottages Fore St

John Allen died in 1877 at the age of 76, His two sons, Edward and John took over the business. Between them, the Allen family ran the mill for over sixty years, and it is debateable that without their investment, enterprise and vision, that the paper mill would have survived the second half of the century. After the death of Edward in 1907, his brother John and the rest of the Allen family decided to sell the business. John Allen moved to Plymouth whilst Edward’s son, Carter Allen, who lived at “Ermeleigh”, Erme Road, stayed on as Company Secretary for the new owners until he retired in the early 1920s.

In 1910, the Allen family sold the paper mill to a syndicate. Prominent members were the Clapperton family who already owned a paper mill in Oxfordshire. For the next 14 years they invested heavily in the mill, despite difficult trading conditions. In 1912 the newspapers reported that the mill had to curtail production due to a scarcity of raw materials, in part caused by a coal strike. Further setbacks were to follow with the devastating fire to the rag loft in 1914, again stopping production until remedial work to the building was carried out. This was at a time of course when the country was at war and men were required to enlist.

Learn more about the devastating fire >

George Clapperton was Managing Director whilst Robert Henderson Clapperton became Mill Manager, a role he continued in until 1916 when his son, Richard Porteous Clapperton, took over. He was Mill Manager when Stowford Lodge was given over to the Red Cross in 1918 to become the V.A.D. Hospital and lived at Uplands on Exeter Road with his wife Mabel who had a prominent role at the hospital during its brief existence.

 

The business continued to trade under the name ‘John Allen & Sons (Ivybridge) Ltd and many of the Allen paper brands continued to be sold. Trade during the post-war period was poor and continued to worsen during the 1920s with the paper machines laying idle for weeks on end. Average production was recorded at 10.6 tonnes per week on paper machine no.2 and 20.4 tonnes per week on Paper Machine No.3.

 

At the end of 1923 the Receiver took over the business.

Continue to the Modern Era >

In 1910, the Allen family sold the paper mill to a syndicate. Prominent members were the Clapperton family who already owned a paper mill in Oxfordshire. For the next 14 years they invested heavily in the mill, despite difficult trading conditions. In 1912 the newspapers reported that the mill had to curtail production due to a scarcity of raw materials, in part caused by a coal strike. Further setbacks were to follow with the devastating fire to the rag loft in 1914, again stopping production until remedial work to the building was carried out. This was at a time of course when the country was at war and men were required to enlist.

Learn more about the devastating fire >

George Clapperton was Managing Director whilst Robert Henderson Clapperton became Mill Manager, a role he continued in until 1916 when his son, Richard Porteous Clapperton, took over. He was Mill Manager when Stowford Lodge was given over to the Red Cross in 1918 to become the V.A.D. Hospital and lived at Uplands on Exeter Road with his wife Mabel who had a prominent role at the hospital during its brief existence.

 

The business continued to trade under the name ‘John Allen & Sons (Ivybridge) Ltd and many of the Allen paper brands continued to be sold. Trade during the post-war period was poor and continued to worsen during the 1920s with the paper machines laying idle for weeks on end. Average production was recorded at 10.6 tonnes per week on paper machine no.2 and 20.4 tonnes per week on Paper Machine No.3.

 

At the end of 1923 the Receiver took over the business.

Continue to the Modern Era >

STOWFORD PAPER MILL

Part 1 – The Early Years

Paper making in Ivybridge began towards the end of the eighteenth century. William Dunsterville, a Plymouth businessman, purchased the lease for the Barton of Stowford from the Lukesland Estate in 1787. His prime interest was to establish a paper mill adjacent to an existing corn mill and leat. It would be easy to believe that it was the purity of the water which determined the siting of the paper mill beside the River Erme but in fact it was because of the power the river provided. Paper was made from rags which required a mechanical process to break down the fabrics into the discrete fibres necessary to form paper and water wheels would normally provide the power.
Dunsterville died in 1797. He had disposed of the Stowford Estate including the paper mill and corn mill a year earlier, to a local inn keeper Henry Rivers. This entrepreneur was not interested in running the mill himself as he leased it to Francis Fincher. He was an experienced paper maker, having run another mill elsewhere. He eventually purchased Stowford Mill in 1816.
Upon the death of Francis in 1824 the business passed to his sons. Under their management the mill appeared to prosper. This was of course at a time before any mechanisation existed so paper was made entirely by hand. A ‘vatman’ would dip a mould into a vat full of a water and suspended fibres. The mould was like a sieve, permitting water to drain through, leaving a sheet of paper on the surface. The fibres for paper making came exclusively from cotton or linen rags. The fabrics were macerated in water using hammers or breaker engines. The wet sheets were transferred from the hand mould on to a felt by a ‘coucher’. Piles of sheets were then pressed to remove moisture in a large wooden screw press and later ‘air dried’ in drying lofts. To make the paper resistant to ink penetration the individual sheets were immersed in a solution of gelatine (a process called tub sizing).
Paper was viewed as a valuable commodity and the government raised a tax on it at the point of manufacture. Mills were numbered to aid the tax collection by the excise officer and for many years mills were referred to by their excise number. The original number allocated to Fincher was 272.
The paper making industry was now entering a phase of rapid change. The mechanised paper making machine had been invented and being further developed in England by Bryan Donkin, a leading engineer in this field. The project was funded by two brothers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier who were paper merchants from London.
In Ivybridge however, the business under the Fincher family was faltering and by 1834 the company filed for bankruptcy. It was put up for sale on several occasions afterwards. The events following are not exactly clear but it was during this time that the first mechanised ‘fourdrinier’ paper machine was installed at Stowford Paper Mill. This 48” wide machine transformed paper production and would have almost certainly been made by Bryan Donkin.
In 1843 the mill began producing paper with a clear watermark “Stowford Mill 1843”. The motivation appears to stem from the fact that excise duty could be recovered on exported paper carrying both the producer and date of manufacture, which the incorporation of a watermark fulfilled.
SM1843.
In 1846, when Stowford Mills were reallocated the excise number of 191, the mill was occupied by Matthew Towgood, a papermaker from Huntingdonshire. However, the owner was undoubtedly William Ackland who described himself as “proprietor, wholesale stationer and rag merchant of Plymouth”.
In 1849 William Ackland sold the paper mill to John Allen for £10,000. Allen was not a papermaker, so the mill was a speculative purchase. His business interests at the time included a slate quarry at Delabole. The mill employed around 60 men and 100 women when Allen took on the mill. Women were employed to carry out many of the laborious jobs such as the sorting of the rags as well as counting and sorting the paper sheets.
Newspapers around this time interestingly carried warnings to young women highlighting the dangers associated with wearing the fashionable expanded dresses (crinolines) in the workplace. Paper mills had an abundance of moving machinery, all potentially hazardous.
The receipt of raw materials and the despatching of paper was significantly improved by the arrival of the railway to Ivybridge in 1848. The mill did not have a siding and materials, including coal, were brought to the mill by horse drawn cart. Paper was sent out in a similar fashion. The horses were stabled in the lower yard. In 1859, in order to improve the passage of materials to and from the mill (and to avoid the narrow Ivy Bridge), Allen built a new mill bridge across the river opposite the offices. This bridge bears the inscription “J.A. 1859”.
Apart from Stowford Paper Mills, Allen acquired another small water-powered mill in Keaton Road. Formerly a woollen mill it became known as Lower Mill and was used to process rags converting them to ‘half-stuff’, a partially processed raw material for papermaking. In 1875, Allen established an engineers’ shop below Lower Mill at Factory Bridge. Engineering took place there right up to the 1940s. Another enterprise which was to benefit the local community was the gas works which Allen built on land at Keaton Road in 1875. When Stowford Mill was sold in 1924 the gas works was purchased by the Devon Gas Works Co., and Lower Mill by local firm, Heaths Ivybridge Electric Supply.
Stowford Paper Mills were now entering a golden age. Under the name of John Allen & Sons, the paper mill was rebuilt and expanded. In 1862 new rag boilers, breakers and beaters were installed along with two new paper machines. These were laid down on sole plates (machine foundations) of 100 inches to give paper widths of 70 and 72 inches to the new No.2 and No.3 paper machines respectively.
In 1862, George Bertram, co-founder of an engineering and millwright company based at Sciennes Works in Edinburgh exhibited a paper-making machine at the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London. This Bertram No.23 paper machine received a gold medal and was subsequently purchased by John Allen and installed at Stowford Mill. The second paper machine was supplied by T.J. Marshall & Co., a company attributed with the invention of the dandy roll and the mechanised process of watermarking. The no.1 machine remained in operation until 1910 (lasting 73 years) no doubt with some changes along the way. It was sold to Colthrop Paper Mill in Thatcham, Berkshire.
John Allen’s influence on Ivybridge extended beyond the paper mill. Allen, a devout Methodist, funded the construction of the Methodist Church along with a row of 10 neighbouring houses in Fore Street, providing accommodation for his workforce at the mill. He expected his employees to worship every Sunday. These are still known today as Allen’s Cottages.
John Allen died in 1877 at the age of 76, His two sons, Edward and John took over the business. Between them, the Allen family ran the mill for over sixty years, and it is debateable that without their investment, enterprise and vision, that the paper mill would have survived the second half of the century. After the death of Edward in 1907, his brother John and the rest of the Allen family decided to sell the business. John Allen moved to Plymouth whilst Edward’s son, Carter Allen, who lived at “Ermeleigh”, Erme Road, stayed on as Company Secretary for the new owners until he retired in the early 1920s.
In 1910, the Allen family sold the paper mill to a syndicate. Prominent members were the Clapperton family who already owned a paper mill in Oxfordshire. For the next 14 years they invested heavily in the mill, despite difficult trading conditions. In 1912 the newspapers reported that the mill had to curtail production due to a scarcity of raw materials, in part caused by a coal strike. Further setbacks were to follow with the devastating fire to the rag loft in 1914, again stopping production until remedial work to the building was carried out. This was at a time of course when the country was at war and men were required to enlist.
George Clapperton was Managing Director whilst Robert Henderson Clapperton became Mill Manager, a role he continued in until 1916 when his son, Richard Porteous Clapperton, took over. He was Mill Manager when Stowford Lodge was given over to the Red Cross in 1918 to become the V.A.D. Hospital and lived at Uplands on Exeter Road with his wife Mabel who had a prominent role at the hospital during its brief existence.
The business continued to trade under the name ‘John Allen & Sons (Ivybridge) Ltd and many of the Allen paper brands continued to be sold. Trade during the post-war period was poor and continued to worsen during the 1920s with the paper machines laying idle for weeks on end. Average production was recorded at 10.6 tonnes per week on paper machine no.2 and 20.4 tonnes per week on Paper Machine No.3.
At the end of 1923 the Receiver took over the business.