This is one of a series of articles published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 9th September 1996 (p.1 & p.5), and reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The series is now available as a fully-illustrated paperback, published in 2006 by Wildtrack Publishing of Sheffield (ISBN 1-904098-01-0)


The Egyptians are considered to have been the first to invent a kind of paper, using papyrus reed. Although it gave us the word 'paper' the material was not a paper in the modern sense of the word. The earliest credit for this goes to the Chinese, who succeeded in making paper from bark and hemp about 2,000 years ago. This knowledge reached Spain in the 11th century with the Arabs but was unknown in England for another four centuries.

For many years, the main raw materials of paper pulp were rags and straw. A ready supply of swift running water was essential in the making of paper. It provided power for the pulping machinery and clean water for mixing with the shredded raw material. The liquid pulp was then drained, leaving behind soft sheets of tissue of which a large number were compressed in a simple press and dried as a single sheet.

As time went by, the trade began to rely heavily on cotton rags, mostly collected by rag-and-bone men. Supplies also had to be imported but a crisis arose at the beginning of the 19th century, as explained in a letter printed in The Methodist Magazine of June 1808 and addressed to 'the worthy Females, Readers of the Methodist Magazine':

'The humble Petition of a Paper Mill Sheweth that your Petitioner is a very laborious servant of the public, who has heretofore been supplied with food, consisting of linen and cotton rags from Hamburg and Italy; from which was made paper for the Methodist Magazine ... by which much good has been done, and the glory of the Redeemer's kingdom greatly advanced.

That for some time past owing to the present circumstances of the war, the supply of foreign rags has been stopped, which has deprived your Petitioner of her necessary food and left her and her family almost destitute ... Your petitioner humbly conceives that the inhabitants of the United Kingdom are not sufficiently careful to preserve their rags ... and, were the female reader each to see to the preservation of all their linen and cotton rags ... your Petitioner conceives that a supply of rags would, by their means alone, be sent to the mills'.

The 19th century brought an ever-increasing demand for paper, notably for newspapers and books, and experiments were made to find other suitable pulp sources. Esparto grass from Spain proved to be useful but the most successful raw material was found to be wood pulp, especially when a means was found of getting rid of its impurities. Within quite a short space of time practically all the nation's newspaper requirements were met from wood pulp. Some publications actually had their own forests.

In 1900, a million tons of wood were used for paper production and although manufacture had become more mechanised during the Industrial Revolution, the basic principles of making paper had remained unchanged.


The history of paper making in the Peak has its strongest roots in the north-west of the region. One of the largest concerns expanded from a mill established around 1781 at Whitehough, Chapel en le Frith. In 1829 Whitehough Mill was producing the largest-sized paper in England and supplying the London press with newsprint for 'newspapers of very great dimensions'. This included the first issue of the Illustrated London News. Around 1827 the mill turned out a sheet of paper an acre in extent - the largest single piece ever made up to that time. Whitehough mill was extended several times and in 1840 employed about 100 hands. In 1869 it was brought by the Slacks, who had other paper making interests.

The Slack family had operated a Hayfield since the end of the 18th century, developing two extensive mills. Bank Vale and Swallow House. The latter closed in 1910. Work at Bank Vale took an unusual turn during the First World War, producing large amounts of special paper to be made into waistcoats and trousers for the troops. Output also included assorted types of wrapping paper for such goods as surgical supplies, tobacco, hosiery and Sheffield cutlery. In 1927 the business passed into the ownership of Joseph Isherwood and remained in production as a paper mill until 1988.

One of the largest paper manufactories in the country was that of Olive & Partington at Glossop, established in the 1830s. Production eventually took place on two sites, the Turn Lee and Dover Mills, keeping more than 600 people in work by the end of the century. Many of the machines were patented to the firm, processing upwards of 120 tons of paper weekly from Norwegian timber. Sixty years ago the total weekly output had risen to 340 tons, supplying high-class magazines, catalogues and books as well as fancy coated paper and wrappings of gold and tinfoil. The works closed in 1963 with the loss of 600 jobs.

Paper was also produced in the 19th century at Dinting Mill and Charleston Mill, both near Glossop, though neither enjoyed long-term success.

On the mid-western side of the Peak District, in Wincle parish, a mill was built around 1790 at Allgreave on Clough Brook, a tributary of the river Dane. Within a few years the building, and its successor, had both been swept away by floods but nevertheless a third mill was erected, three storeys high. One local tradition says that the riskiness of a third venture led to it being named Folly Mill. By 1825 it was being run by Thomas Hope, who also operated a mill on the Cheshire bank of the river. Folly Mill produced coarse brown or blue paper, used as wrapping by grocers and ironmongers.

Shopkeepers' brown paper was also made a Green's House mill on a remote site in the parish Of Outseats near Hathersage. In the 1840s it was worked by Charles Ibbotson and in the 1850s by Charles Marsden. When production ended in 1887 the fine two-storey building was demonlished, leaving evidence of a 40' by 20' building by the stream and a large mill-pond fed by springs.


No traces remain of an early paper mill once situated at Alport near Youlgreave. It was in use a least as early as 1761, when two sons of John Hall, a paper maker of Youlgreave, became apprenticed into the Sheffield cutlery trade, The old paper mill stood on the site of present day garden of Brookside Cottage, the home of Mrs. Wilde, on the left bank of the river Bradford.

Between 1816 and 1852 the names of Francis, James and William Kenworthy were connected with the mill. In 1848 the Alport Mining Company threatened to take William Kenworthy, their tenant, to court for unpaid rent due at £6 per half year.

First-hand recollections of the mill were recorded in Some Account of Youlgreave, Middleton and Alport in 1931 by Miss Fanny Thornhill Needham, born in Alport in 1847. Miss Needham remembered that when the ragmen delivered, the children were allowed to go and choose the best bits for dressing their dolls. She also used to play at the mill in wet weather and was sorely disappointed when it was pulled down.

Another early paper mill was Masson Mill, built around 1771 on the Derwent at Matlock Bath by Robert Shore of Snitterton and George White of Winster. In 1772 the partners were granted the right to convey water to the mill for 21 years. The following advertisement appeared in the Derby Mercury of 13 August 1779:

'Writing Paper to be sold. At the Paper Mill at Matlock, on Monday next the 16th, a large quantity of writing paper of different sorts - & also a quantity of linen rags and spatches, & several pairs of paper moulds'.

The following year Shore and White sold the mill to Richard Arkwright, who in 1783 built his third cotton mill close by. The Masson paper mill was tenanted and in the 1850/60s was producing cartridges and pasteboards. It was still in operation at the beginning of this century under Simons & Pickard, who also occupied Dunsley paper mall in the Via Gellia.

An interesting post-script to paper making concerns the production of stones for grinding wood pulp. From the end of the 19th century this was a speciality of Messrs Percy J. Turner Limited, owners of Stoke quarries at Grindleford. The exceptional wearing qualities of Stoke pulp stones found a market in Canada, America and Scandinavia, a profitable diversification in the old-established export trade in Peak grindstones.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 9th September 1996.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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