300 Years of Papermaking

To mark the 300th anniversary of the start of papermaking on the North Esk River, and to celebrate the legacy of one of the local area’s most significant industries, an exhibition was launched during the week of 6 – 10 October 2009, in Penicuik Town Hall. As well as displays on the local paper mills and the industry, there were papermaking demonstrations, film shows and heritage walks. Parts of the exhibition will be on tour throughout the county’s libraries during the next 6 months.

Papermaking in Midlothian dates from 1709. The first mill on the Esk was established by the ‘Queen’s Printer’, Agnes Campbell, who bought land at Valleyfield from Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, with the right to build a paper mill and to extract water from St Mungo’s Well. Despite poor roads, the site was a good one for the purpose. It had:

  • Adequate water power
  • Clean spring water
  • A large flat site for the mill buildings
  • An abundant supply of rags from the nearby city of Edinburgh
  • A market: not only was Agnes Campbell a printer, Edinburgh was home to merchants, lawyers and a growing printing industry.

Chimneys down the EskWithin 100 years, ten mills were established between Penicuik and Lasswade, mostly producing fine quality papers, and the industry became vital to the development of the area, both economically and socially.

When Valleyfield Mill began production in 1709, there was no direct road between Penicuik and Edinburgh. Over time new roads were built and old ones improved. In 1855 the first railway line in the area was constructed, with a station at Pomathorn. Later, other lines were built along the Esk valley, with sidings for the paper mills, making the transport of raw materials and the finished paper much easier.

Water used in the production of paper was discharged into the River Esk. This, together with the change of raw material from rags to esparto grass and a dramatic increase in production, polluted the river, affecting the general environment, and also the work of the paper-mills downstream. There were various court cases from the 1840s until the 1870s, which resulted in improvements, but the river did not begin to run clear until the final closure of the paper-mills. Only then did the river return to its natural, unpolluted state.

It is now forty years since Eskmills closed and thirty-three years since Valleyfield and Pomathorn Mills closed. The era of papermaking ended with the closure of Dalmore, the last mill on the Esk, which ceased production in 2004.

The exhibition is one element in the ‘Papermaking Tercentenary Project’ led by the Penicuik Historical Society, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Midlothian Council. The project originated in the spring of last year, when Phil Watson of the Penicuik Historical Society identified 2009 as the 300th anniversary of papermaking in the town. A small sub-committee was created comprising of Phil Watson, Margaret Coull and Sheila Findlay to plan a project in celebration.

Initial discussions covered how best to mark this historic event, collaboration with other groups could collaborate in the celebration and how to fund the celebrations to make them a fitting tribute to an important local industry. The project sub-committee successfully secured £30,400 of National Lottery money through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Such funding comes with strict guidelines to ensure that the efforts leave a lasting heritage impact.

Community volunteers were recruited to undertake training in various new skills, such as historical research, digitisation of documents and images and oral history skills and to assist in creating the exhibition. This and associated educational materials have been prepared by volunteers led by the Penicuik Historical Society and the Penicuik Family History Society. The Pencuik and Beeslack Camera Club offered their services in the digitisation process. The Penicuik Oral History Resource has trained a number of volunteers who have interviewed a number of reminiscences from surviving mill workers. The Pentland Ramblers are assisting in identifying papermaking ‘heritage walks’ in the area.

The Penicuik Historical Society is already custodian of a collection of material on local history and one the papermaking industry in the town. It is intended that the project will both augment this and digitise selected items. All the elements of the project will be then uploaded onto a website as a ‘virtual exhibition’ at www.penicuikpapermaking.org

If you would be interested in volunteering, displaying part of the exhibition or finding out more please contact Helen Williams, Project Manager through the Penicuik Historical Society, at Penicuik Town Hall, 33 High Street, Penicuik, EH26 8HS, or via email hwilliams@penicuikpapermaking.org

Papermaking exhibition in Midlothian Libraries

Bonnyrigg Library: 12 – 31 October 2009

Gorebridge Library: 2 – 14 November 2009

Newtongrange Library: 16 – 28 November 2009

Mayfield Library: 30 November – 12 December 2009

Dalkeith Library: 14 December 2009 – 9 January 2010

Loanhead Library: 11 January – 23 January 2010

Penicuik Library: 25 January – 20 February 2010

2 thoughts on “300 Years of Papermaking”

  1. Temple Village, Midlothian, history.
    John de Usflete (junior), Preceptor-Master of the Knights Templar c.1304-6, but English, !, :-
    To read about him and family, type Raymond E.O.Ella in a http://www.google.co.uk searchbox and click, then go to “Reedness & Ousefleet” and click. Later, go to “Adlingfleet” and click.
    To view the old kirk in Temple Village and other pictures connected with John, go to “Flickr” and type in their searchbox Raymond E.O.Ella and click.

    Ray & Marie Ella, (Mr. & Mrs.),

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