If you are interested in family history and personal connections to mill workers, please follow this link Workers in the Gade Valley paper mills
The valley of the river Gade from Hemel Hempstead down to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire became one of the major paper manufacturing areas of England from 1770 onwards. In Hemel Hempstead four mills, all recorded in the Domesday Book, were converted from their earlier uses to the manufacture of paper between 1755 and 1778. These mills were amongst the very first in the world to be mechanised.
In 1803 Frogmore Mill became the world's first mechanised paper mill closely followed by Two Waters Mill (1805), Apsley Mill (1807) and Nash Mill (1811). The John Dickinson Stationery Company operated two of these mills and spurred on by their great success, built two more - Home Farm (1825) and Croxley (1830) - as well as leasing Batchworth Mill.
The whole process of industrialisation was greatly aided by the opening of the Grand Junction Canal in the valley in 1798 and later on by the London - Birmingham Railway in 1837.
With paper in quantity being made in the area, naturally printing followed closely behind. John Peacock started printing in Watford in 1832 and the town rapidly expanded as a source of printed materials.
But the town’s reputation as a major international printing centre really began in the early twentieth century when a number of local firms started experimenting with colour printing. The Sun Engraving Co Ltd was established in 1918 and its rival, Odhams Ltd, established itself in Watford in 1936. The Sun and Odhams were two of the largest printing houses in Britain, producing millions of colour magazines each week using a pioneering technique of four-colour rotary gravure printing, for which Watford became world famous.
By the 1930s, one-in-thirteen of Watford’s population was involved in the industry, thus placing the town at the heart of the greatest concentration of printing in the world.
John Dickinson was the great 'entrepreneur' of the Paper Valley building a highly successful international buisness empire and acquiring over 20 patents during his lifetime.
John Evans was the son of a clergyman schoolmaster who was all set for an academic career and about to enter Brasenose College when he was abruptly sent to work for his uncle John Dickinson, who promptly put him out to lodgings. He soon proved capable for everything he was asked to undertake. Having thoroughly learned the business he developed some of the earliest machines for making envelopes which had previously been hand folded.
He was the eldest son of Sir John Evans but was not prepared to enter the business instead pursuing a remarkable career as an archaeologist. Arthur became Curator of The Ashmolean Museum following a period of imprisonment in the Balkans for insurrection.
The second son of John Evans and a great-nephew of John Dickinson, Lewis had mathematical and scientific interests which ideally suited him to a career in the paper industry. He became a partner in 1881, then a General Manager in 1889 and later Chairman. During his period in the company the expansion and modernisation continued apace and included replacing the waterwheels with water turbines and introducing a railway link into the Croxley works.
The Fourdriniers commissioned Bryan Donkin to develop Robert’s model and the world’s very first continuous paper-making machine was installed at Frogmore Mill in 1803. A second, much improved and larger machine was also installed at Frogmore the following year followed by a further machine at Two Waters Mill, a few hundred yards upstream.
In 1802 Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier appointed John Hall of Dartford to construct a working machine based on Robert's drawings and his working model. Using his brother-in-law Bryan Donkin the project made rapid progress and the first improved working machine was installed at Frogmore Mill in 1803. Donkin continued to improve the machine and a second version was installed at Two Waters Mill in 1805.