Records relating to Papermaking in Britain

Scope and Content

The material consists of: a note of agreement between H. Pickle of Maryport and Wm. Holland and Co., of Liverpool for the assignment to Pickle of the lease of a paper mill; and, a price list of paper moulds dated 27 April 1853.

Administrative / Biographical History

Papermaking in Britain became established late in the fifteenth century, later than in continental Europe, and the new industry faced tough rivals in Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. The earliest mill was at work in Hertfordshire in 1495 but it failed, and the real foundations of the industry were not laid until the late sixteenth century. When Caxton set up his printing office in 1476 he sought paper supplies from Europe.

By the end of the seventeenth century the industry did not employ much more than around 2,500 to 3,000 workers in Britain and these were centred in only 150 or 200 mills in England and only half a dozen or so in Scotland. By the beginning of the eighteenth century however, England was producing nearly two thirds of Britain's home consumption of paper. The turning point came in the decade 1735-1745 when output began to increase. By 1800 paper output in England and Wales had reached over 10,000 tons - double the output in the 1760s. The rising population, greater literacy, and the Industrial Revolution accounted for this - the need for wrapping papers for goods, paper for newspapers, paper for ledgers and account books, and paper for bills and bank notes. By 1800 the number of paper mills had reached around 429 in England and Wales, and 32 in Scotland where the industry was centred on Edinburgh, Leith and along the River Esk, and around Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The nineteenth century saw the beginning of re-cycling within the industry with patents taken out for the extraction of ink from old paper and of re-pulping. These years also saw the rise of trade associations (unions) for employees.

The years covered by this small collection saw a period of expansion within the paper industry in Britain.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Coleman, D. C. The British paper industry 1495-1860. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show another reference to papermaking related material (check the Indexes for more details): petition to the Exchequer of Margaret Thomson, widow of Peter Spence, tacksman of the Scots white paper manufactory, 1717, at La.II.488/2.

Corporate Names