​​​​ Chemical IndustriesBleaching and Dyeing  | Paper Making - Blackburn | Paper Making - Darwen 
Star Paper Mill | Wallpaper Making in Darwen | Paint Making | Wallpaper Making in Darwen | Walpamur (Crown Paints)​ | The Darwen Paper Company Limited 
 Paper Mill Mania around Darwen and Blackburn in the 1870sPart 1:The Withnell Paper Company Limited. 1874 to 1877 |
Part 2: The Foundations of the Roddlesworth Paper Mills, Star Paper Mill, Feniscowles Paper Mill and Sun Paper Companies Ltd. | 
Part 3: The Lightbown Family and Darwen's Spirit of Intelligent Enterprise | Potters of Darwen: Their Development and Commercialisation of Wallpaper Manufacture | Thomas Grime and The Knott Mill (Darwen) Paper Company Limited | Fifty Years of Paper Making at Samlesbury Paper Mill

Chemical Industries

 The production of chemicals in nineteenth century Blackburn was closely related to textiles, and many of the minor manufacturing chemists were concerned with the supply of mordants, dyes, tallow, oils, greases and tapers' size to the local cotton industry. Tar distillation and the production of liquid ammonia was also undertaken. A number of the smaller workshops were located at Livesey, close to the firebrick works, and were operated by members of the Brothers family and their partners. Various firms; including the Sizeoline Company of John Slater, later used the site until its demolition in the late 1930's.
Larger businesses took over existing buildings, as with Adley, Tolkein & Company, size makers, at the former spinning block of Rockcliffe Mill, Cupal Limited, of Phoenix Mill, King Street, and T. A. Ward, now operating from a former merchant's house in King Street. The latter two companies are both involved in the manufacture of pharmacuticals. Many of the firms originally established to service the textile industry went out of business during the 1930's, although two, Blackburn Products Limited and Joseph Davies, both tallow refiners, have survived by diversifying into different fields.
by Mike Rothwell

Bleaching and Dyeing ​​

Both these processes were vital to the textile industry and both were well represented in the town, notably William Barnes of Whitebirk and Hodgson and Taylor on the bleaching side, and J Holroyd and Co of Preston New Road and Johnson Brothers of King Street on the dyeing side.

Paper Making - Black​burn 

Paper making was introduced to Blackburn during the last half of the nineteenth century, influenced by the success of similar ventures in neighbouring Darwen, and as a result of the efforts of local industrial cooperation.  The larger paper mills were sited on the outskirts of Blackburn proper to take advantage of reasonably pure supplies of water, in addition to securing sufficient land for future growth.  In the case of the two Feniscowles mills the proximity of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal provided an added attraction.  Although there have been occasional changes of ownership the Blackburn paper mills have maintained steady production and remain an important employer in the town.
The basic design of the mills is linear with raw materials stored at one end and finished paper despatched at the other.  The production method gave rise to a characteristic line of sheds, long machine houses and warehouses, often constructed along the floor of a river valley. This plan form can be seen in the three major mills of Blackburn, even though many of the buildings have been reconstructed since the nineteenth century.
by Mike Rothwell

Paper Making -  D​arwen

There have been Paper Mills in Darwen since the 1820s.  This began at Darwen Old Paper Mill in around 1826 as a small-scale, family-run concern.  Richard Hilton began making paper as an expansion of his bleaching business.  He and his sons later diversified into making different types of paper including tissue and lining papers in the 1830s.  Papermaking required huge amounts of water and was usually supplied by local rivers and reservoirs.  Darwen's location and climate made it ideal territory for making paper, just as it was ideal for the textile industry.  In the case of Darwen Old Paper Mill for example, the River Darwen and Jack’s Key Reservoir would have supplied water.
Papermaking is a fairly labour intensive process with many different processes.  Associated trades sprang up in Darwen including bleaching and dyeing works and wallpaper making.  There were mills in Darwen that made wallpaper, indeed there still are but the mills in Darwen also made other types of paper.  Mills produced paper such as newsprint, tissue, coloured and enamel papers, linings, brown paper and wallpaper base paper.  The raw materials required for papermaking were originally rags and esparto (a rough grass from Spain and North Africa needed to make fine quality paper).  Today papers are mostly made from either wood pulp or synthetic pulp.  Only very fine 'hand-made' papers are today made from rags.  Collins Paper Mill in Darwen mainly produced brown paper made from rags whilst Grimshaw Bridge Paper Mill produced cap and biscuit papers.  Mills then were powered mainly by water wheels and horizontal engines. 
Many people were employed in the paper making industry.  Hollins Paper Mill employed over 250 people.  It was considered to be one of Darwen's staple trades and even today people in Darwen are still employed to make paper and wallcoverings for the rest of the world.

by Rachael Spencer

​ Star Paper Mill

The former Star Paper Mill, Feniscowles, closed on the 12th November 2008 after more than a century of paper making.It opened in 1875 replacing the earlier Roddlesworth Paper Mill at Abbey Village which was built in 1845.The machines from Roddlesworth were transferred to the new site.

W and J Yates (later Foster, Yates and Thom) supplied a pair of compound tandem engines and production began. Two paper machines were operational by 1878.
Extensions in 1881-3 allowed for a further Yates tandem horizontal engine and an additional paper machine. Two more paper machines were installed in 1887 and 1893. The latter was 143" wide and reputed to be the the largest in the UK. The paper machines had their own individual enclosed steam engines.
From the 1880's electricity was produced on site to light the works.

The original raw materials were rags, esparto grass and straw, with wood pulp being introduced in the 1890's. Raw materials and coal were transported from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal by two tramroads using endless wire ropes.
Products included newsprint, wallpapers (after 1897), cartridge and packing papers.
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By 1906 there were six paper machines. In 1905-6 a modernisation of the power plant took place, which included new boiler and engine houses.

A further modernisation took place in the 1920's when a new paper machine by Walmsleys of Bury was installed to replace one of the 19th century units.
In 1930 the mill was taken over by Kymmene Aktibolag of Finland who also bought Barnsley Paper Mill in Yorkshire. They owned Star until it was taken over in 1990 by Sappi, South Africa who owned it until the closure.They also took over paper mills in other areas.
From the 1930's, the mill was heavily involved with the production of quality and art papers for the printing, advertising and packaging trades. It was a major producer of cast coated board and paper.
In 2003 record net production was announced averaging 375.3 tonnes per day.

In 2005 Sappi, as the market leader put up prices and as nobody else followed suit, significant market share was lost to the whole group, and machine capacity utilisation dropped, from which it never really recovered.

Star Paper Company built a nu​mber of terraced houses at East Street, off Preston Old Road, where the majority of residents were employed in the paper industry. Looking at the 1891 Census, it is interesting to see that many of them have moved into Livesey from quite far afield.There must have been plenty of job opportunities for them in the paper industry. Do any descendents of these workers still live in Feniscowles?
If you worked at Star, were a "Star Baby" or live in the area and have memories of the Mill, we would love to hear from you.
Blackburn with Darwen Library and Information Service, in conjunction with the Lancashire Record Office and Blackburn Museum ran a community archives project with material which was donated when Star closed. This included hundreds of unidentified photographs of people, machines and industrial processes. We enlisted the help of former employees and members of the Feniscowles and Livesey communities to identify and catalogue the archives.We also recorded people's reminiscences of Star. Livesey Library was used as a base for the project We  obtained funding for the project from the South West Neighbourhood Board.
If you have any Star memorabilia you would like to loan or donate, email the Community History Department at library​@blackburn.gov.uk or call 01254 587919

Lorry.jpg    Engine.jpg

The photographs on this page show what we are up against! Most of them have no details or dates. We need your help please!

 W​allpaper Making in Darwen


 There have been Paper Mills in Darwen since the 1820s.  This began at Darwen Old Paper Mill in around 1826 as a small-scale, family-run concern.  Richard Hilton began making paper as an expansion of his bleaching business.  He and his sons later diversified into making different types of paper including tissue and lining papers in the 1830s.  Papermaking required huge amounts of water and was usually supplied by local rivers and reservoirs.  Darwen's location and climate made it ideal territory for making paper, just as it was ideal for the textile industry.  In the case of Darwen Old Paper Mill for example, the River Darwen and Jack’s Key Reservoir would have supplied water.
Papermaking is a fairly labour intensive process with many different processes.  Associated trades sprang up in Darwen including bleaching and dyeing works and wallpaper making.  There were mills in Darwen that made wallpaper, indeed there still are but the mills in Darwen also made other types of paper.  Mills produced paper such as newsprint, tissue, coloured and enamel papers, linings, brown paper and wallpaper base paper.  The raw materials required for papermaking were originally rags and esparto (a rough grass from Spain and North Africa needed to make fine quality paper).  Today papers are mostly made from either wood pulp or synthetic pulp.  Only very fine 'hand-made' papers are today made from rags.  Collins Paper Mill in Darwen mainly produced brown paper made from rags whilst Grimshaw Bridge Paper Mill produced cap and biscuit papers.  Mills then were powered mainly by water wheels and horizontal engines. 
Many people were employed in the paper making industry.  Hollins Paper Mill employed over 250 people.  It was considered to be one of Darwen's staple trades and even today people in Darwen are still employed to make paper and wallcoverings for the rest of the world.
By Rachael Spencer


Charles and Harold Potter took over Hilton's Paper Mills, the largest paper making works in the world, in 1844.  In 1864 James Huntington, a designer for paper stainers and calico printers, joined the company at the Belgrave Mills.  In 1853 Belgrave Mill was burnt out and a few years later the Hollins Paper Mill was rebuilt and enlarged.  It was there that a laboratory was set up to try and make a reliable water paint.
Paint manufacture commenced in August 1906 and 'Hollins Distemper' was transferred twice daily by horse-drawn wagon to Darwen Station.  By 1910 the company was employing six men to travel the country exclusively selling paint.  By now it was know as WalPaMur after the initials of  'The Wall Paper Manufacturers' Company.  In the same year depots were set up in other parts of the country to ease the pressure on the Darwen factory and speed up distribution.  In the same year too the manufacture of oil based paint commenced.
In 1929 the Company took over the paint-making plant of Arthur Sanderson & Sons in London.  This was developed into a branch factory to serve the South of England.  Expansion in Darwen was achieved when Peel Mill and Cobden Mill were acquired.  In 1933 the Walpamur Company (Ireland) was formed in Dublin.
During World War Two Walpamur was engaged on war work producing special paints and dope for aircraft.  They were asked to produce 90,000 gallons of white paint for the D-Day landings of 1944.  All Allied aircraft had to be painted with white stripes.  30,000 gallons were produced in a week and transported from the factory in a fleet of US Army lorries.



 Wallpaper Making in Darwe​n

Wallpaper was originally made by pasting together sheets of paper into a roll 11 metres long, only a simple block-press was required.  English wallpaper manufacture had begun in Tudor times and had excelled in quality and technical perfection.  By the beginning of the 19th century however French producers were becoming more successful.  England's manufacturers were constrained by paper duties imposed by the excise authorities.  When these were lifted the industry was stimulated to try new techniques.
Machinery to print on calico cloth was already in use.  One of its pioneers was James Greenway who built Dob Meadow Print Works in Darwen in 1808.  It was Charles Potter, son of James's son-in-law, who adapted the principles of calico printing to wallpaper production.  By 1839 Charles, with the help of his brother Harold, had perfected the technique and patents were applied for.  By 1840 Potters had taken over Belgrave Mills and used a part of it for wallpaper production.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851 Potters displayed their wallpapers, some printed in 16 colours.  In 1860 William Balle Huntington became associated with the firm, representing them in Paris.  In 1867 an exhibition was held in Paris, Potters wallpapers were featured there and won a Gold Medal.  It was perhaps the firm's finest hour. 


 The Darwen Paper Company Limited ​​

Although the East Lancashire Paper Mill, established in Radcliffe in 1861 was the first paper mill incorporation in the United Kingdom, it was ten years later the business that created much of the momentum for later incorporations in Lancashire, namely the Darwen Paper Company (DPC) was founded. It was the apparent ease with which men with little experience achieved a business maintaining outstanding dividends and an appreciating share price which encouraged other paper mill incorporations.

It was DPC director William Taylor, a co-operative employee; probably a lowly serving assistant in the grocery department of the Over Darwen Co-operative Society shop when it was founded that recounted the crucial part he played in the foundation> Explaining that one Saturday night in November 1870, he was chatting about business opportunities with ardent Darwen co-operators and fellow employees Joseph Kay and Thomas Shorrock. After discussions they decided to send a deputation to Oldham to see ‘what was being done their by working men for their own elevation in the social scale.

On arrival in Oldham they went to see Mr Morecroft the so called ‘apostle of co-operation joint stock enterprise’, who advised them to start some sort of manufacturing business that was best understood in Darwen and to invest all the spare capital as far as practical. These three accepted that as far as company foundations were concerned their town was far behind Oldham, but vowed this would change. They agreed to hold a meeting at the conversation room of the co-operative store the following night, and to ask a few members of the store who they thought would be favourable to the commencement of some sort of manufacturing enterprise to attend. With paper making being well established in the area the meeting concluded by agreeing to commence a brown paper mill and true to their words on 10 February 1871, the Darwen Paper Company Ltd. was incorporated and shortly afterwards the company purchased 3 acres of redundant land at 11/2d per yard for a riverside site in Darwen.

Blaming the earlier failure of an unknown paper company for the resistance of potential investors to take up shares, gaining funding was not easy. When the sale of shares seeming to be failing it was Taylor, Kay and Shorrock who successfully approached the co-operative movement for funding, persuading them that despite paying dividends to individual shareholders their venture somehow maintained egalitarian co-operative ideals. Eventually all the shares were placed, the mill was completed within budget with the first paper being produced in June 1872. Largely because of its sale of brown wrapping paper to the co-operative movement the company was immediately profitable and a dividend of 20% or more was declared for the next three years. Although providing excellent returns, in a co-operative movement where ethics played as important a role as economics, not all members agreed with business links between co-operation and a public limited company. While not disputing that the DPC paid a good return on the substantial shares purchased by the movement, they argued this mill was not managed to co-operative philosophy where profits should be between a co-operative run business and their co-operative society customers. 

Many were flabbergasted by the apparent ease by which DPC became successful, and without fully appreciating its privileged position with the cooperative movement, they assumed that it must be easy for all newcomers to achieve similar success. Yet only a matter of 3 years after the DPC’s foundation the investment bubble had burst and it was the failure of both the newcomers and privately owned paper mills that was being reported, but due an unwelcomed intervention by Taylor and his friends the DPC future was assured, but this was due to egocentric motives rather than egalitarian ideals, when by virtual blackmail they forced the company to agree to an extension. 

Taylor, supported by two of his fellow DPC directors, had already leased land adjacent to the mill and offered it sale to their company to facilitate expansion and offered it to the company, with two options. If the offer was turned down these three would themselves set up a new paper manufacturing company on the site, but if the DPC board accept their plan then these three would be allowed to purchase a portion of a new share issue that would be raised to pay for the extension. It was the second option which prevailed and true to their word the three promoters took up 1,500 of the new shares and perhaps with more relish than might be expected the other directors also bought additional shares. As a result the company’s share capital increased to £60,000, although only £47,000 was ever called up. Building operations commenced in 1875 and by 1879 three new paper machines were producing news-print. It was due to the costs involved in fitting out the mill and the lack of production that dividends dried up for a while, but by 1878 the company was again paying dividends and its long term future was now secure.

Taylor and his friends went on to found numerous other limited companies in a range of industries, all largely unsuccessful, but the DPC future was assured well into the twentieth century.
Dividends Paid by the Darwen Paper Company: 1872-1910

Chart Dividends paid by the Darwen Paper Company.jpg

Article by Mike Malley

The earliest paper mill operating in Darwen is noted as being in the 1820’s and, by the mid nineteenth century, paper making was well established in the town; with wallpaper, for which the town was later to become particularly associated, being manufactured from 1840. However, it was in a period of less than five years in the 1870’s that Blackburn and Darwen played a pivotal role in an increase in the numbers of paper mills in the North West of England that was not justified by an increase in the demand for paper. Rather limited paper company incorporations and its associated share speculation gripped the region as many an unwary investor failed to see the inevitable pitfalls. 

This article will relate the stories behind some of these the foundation as limited liability paper mills and is based upon the booklet, The Illusive Silver Lining, written by the author, a number of copies are held by the Blackburn Central Library.

Prior to limited liability legislation of the mid 1850’s, in the event of bankruptcy business owners were responsible for full payment of losses to creditors, but the new legislation capped payments only to the value of its assets. Such limited liability incorporations enabled the owners, i.e. the shareholders, to delegate the day to day management of the business to the company’s directors. The shareholders eligibility as part owners of the company was expressed in share certificates that might be transferred to others at a price, but while retained entitled the owner to a portion of the company’s income in the form of dividends. In many ways the price placed on shares was a measure of confidence in the business and was related to the level of dividends paid. In the event that the company became bankrupt, shareholders invariably lost their entire investment, while creditors such as banks, building clubs (the forerunners of building societies), lenders and equipment suppliers were unlikely to be paid in full. 

The rail mania in the United Kingdom is well documented, when in the later 1840s limited liability railway companies were founded in an irrational, mania of speculative frenzy. Following a common pattern in the grip of the mania, rising share prices increased confidence and led to yet more foundations, however, when the investment bubble burst, companies collapsed and shares become worthless. A smaller scale mania for founding paper mills in the North West of England occurred in the 1870’s, when despite little increased demand for paper more than thirty mills opted for limited status in only 4 years (Table 1). 

Not only were more than half of the mills located within a 15 mile radius of Darwen/Blackburn, even new paper mills located in Leicestershire, Cumberland and Yorkshire were funded and managed by persons from within that conurbation. The simplest advertisement in a newspaper or a personal recommendation could excite a frenzy of speculation and even a mill as far away as Northern Ireland had its registered office in Darwen and its share list filled by ‘Darreners’. Most foundations were typified by a frenzy of investment by ‘it can’t fail’ investors, encouraged by shady speculators with selfish motives prepared to stoop to illegal acts to sell shares. Perhaps surprisingly this included many company directors, done so that they could benefit by an immediate sale of their shares at a premium over the purchase price.

Most of these new companies were paper mills converted from some other use (such as printing, dying, spinning or weaving mills) or were newly built on green-field sites, but a small number were already in operation as privately owned paper mills. A minority of incorporations restricted shares to a tiny number of wealthy individuals, but more prevalent was the situation where although the company directors held large share portions, they issued the remainder on a first-come first-served basis. Although a few of the working class were represented as shareholders, it was Lancashire’s Industrialist and its businesspeople that topped the share ownership lists and many weren’t shy of quickly selling shares to make a profit.

Due to intense competition created by the newcomers there was an ongoing need for investment to keep ahead of rivals, but as a trade depression took hold from the mid 1876 onwards, dividends and confidence dried-up, and it was both established private and new limited paper mills that were bankrupted. Some were resurrected under a different name with new management and with new share equity and borrowings, but failed again. Others continued as they were formed with little new capital for a few years without much success, while those that prospered could be differentiated by having forward thinking managers who were  making large and ongoing investment. The stories of the foundations of some of newcomers shown below will now follow.

Limited Liability Paper Mill Companies connected to Lancashire (founded 1860-1875)


​​Company Name
Location (approx)​Incorporated​Year Totals​
East Lancashire​​​Bury
March 1860​1​
Darwen/Blackburn​April 1872​
​August 1872
Darwen/Blackburn​September 1873​
Furness​Ulverston​November 1873​2​
Blackburn​February 1874​
9​North of England​Stalybridge​May 1874​
Deeply Vale​Bury​June 1874​
​July 1874
August 1874​​6
​Knott Mill
January 1875​
White Ash​Oswaldtwistle​February 1875​
Rochdale​Rochdale​February 1875​
Darwen​February 1875​
Leicester​March 1875​
Star​Darwen/Blackburn​March 1875​
Samlesbury​Preston​March 1875​
Oswaldtwistle​March 1875​
Roach Bridge​Preston​March 1875​
22​Marron​Whitehaven​April 1875​
​Bury (Giggs)
December 1875​
Catterall​Preston​April 1875​
​Chapel Town
Bolton​April 1875​
Heap Bridge​Bolton​​May 1875
Ripponden​June 1875​
​Broughton Bridge
Manchester​July 1875​
29​Burnley​Burnley​April 1875​
30​Hyde​Stockport​​​August 1875
​Scotshaw Brook​
​January 1875

​Article by Mike Malley


The Withnell Paper Company Limited. 1874 to 1877​​

​This limited paper company was registered on the tenth of August 1874. The mill was built on the River Roddlesworth about 750m north-east of Abbey Village, Chorley and the remains of the mill are now beneath the Abbey Reservoir. It had no connection with the longer lived Withnell Fold paper mill.

Founded with a share capital of £25,000, the directors of the company at its foundation were:​
​Job Kay
​Coal Agent
​Andrew Townley
​Clog Iron Maker
​Thomas Beresford
​Paper Manufacturer
​James Lomax
​Coal Merchant
​John Lord
​Shoe Maker
​Thomas Kay
​Paper Manufacturer
​Thomas Duxbury
​Paper Manufacturer

Founded with the purpose of ‘ Erecting a Paper Mill at Withnell midway between Blackburn and Chorley, and carrying on the business of Paper Making in all its branches’, the directors noted in its published prospectus, that the site was situated ‘400 yards from Withnell Railway Station’; this is a slight exaggeration as its nearer to  700 yards.  Although the site looks isolated today, it was close to the now defunct Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, making railway sidin​gs alongside the mill a possibility.  A month after Incorporation the management were advertising for tenders to erect the new paper mill, to be received by Job. Kay, Company Secretary, by 28 September 1874. Nine months later in June 1875 it was reported that the new mill was to have two 72 inch paper making machines manufactured by Redfern and Smith, Bury; although later evidence suggest a single 112 inch machine and the following month a vacancy was being advertised for an ‘active Practical Manager’ .  

Showing a certain amount of optimism for the company in January 1876 its share price was quoted at a premium of two shillings, but things were to sour very quickly. By November 1876 Withnell had sold only 2,012 of its 10,000 shares, raising £5,156 of its proposed £25,000 share capital, this would have been insufficient to build and equip a paper mill and so additional borrowing would be required.

In August 1876 it was reported that the mill was within six weeks of operation and it would have one machine running, yet this optimism came to nought as by August 1877 and probably even before paper was produced in earnest, the mill was out of operation.   Disastrously for all its investors by 22 September 1877 it was being voluntarily wound-up, as its chairman announced that the company ‘cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business’.  The reason for its demise confirms that its experienced paper manufacturing directors Beresford, Kay and Duxbury had failed abysmally, as a downstream paper mill threatened to take legal action due to pollution of the river. The reason why the mill failed is detailed in what at first glance may be an unlikely source, the Co-operative News. However, given the circumstances this publication becomes a very reliable source because it was the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which acted as its bank and that had provided the company with substantial funds and in 1877 they were owed over £6,000 and foreclosed on the mortgage. The members of the Co-operative movement were unhappy with these events and the even larger amounts owed by other limited companies. In detailing the reasons for the Withnell’s demise and subsequent losses, a Co-operative spokesman confirmed it was ‘another mill about a mile off’ which had started before Withnell which was the complainant in a legal suit.   The newspaper noted that before Withnell was completed an Act of Parliament was passed which referenced water rights and in particular discolouring of water, which Withnell had contravened.  In the last throw of the dice, in January 1877 the Withnell directors approached the Clitheroe paper maker John Carlisle, for a mortgage of £8,000.  He noted ‘Being crippled for means and unable to raise money by Shares the Directors applied to me’, but negotiations failed and the mill was out of operation by August 1877. Without the funds to install a new effluent plant and in the certain knowledge that the other paper mill company would commence legal action, no one was prepared to purchase the mill from the mortgagee and the Withnell Paper Company Ltd collapsed and the mill was sold in 1882. The buyer was the Star Paper Company, who was previously threatening the Withnell company with legal action, they soon removed the papermaking equipment, including the 112” machine. The Wholesale Society only received £400 to cover its £6,000 plus debt. 
The Reason for the Demise
I previously identified a mania for founding limited liability paper manufacturing companies in Lancashire in the mid 1870’s, when twenty five were incorporated in a twenty month period from 1873 to 1875.   These  ‘mania-mills’ were not founded due to any commensurate increase in paper use, rather it was the relatively new limited company legislation that was being used and in many cases manipulated, to produce a helter-skelter of paper manufacturing company foundations, many with connections to Darwen. The foundation of the mania-mills required promoters, that is the dynamic individuals whose actions resulted in the new company being founded, which was mainly its directors and on many occasions it was the same individuals who were in many concerns. For example, Withnell directors Job Kay and Thomas Beresford had four directorships each, Thomas Kay had three, and Thomas Duxbury had two. On many occasions it was these ‘serial directors’ who were quick to sell their shares to achieve a profit and the more directorships they had the more profits they made. Yet the opportunity for share sale profits was short and with disingenuous directors, intense competition, a now depressed economy and with a loss of business confidence, many a paper mill simply ran out of money.

Withnell was one of the most unsuccessful of all the mania-mills, it got embroiled in potentially expensive legal action due to an effluent problem with the downstream Star mill, it could not raise additional capital and when an economic depression took hold investors lost confidence. As a result it operated for less than six months and was unlikely to be running for more than a few days at a stretch and of course, its investors lost considerable amounts of money.

The late local historian James Stevens, records that a Roddlesworth Paper Mill was built in 1845, he also identifies that the foundation work of this mill could ‘be seen when the waters of the present reservoir are very low’.   

I have been unable to verify a paper mill was built anywhere in the neighbourhood before this mill. However, I can confirm that the foundations are those of Withnell paper mill, which was built from new between 1874 and 1875. A map of the reservoir is included in the Star company archives, it shows that the former Withnell mill was to be flooded, but strangely the mill, which was two storey and about 70 feet by 170 feet in plan, was not demolished.   A photograph of the mill, included in a 1907 article about the Star mill, shows it standing forlorn in several foot of water, a failure personified. 

This article is a shortened version of ‘Five Paper Company Foundations on the River Roddlesworth’, Darwen. 1873 to 1882. Which will be published shortly by The British Association of Paper Historians, in its Quarterly Magazine.

1 Preston Herald , 29 Aug 1874, p.1 
2 BLNL. Paper Makers Circular, July 15 1875.
3 BLNL. Paper Makers Circular, August  1876
4 The London Gazette, September 28 1877, Issue:24507, p5430
5 Co-operative Union Library Manchester (hereafter CUL) The Co-Operative News, June 25 1881, p.426 c.3
6 Lancashire Record Office (hereafter LRO). DDX 54/96
7 CUL. The Co-operative News, June 25 1881, p.423 c.2
8 Malley M, The Illusive Silver Lining: The Rise and Fall of the Lancashire Limited Paper Companies, Volume 11 of The British Association of Paper Historians Monograph, 2017
9 James Stevens, A century of Papermaking in the Roddlesworth Valley, privately published, 2008. Stevens who died in 1957, was an employee at the Star Mill.
​10 LRO. DDFD/11/291, The Star Archives are not yet fully catalogued
11 Paper Maker and British Paper Trade Journal, Vol XXXIV, 1907 p23 and https://jepnet.co.uk/genealogy/Star%20mill/star%20mill.pdf​ 

Mike Malley, February 2020

 The Foundations of the Roddlesworth Paper Mills, Star Paper Mill, Feniscowles Paper Mill and Sun Paper Companies Ltd. 1874 to 1882.​

The River Roddlesworth is less than 10 miles long including a number of small feeder streams. It rises south of Blackburn and West of Darwen, following a northerly direction it passes under the M65 east of junction 3 and under the Leeds Liverpool Canal before joining the River Darwen not far from Ewood Park, the stadium of Blackburn Rovers FC. 

I previously described the foundation of the Withnell Paper Company Ltd, which was the most southerly of the five paper companies sited on the River Roddlesworth. The Roddlesworth Paper Mills Company and its successor the Star Paper Company occupied the next mill site downstream, while the Feniscowles Paper Mill Company Ltd and its successor the Sun Paper Company Ltd, were the most northerly.

Roddlesworth Paper Mills Company Ltd
Incorporated 14 March 1874 with £30,000 share capital 
The directors and shareholding at foundation were:

​Josia Gregson
​Over Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
Tim Lightbown
​Lower Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
​Henry Lightbown
​Paper Stainer
James Lightbown
​Paper Stainer
Roger Lightbown
​Over Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
​James Longton
​Over Darwen
​Manager of Paper Works

Directors In bold hold directorship in other paper mills cited on the River Roddlesworth

The company’s aim was ‘acquisition of land to erect works for manufacture of paper or the purchase of works and building already erected for the purpose’.1  This company’s directors did not issue all the company’s shares as by February 1875 only 1,300 shares had been taken up, all of which had been issued to the directors. With four pounds per share having been called-up its share capital would have been only £5,200 and grossly insufficient for erecting a new mill.
Suggesting additional money was borrowed in February 1875 the paper trade press reported that the company was building an extensive mill at Feniscowles, later noting that that a 112 inch paper machine was to be installed and ultimately it would operate 3 machines.Yet it came to nought and fifteen months later in June 1875 it was reported that Roddlesworth ‘has come to a premature collapse. It not having possessed sufficient strength to reach the stage of commencing to work, it has resolved to wind itself up voluntarily’.In September 1875 it was reported that the liquidators of the Company, Josiah Gregson and Timothy Lightbown had completed their task.4

Star Paper Mill Company Ltd

Incorporated March 1875, with £60,000 share capital 
The directors and shareholding in May 1875 were:

​Josiah Gregson
​Over Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
John Thos. Jackson
​Chemist and Druggist
Timothy Lightbown
​Lower Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
​James Bartholmey
​Cotton Spinner
​James Howarth
​Cotton Spinner
Lawrence Gregson
​Over Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
​John Kenworthy
​Hollinwood, Near Manchester

The Star mill was registered 23 March 1875, its stated aim was to buy from the Roddlesworth company its unfinished mill and reservoir and had double the share capital of its predecessor. By 3 May 1875 11,752 of the 12,000 shares were taken up, when 10 shillings per share called-up. Construction continued a pace and the first 120 inch machine was running in autumn 1876. Coinciding with the first three months of production at an extraordinary general meeting in December 1876, the directors increased capital by an additional £20,000 in preferential shares: these being interest bearing and with a promise to repay the initial sum after a term of years, such bonds as these were likely to be paid if the company was in difficulty and consequently secure.  This money was badly needed because director and first mill manager James Longton, comes in for criticism in the press when it was reported ‘heavy loss in the ¼ due to the directors selected poor managers therefore paper not satisfactory quality’.5

In order to overcome these difficulties the company was advertising for loans at a mouth-watering 6% from the general public in January 1877.6  In June that year the company’s capital was further increased by £22,500 by issuing 1,500 Debenture Bonds and ten months later a further round of fundraising increased share capital by an additional £20,000 in £5 shares. This was required for both running the second 120 inch paper machine started in 1878 and for making payment to those ‘formerly shareholders in late Roddlesworth Paper Manufacturing Co Ltd from whom the present company purchased the Mill and Premises’. Presumably the latter was a promise made when the purchase of Roddlesworth mill was negotiated.

Despite all its funding by 1881 the company was only just in profit as according to Clitheroe papermaker  John Carlisle, its balance sheet showed a profit of only £291.Yet this was substantially better than 1877 when losses were £3,500.



​Share Capital
​Outlay on Building, Machines, Cottages

​Debenture Bonds
​3 Month Profit
​Loan holders
​Toatal Capital

The output was newsprint, printing papers and long elephants, i.e. a base paper used for the manufacture of wallpaper. The two 120 inch paper machines were supplemented in 1882 by the installation of the underused 112 inch machine previously installed at the Withnell Paper Company Ltd. This came about in June 1881 when another extraordinary general meeting made provision for payment on an outstanding mortgage and bonds, plus raising ‘£10,000 for purchase money of Withnell Paper Mill land, machinery and premises’ at a bargain the price of £3,000, plus the cost of removal of paper machine at Withnell to Feniscowles. Once the equipment had been removed the nine acre Withnell mill site became a reservoir, storing additional water required for the Star’s extended operation associated with the installation of the Withnell paper machine.8

The later history of the Star mill lies outside the scope of this article, but is comprehensively covered by the book written by Abverainen and the booklet ‘A century of Papermaking in the Roddlesworth Valley’.9

The Feniscowles Paper Mill Company Ltd and its successor the Sun Paper Company Ltd occupied the most northerly site just before the River Roddlesworth joins the River Darwen, it was sited only a matter of a few hundred meters from the Star company.

Feniscowles Paper Mill Company Ltd
Incorporated 13 Sept 1873, £30,000 share capital
The directors at foundation were:

​Josiah Gregson
​Lower Darwen
​Cotton Manufacturer
​*John Tomlinson
​Over Darwen
​Coal Merchant
​Jacob Cooper
​Over Darwen
​​Coal Merchant
​John Harwood
​Over Darwen
​Paper Maker
​James Carter
​Coal Merchant
​Edmund Monk
​*William Tomlinson
​Over Darwen
​Coal Merchant

In March 1875 a healthy 2,390 of the 3,000 shares were taken-up.  Full production was achieved by February 1875, a creditable 18 months build. Its 76 inch and 90 inch machines were producing News, Printing and Long Elephant. For a few short months the company appeared to be doing well as its paid-up £10 shares were changing hands at £15. However, suggesting the first two years were far from successful on 6 July 1877 the directors gave a personal guarantee to the bankers of the company to secure an overdraft and a second mortgage totalling £5,000. Unable to stem the losses in 1877 its principle lender, the Blackburn Building Society, being owed £26,201 took possession, the mill having closed in August that year. The true scale of the problems were laid bare when John Carlisle noted that the working accounts for the year of 1877 showed a loss on sales of £3,506, without allowance for depreciation and interest. He suggested the actual loss was over £6,000.

At a time so many paper mills in the area were up for sale the Blackburn Building Society was unsuccessful in selling it as a going concern and it was stopped for several years. Costing £47,000 to erect it was sold in September 1882 for £8,050 to become the Sun Paper Company.10

Sun Paper Company Ltd 
Incorporated 13 October 1882, £50,000 share capital in £100 divisions
The directors and shareholding at foundation were:

​James Lightbown
​Paper Manufacturer
​J. T. Jackson
​Cotton Spinner
Henry Lightbown
​Weaste-lane, near Manchester
​Paper Stainer
J. Gregson
​Birkdale. Southport
​Retired Cotton Spinner
​J. Fitton
​Clifton Junction, near Manchester
​Retired Grocer
​J. Brown
​Bamber Bridge
​T. Lightbown
​Cotton Manufacturer

The new company stated it ‘proposes to purchase the Feniscowles Paper Mill, situate Feniscowles, near Blackburn, recently put up for sale by auction and bought by James Lightbown, of Salford, on behalf of this (the Sun) company, for £8,050’.  It was registered in October 1882 with a capital of £50,000 in £100 shares and 220 shares were taken at incorporation. 

The Sun Company closed in the 1980’s. 

This article is a shortened version of ‘Five Paper Company Foundations on the River Roddlesworth’, Darwen. 1873 to 1882. Which will be published shortly by The British Association of Paper Historians, in its Quarterly Magazine.

In Part 3 and final section of this series of articles, I shall review the events detailed previously and identify a fascinating back-story connecting the five companies to one of the most important wallpaper manufacturers in Great Britain.

 1Abvenainen J, The History of Star Paper 1875-1960, (1976) Private Published, p.12.
 2BLNL. Paper Makers Circular, March 15 1875
 3BLNL. Paper Makers Circular, June 15 1875
 4The London Gazette, September 10 1875 Issue:24244, p 4469
 5Oldham Library, Oldham Standard, 2 December 1876
 6Preston Herald, 6 January 1877, p.7
 7Lancashire Record Office (hereafter LRO). DDX 54/96
 8LRO. DDFD/11/291, The Star Archives are not yet fully catalogued
 9James Stevens, John Downham, Michael Harrington, David Bateson and Mark Taylorson, A century of Papermaking in the Roddlesworth Valley, privately published, 2008 
 10Blackburn Standard, 28 October 1882, p.5
 11Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 23 October 1882,  p.7

Part 3: The Lightbown Family and Darwen's Spirit of Intelligent Enterprise​

In the first two articles I narrated the foundation of the Withnell, Roddlesworth, Star, Feniscowles and Sun Paper limited paper companies, all five of whom were sited on the River Roddlesworth. In this section I shall review the content of both articles and identify a back-story connecting the five mills to one of the most important wallpaper manufacturers in Great Britain.

Some of the themes from my article The Illusive Silver Lining, carry through to the story of these five mills, such as a rapid failure of around half of all paper companies, the  large losses made by shareholders, banking institutions, directors, equipment suppliers and the like (1).  The mania was undoubtedly driven by the actions of its directors, most of whom were Lancashire’s Industrialists and businesspeople and in particular those from Darwen, a town renowned for innovation and dynamism from its self-made men. Unfortunately for all, a trade downturn, known as the Great Depression took hold in the second half of the 1870’s which did not fully lift until well into the twentieth century and it was then regret and introspection that then took precedence over dynamism. Phoenix like, some paper mills were raised from the ashes, some failed again while others such as the Star and the Sun were eventually successful.  

Looking at the losses made at the Feniscowles, Roddlesworth and Withnell companies the accumulated deficits that fell upon shareholders, mortgage and loan holders were around £50,000 to £55,000, equivalent to about £6M today.  Being major shareholder the directors would bear the brunt of share losses, unless they had the forethought of the likes of Withnell directors Job and Thomas Kay or William and John Tomlinson who were serial share sellers, because selling early could make them a profit. The Co-operative bank had sufficient reserves to stand the losses they made at Withnell, but interest rates to savers did suffer. Unfortunately, due to the losses made at Feniscowles and two other paper mills, together with other limited companies the Blackburn Building Society was forced to close and some of its investors were only repaid 1 shilling per pound of money invested (2).
It is easy to identify why the two of the Roddlesworth mills failed, Withnell got embroiled in expensive legal action with the Star mill because of the inept design of its effluent plant, which led to environmental issues and the company could not raise additional capital when an economic depression took hold and investors had lost confidence. This mill did not produce any meaningful quantity of paper, was a complete failure costing its investors dear.  Feniscowles did operate, but only for two years and without profits, racking up substantial debts and like Withnell it was unable to secure additional funds and was closed for five years before its sale in 1882. Less easy to understand is why the Roddlesworth paper company was liquidated before its build was completed. It is true that its share capital was small, but at the time loans were readily available and the directors were savvy and solvent businessmen, more of which shortly. 

Another theme of the Silver Lining was the role played by promoters, that is the dynamic individuals whose actions resulted in the new company being founded. In Silver Lining I cited William Taylor and Joseph Kay as persons who were prolific and often calamitous promoters and Job Kay noted as director and later secretary at Withnell paper mill is that very same person, so it is of no surprise this mill followed a disastrous path. What is more surprising is that Timothy Lightbown was a shareholder  at Withnell whilst simultaneously a director at Roddlesworth, but perhaps it was further evidence of the share mania gripping Darwen’s industrialists (3).  Directorships in more than one limited paper companies, some of whom would have been in competition was also a common theme. I have noted this was because some directors, such as Kay and Taylor were involved primarily to make profits from share sales, so the more directorships they had the more profits they made. Although it would require detail examination of the share lists held at the Public Record Office, I would suggest this was not the case with Timothy, Henry, Roger and James Lightbown. In a close relationship with Josiah Gregson they held directorships at Roddlesworth, Star and Sun paper mills, they were unlikely to have been habitual share sellers, but evidence suggests they were legitimate businessmen with a clear aim. 

Josiah and his brother Lawrence Gregson were cotton manufacturers at Carr’s Mill, Darwen, while the Lightbown’s were both cotton manufacturers at Dove and Heyfold Mill’s, Darwen and innovative wallpaper manufacturers in Pendleton, Manchester and later Bredbury, Stockport. The leading light being Henry Lightbown, he was born in Darwen in 1819 and as an intelligent youth learned his trade at C.H. and E. Potter of Darwen from around 1840. Potters were paper manufacturer and wallpaper printers (or stainers) who ran power loom weaving and wallpaper printing at Belgrav​e Mills and producing base wallpaper paper at Hollins mill, both in Darwen. By the 1870’s they had four paper making machines and the company trained numerous individuals who later established their own businesses in the trade for which Darwen and Blackburn was to become world famous.

Henry Lightbown left Potters to set up his own paper merchanting business in Manchester in 1847 with brother-in- law William Aspinall and Doctor Graham, the latter a partner in Potters and in 1851 started their own business in a small hand block wallpaper printing shop at Pendleton. Three years later Henry, his brother James and William Aspinall set up a new factory at Hayfield Mills, Bredbury, later to become one of the largest producers of cheap machine-printed wallpapers in Britain. They were quick to install wallpaper print machines and good sales meant day and night working. An observer noted that ‘Developments were rapid, the repeal of the paper duty (in 1861) having contributed to the demand for wallpaper, and within the next 30 years the whole site was gradually covered with buildings and many contained print machines (4).   

Henry kept up a firm friendship with his former employer and would have been well aware of the success they enjoyed, in particular Potters notoriety from exhibiting in the Paper-Hanging section of the Great International Exhibition in London of 1851. Attracting over six million visitors, the exhibition was a great success and it was around then that the machine printing of wallpaper took-off. Previously done by skilled artisans, the wallpaper printing machine was at the very early stage of its introduction, but even then its benefits were clear when it was noted in Great Britain that mean prices for hand printing were two shillings and  seven pence and by machine only seven pence. Although the exact meaning of ‘Mean per Piece’ is not clear, just using it as a comparison it’s a substantial reduction. In comparison its main competitor, the USA, its mean price was nine and a half pence.

TablesMachinesWorkersNo. of PiecesValue (£)Mean Per Piece
600 1,9002.3M0.3M2s 7d

Although the compiler acknowledged to having reservations about his figures, if in Great Britain 100 workers on 20 machines could produce 40% more than 1,900 workers by hand, then the writing was on the wall (5)
Early adopters of the machine included Potters, Lightbown and Aspinall plus Walkden and Dixon of Blackburn, making the area a centre for wallpaper manufacture, which continued for many years afterwards.

Breaking away from the limitations of the traditional method of wallpaper printing using individual sheets of hand formed paper, it was the endless web of machine made paper which opened the opportunity to mechanise the wallpaper printing process. Being akin to printing fabrics using engraved rollers that carried ink to the cloth, it was a logical step to do the same to machine made paper. With a thriving fabric printing industry around Darwen, a quick take-up of the new more productive process could be guaranteed and with the town’s ‘spirit of intelligent enterprise’, it is no surprise that Potters were quick adopters and Lightbown’s were  by their side. In the early days Lightbown and Aspinall printed cheap goods by machine and hand, but later in 1879 the company won awards for improved designs at exhibitions in Brussels and Sydney. In 1880 and 1881 they introduced a new medium-grade in the ‘Early English’ style and with other developments forthcoming the company’s success was assured and with triumph came a need for a guaranteed source of paper which needed sating (6).   

The close business relationship seen between Josiah Gregson and the Lightbown’s at the Roddlesworth, Star and Sun mills suggests a close affiliation, particularly between Josiah Gregson and Timothy Lightbown, but it was not a paper mill that was their first business relationship. A year after Josiah became a founding director of Feniscowles in 1873, he and his brother Lawrence opted to incorporate their family’s Carr’s Mill, becoming the Darwen Cotton Manufacturing Co. Ltd. It was also in 1874 that Josiah was for the first time joined by Timothy Lightbown, but it was in a cotton manufacturing venture, when they both became directors at the Cotton Hall Mill, Darwen, built for the Spinning and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. No doubt buoyed up with the initial success of these ventures and knowledge of some of the earlier mania paper mills, in 1874 Henry, Roger and James Lightbown joined them in the Roddlesworth venture, surely a company formed to satisfy the wallpaper company‘s need for base wallpaper. 

The Roddlesworth company’s aim at incorporation was for the ‘acquisition of land to erect works for manufacture of paper or the purchase of works and building already erected for the purpose’ and the trade press identifies it was to be at Roddlesworth and nowhere else (7).   I would suggest it was the purchase of an existing mill that was their priority and that the incomplete Feniscowles mill was their only target. As Josiah was a director of both Roddlesworth and Feniscowles, he would have been central in the negotiations, but an agreement was not possible. As second best the Roddlesworth company purchased a new site a few hundred yards upstream, but the mill was incomplete when it was liquidated. 

Formed with a small share capital the Roddlesworth company could easily have issue more shares and borrowed money to complete the mill, but it appears that someone on the board got cold feet. As a way forward it was probably Gregson who came up with the idea of setting up the new Star company with an increased share capital, with free reign to borrow to complete the mill and the new venture would eventually reimburse the former Roddlesworth directors for work already completed. Josiah Gregson and Timothy Lightbown became directors at the Star and James and Henry Lightbrown large shareholders, at this stage Josiah was a director at both Feniscowles and Star and the opportunity for conflicts would have resurfaced. Yet this was to be only a short time as it was no more than ten months between the Star’s inauguration in autumn 1876 and the demise of Feniscowles in August 1877. From then onwards the Star mill would probably have taken over supplying Lightbown’s paper requirements from Feniscowles.

In 1881, when the Star mill was manufacturing printing papers and long elephants, things were about to change yet again, because in 1882 the defunct Feniscowles mill was sold via the Lightbown’s company to the new Sun company (8).    With Josiah Gregson, James, Henry and Timothy Lightbown being directors at the Sun company and Josiah and Timothy still directors of the Star, the opportunity for conflicts of interest reoccurred. Perhaps, initially the two companies may have agreed not to compete, but by 1886 things were coming to a head. The Star’s company biographer Jorma Ahvenainen, noted that conflicts of interest did occur with the Sun, ‘which was largely in the hands of the Lightbown’s’ , and in particular with Sun directors James Lightbown and John Jackson whose interests were ‘antagonistic’ to those of the Star company (9).   This may well relate to an earlier incident in 1886 when Roger Lightbown was involved in yet another foundation, this time the London and Lancashire Paper Mills Company Limited at Stalybridge (10).  In an unusually frank prospectus the profit on one ton of newsprint was identified as being £250, made up of £650 costs and a selling price of £900. This would have been seen as a breach of confidentiality and likely to be the cause of the antagonism at the Star. It may well have been family solidarity that caused director and long term chairman Timothy Lightbown to leave the Star company around the same time as James Lightbown and John Jackson were ostracised (11).  
The comment made in the 1886 Stalybridge company prospectus that, ‘There is perhaps no industry in this country which is in so flourishing a condition that of paper making, the demand, being practically unlimited’, echo’s many of the exaggerated claims made at the foundation of the mania paper mills ten years earlier. But at least for the Lightbown’s, their business was flourishing, their wallpapers were in demand and they were heavily involved in paper mill management and in the process they were training many who went on to make a name for themselves in the wallpaper industry for years to come.

This article is a shortened version of ‘Five Paper Company Foundations on the River Roddlesworth’, Darwen. 1873 to 1882. Which will be published shortly by The British Association of Paper Historians, in its Quarterly Magazine.


[1] Malley M, The Illusive Silver Lining: The Rise and Fall of the Lancashire Limited Paper Companies, Volume 11 of The British Association of Paper Historians Monograph, 2017. Copies available at Blackburn with Darwen Libraries

[2] LRO. PPLC 3/3/4

[3] Abvenainen, p.10

[4] Alan Victor Sugden and John Ludlam Edmondson, A History of English Wallpaper 1509-1914 , (1925), London p.216

[5] Sugden, p.156

[6] Sugden, plate 126,  p.292

[7] BLNL. The Paper Makers Circular, April 27 1874

[8] Stevens, p.11

[9] Abvenainen, p.17

[10] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 13 April 1886

[11] Paper Maker and British Paper Trade Journal, Vol XXXIV, 1907 p23 and https://jepnet.co.uk/genealogy/Star%20mill/star%20mill.pdf

Mike Malley, published on Cotton Town, December 2021
​Mike is a member of the British Association of Paper Historians

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Potters of Darwen: Their Development and Commercialisation of Wallpaper Manufacture: 1832 to 1875​


The company started by the Potter family of Darwen in 1840 was one of the largest suppliers of machine made wallpaper for over a century. Their experience of calico printing was put to good use when they successfully adapted one of their machines and applied for a patent to protect their innovation. Their technical lead was short lived as a number of competitors quickly moved into a growing market that produced cheaper wallpaper in volume for the first time. The scene was now set for a rapid expansion of both styles and production levels that made both Potters and Darwen the centre for machine wallpaper printing.

The extensive details provided in Sugden and Entwisle's definitive book, Potters of Darwen 1839 to 1939, provides a year by year account of Potters progress up to 1939, its findings has been used extensively in this article. Rather than examine the minutia of its content, I shall confine my narrative to the main developments up to about 1875.[1] In particular to identify, the mills connected to Potters business, working conditions, the excise authority's treatment of the industry and the employees of Potters who went on to play a pivotal role in the development of the wallpaper  industry.

Wallpaper Printing by Machine and the Growth of Potters up to 1875

Both the Potter and Greenway families were involved in calico printing in Darwen, one of the earliest was Livesey Fold Mill established by James Greenway in 1776. His son James leased Dob Meadow Print Works in 1808, taking into partnership his two sons-in-law, John Potter and William Maude. Later John's son Charles Potter joined the business and by 1832 Charles and William Ross were leasing Dob Meadow from the Greenway's.  Using an adapted calico printing machine they began wallpaper printing trials in 1832. Later Charles and his brother Harold, together with calico machine foreman printer Walmsley Preston, continued developments and in 1839 Harold Potter, applied for the patent, as follows:

Patent Number 8302, Printing Calicoes and other Fabrics. Potter stated the nature of his invention to consist 'in printing calico, muslins or paper for paper-hangings, by means of what is known among calico printers as a surface machine… taking two or more distinct colours… further consists in the application and the use of engraved or cut or figured copper, or other metal rollers, for printing paper –hangings'.

In 1840 Charles Potter's brothers Harold and Edwin, trading as C H & E Potter took over Belgrave mill, Darwen for their embryonic wallpaper printing business. The mill was already shared by Edwin Potter and Edward Gregson, both having existing cotton weaving concerns. Initially the base paper for the wallpaper was supplied by Hilton's paper mill, also in Darwen. In 1844 coinciding with problems at Hilton's, the Hollins Bleach works in Darwen was converted to manufacture paper, with former Hilton's employee John Carlisle, its manager.

The Potters now structured their business around wallpaper manufacture. Family run businesses such as Potters were not duty bound to release its financial affairs, but the company did well and constantly adapted to maintain its success. John Gerald, son of Charles Potter entered the firm as partner in 1849 and on the retirement of Harold Potter four years later, the company's name was altered to C E and J G Potter. In 1857 founder Edwin Potter retired, with Walmsley Preston, Doctor Graham, an outside representative for the company and latterly in charge of the commercial department, together with the Hollins paper mill manager John Carlisle, were taken into partnership, the company was then known as C and J G Potter. 

1864 was an important year for Potters with the acquisition of William Snape's Livesey print works. Earlier in the same year Snape had induced master wallpaper designer James Huntington, to join him. Charles Potter, John Carlisle and Walmsley Preston all retired, meaning that the business was left in the hands of John Gerald Potter, William Snape and James Huntington. By 1875 Charles Philip Huntington and William Balle Huntington joined their brother James, in the management of Potters.  Charles and William had previously worked in a Paris distributorship used by Potters and it was the latter who the author has discovered was trapped in The Siege of Paris (see Postscript).

The improvement made in wallpaper printing machines in the period lies outside the scope of this article, but there were some interesting statistics about the growth in production at Potters. For example what cost 1s before 1839 was in 1865 produced for less than 1d. In 1851 it was estimated 5.5 million pieces were processed in Great Britain, but by 1865, when the company employed six hundred persons, the production from Potters alone was 7 million pieces. Not that Potters had forgotten traditional wallcovering was still in vogue, because in the mid 1860's they operated sixty five hand block printing tables.

Duty on paper

In many spheres it's the action of the government that can encourage or discourage innovation, it certainly was the case in the move from traditional hand crafted skills of hand block printing to machine printing of wallpaper. It is significant that Potters experimentation of wallpaper printing by machine followed the governmental excise authority's abolition of a punishing taxation on the stainers and their agreement to using rolls of machine made paper rather than sheets in the mid 1830's.

Others besides Potters were experimenting with wallpaper printing by machine, but it was only when the excise allowed continuous rolls of paper to be used that mechanisation could transform the industry. Prior to the introduction of machine made paper, wallpaper was manufactured by pasting together large paper sheets. At what stage rolls of wallpapers became standardised lengths is not known, but by the 19th century, wallpaper was being produced in 12 yard lengths, 22, 22½ or 30 inches wide, except in the colonies where it was eight yards.[2] According to Sugden, twelve sheets were used and the individual sheets were either 'Double demy' or 'Elephant'. In his authoritative work, The Taxation of Paper in Great Britain 1643-1861, Dagnall identifies 'elephant' was 23" by 28", but this would need more than 12 sheets.[3] However, 'double elephant', sized at 26" by 38½" and 'double demy', at 26¾“ by 40" would be suitable.  The latter gives more overlap, but as paper was priced per pound weight, the larger sheet would cost more. The stainers termed a completed 12 yard length of stained paper as a 'piece' and paper manufacturers generally used the term 'Long Elephant', to describe the base paper for wallpaper. A rule of thumb was that a 12 yard piece weighed 1lb.

The stainers were subject to two duties by the excise authorities. The first to be abolished around 1836 was known as 'stainers duty', it was rated at a punitive 1¾d per square yard, roughly equivalent to 12d per piece. The second was depended upon the uses or 'Class' of the paper concerned, it was charged by the paper weight and changed over time, it was repealed in 1861. Even though rolls of machine made paper were available from the 1820's, the excise dictated single sheets of paper to be used and had to be stamped and duty paid before pasting started, wasted paper also paid duty. This meant that rolls of machine made paper had to be cut into sheets to be sold to the stainers, only for them to join them back together. The stainers complained 'pasting very unsightly and causing great expense and trouble', eventually the authorities had a change of heart, the stainers explaining it 'had been refused until the French introduced them'.

A substantial reduction in duty brought about by abolition of the stainers duty would have been welcomed, but for Potters it was the allowance of paper to be used in rolls, that with hindsight can be seen as the major step allowing mechanisation to progress.

The Mills Connected to Potters

There were numerous cotton spinning, weaving, bleaching, dying and printing works sited on the River Darwen and its tributaries and it was at the Belgrave mill in Darwen, that Potters chose to set up their wallpaper manufacturing works.

Belgrave Mill
Potters took over Belgrave mill in 1840, it was already occupied by Edwin Potter and Edward Gregson, both of whom were involved in power loom weaving. Edwin's brothers Charles and Harold, trading as C H & E, set up as wallpaper printers in an unoccupied part of the mill. This was to be the base of the Potters wallpaper printing business for over a century. Securing a good source of paper would have been paramount for a wallpaper business and Hilton's large paper mill was located nearby.

In March 1861 Potters maximum weekly output was 150,000 pieces per week and averaged 110,000 pieces. Assuming each piece weighed 1lb, and 5% wasted paper this equates to an average of about 52 tons of paper was used per week and by 1865 Potters were producing over 20% more.

Hilton's, Darwen Old Paper Mills
Founded in the 1820's by Richard Hilton, a decade later it was producing tissues and hat lining paper. Noted as being 'the most extensive in Great Britain employing upwards of four hundred and fifty hands', at its peak it produced over thirty tons of paper per week.[4] Probably for trials of the new printing processes, in 1840 Potters bought Long Elephant in small quantities at 7d and 8½d per lb. In the early 1840's Hilton's got into financial difficulties, was resurrected, but in 1844 its owners Henry Hilton and Nathaniel Walsh, were in the bankruptcy court.[5] In 1847 the 'Darwen Paper Mills' and its equipment was up for sale.[6] It was then operated by Charles Edmondstone, but his tenure was short lived and by December 1848 he was also in the bankruptcy court and parts, if not the whole, became a cotton mill. [7]

Hollins Mill
By 1844 the Hollins Bleach works had been converted by Potters to make paper. It might seem that a better option may have been to combine a new paper mill with the paper staining works at Belgrave mill, but it may have been quicker to converting an existing mill with its own guaranteed water supply to manufacture paper. Former Hilton employee John Carlisle, became its first manager. By 1851 it was a substantial concern with twenty two beating engines at work.[8] By 1870 it had four paper making machines and a diversified output of wallpaper base, long elephants, newsprint, cartridges, enamel and surfaced coloured papers.[9] Besides the paper makers staple raw material of rags, it also used the relatively recently introduced esparto, with a workforce of 250.

In 1867 there were four paper mills operating in Darwen, they were 'employing 440 workmen and producing paper to the value of £170,000'.[10] Besides Hollins they were, Collins, founded 1861, South Belgrave, founded 1857 and Knott Mill, founded in the early 1840's it also had connections to Potters.

Knott Mill
During the 1830's Knott Mill was run by Edward Gregson for cotton weaving, probably the same man noted above as operating at Belgrave mill and it was in the early 1840's that Charles Potter and Co began making paper there.[11]  In 1845 it was leased to Manchester 'paper hanging' manufacturers T H Ibbotson and A F Langford.[12] In 1865 Thomas Grime, who having worked for Potters as cashier at Hollins Paper Mill for twelve years, 'took leave of the firm and conducted the business as a paper maker at Knott Mill'.[13] [14]

A possible timeline for the events noted above suggests that Potters bought their paper for their wallpaper printing business from Hilton's until its closure in 1843, when understandably they made a decision to open their own paper mill. Following, or just preceding Hilton's closure they engaged former employee of Hilton's, John Carlisle as their Hollins paper mill first manager. Assuming it would take eighteen month to two years to commission the new Hollins paper mill and that Knott Mill was already operating as a paper mill, Knott mill could have been used from 1843 to 1845 to supply paper to Potters, by which time Hollins was up and running. At that stage Knott mill was leased to T H Ibbotson and A F Langford in 1845 to produce base paper for its wallpaper business.[15]  

In the eight years following 1867 paper making was booming in Darwen, by 1875 nine privately owned paper mills and another four limited companies in the neighbourhood were at the planning stage.[16]  Experience in papermaking was easily transferred, for example John Carlisle's experience gained at Hilton's was transferred to Hollins and later to his own mill at Lower Primrose, Clitheroe. Likewise former Potters cashier, Thomas Grime's, move into paper mill ownership at Knott mill. There were also a good number of examples of Potters employees setting up their own successful wallpaper printing businesses.

Competitors and Former Employees

By 1875 four of the country's major suppliers of machine made wallpapers had been founded by former employees of Potters. The first developed an enviable network of dealer's warehouses, which may well have set a blueprint that Potters followed with amicable separation of another three former employees.

 Heywood, Higginbottom Smith and Co, Manchester

Heywood, Higginbottom Smith and Co, commenced paper staining around 1844, almost certainly by machine from the outset. It was partner Robert Smith, was said to have had practical experience of wallpaper manufacture, having 'been trained in Darwen'.[17] As this was early in the development of machine printing, he almost certainly was trained at Potters.

In 1859 it manufactured a substantial 3 million pieces, with a third more employees than Potters in the early 1860's, it could be argued that it was the county's largest wallpaper supplier. Insiders in the industry noted that the competition had a positive effect, suggesting 'a race of emulation between this house and Messrs. Potter, which had the result of greatly developing the trade and improving the character of the machine productions'. In 1865 besides its works in Hyde Road, Ardwick, Manchester, it had warehouses in London, Glasgow, Dublin and Huddersfield, plus a paper mill at Arden Mill, Bredbury, Cheshire. The company had its heydays in the 1860's and 1870's, but it did not have the longevity of Potters and in 1892 the company was wound-up.

Lightbown and Aspinall, Manchester

Working as cashier, Henry Lightbown joined Potters around 1840, having mathematical skills he became involved in their early development of the wallpaper printing machine. He later set up his own paper merchanting business in Manchester in 1847 in partnership with brother-in- law William Aspinall and Doctor Graham. The latter was a partner in Potters and showing a paternal attitude, he lent Lightbown money for the venture. Initially they confined their business to distributing Potters machine made papers, but in 1851 they started a hand block wallpaper printing shop at Pendleton. Harold Potter was a regular visitor to the works and the friendly relationships confirms Potters cooperation rather than competition.

In 1854 Henry Lightbown, his brother James and William Aspinall, set up a new factory at Hayfield Mills, Bredbury. They were quick to install wallpaper print machines and were soon working around the clock. Over the next thirty years the whole site was gradually covered with buildings, many containing print machines, later becoming one of the largest producers of cheap machine-printed wallpapers in Britain. From the early 1870's Henry Lightbown and his three brothers became directors and major shareholders in a number of local paper manufacturing limited companies, but not without a measure of controversy. [18]

Carlisle and Clegg, London

In 1848 Potters opened a warehouse in Islington run by employees Henry Carlisle, traveller, son of former partner in Potters John Carlisle, together with William Clegg, warehouseman. Following a very similar path to Lightbown their business also dealt with Lightbown and Aspinall, and London based Allen and Company, the partners by then having left Potters to become agents. By May 1862 they were manufacturers, noted as being 'all block-printing and piece work', but with expansion in mind in June they were moving premises 'where we shall have machinery'. This was to be the start of their successful venture into machine printing. They exhibited in the London based International Exhibition of 1862, they also won medals in exhibitions in Australia in the 1880's, becoming one of the 'big four' wallpaper suppliers of the later nineteenth century.

William Snape, Darwen

Former chief designer at Potters William Snape set up as strainer at Livesey Fold, Darwen in 1854. As noted above, in 1864 Potters bought William Snape's print works shortly after Snape had taken wallpaper designer James Huntington, as partner. Later that year John Gerald Potter, James Huntington and William Snape became partners in Potters. Livesey works was retained as a separate concern, known as the Darwen Paper Staining, continued under the general management of Potters.

Working conditions

The success of Potters was also in measure due to its employees, but in those less enlightened times the treatment by the stainers of its younger workers was nothing short of abhorrent. This was highlighted in 1862 when the Children's Employment Commission visited hand and machine paper stainers in the North West of England and London.[19] In the published report many details are given about the harsh Dickensian life of boys and girls as young of seven, working up to fourteen hours per day and ninety hours per week. First to be interviewed was J G Potter, who argued to curtail the excessive hours of employment worked by children, he had even drafted his own bill on the subject. His company was not against the idea of child labour, noting  'much of the work connected with paper staining being light and suited for those of tender years', but  Potter himself was adamant it should only be a maximum of six hours per day, provided the child dined before or after work.

Heywood, Higginbottom and Smith, were Potters major competitors and one of its partner's confirmed that 'ours and Potters are, I should say, the largest concerns in the trade', he also suggested 'children do work a great deal too long', but was happy to employ over seventy children acknowledging 'the men and boys are all healthy'. John Gerald Potter, his partner Walmsley Preston, and a number of his senior employees were even more forthcoming, noting that their youngest boy was seven years of age and no employee was over fifty. Preston acknowledged that children often worked fourteen hours a day, some worked full time, which could be of the order of ninety hours per week, while others were employed half time. A full time week was '57½ normal' hours, the remainder was overtime.

Those employed half-time were supposed to split their time between work, which could be morning or afternoon, and school. Preston stated 'We make it a condition of taking them for half-time that they should go to school in their spare time; they may go to any school they like and we pay for the schooling'. Yet the offer of schooling was not widely accepted because 'the lot of parents don't give a screw about education, they are all for the money'. He was overtly critical of the children's parents suggesting 'it is the young marriages that bring the children here so young. Parents marry when they are children themselves and send their children to work as soon as ever they can'. While the children were at work a foreman noted, 'I have to bawl at them to keep them awake, when we are at long overtime. Sometimes a flattering word, and sometimes a cross one, but not often beyond words', presumably the latter few words meant some physical violence also occurred. With such long hours its little surprise that managers noted they could not get children to go to Sunday school even when 'they are overworked in the week, for they lie abed all day to rest'.

Yet it was not always Potters who hired the children, Preston confirming it was the foremen who was responsible for employing the children, saying he was paid 'so much per 1,000 pieces and he hired the children'. Interestingly, the author's father who as a young teenager worked at a cotton weaving company in the early 1920's, was employed on similar conditions. Besides the long hours, the working conditions servicing the machine printers were horrific, particularly associated with the hot exhausts from the fire chambers used to dry the newly printed paper. They made comments such as, 'the room is very hot… above 110 degrees (or 43C). The flues for drying are terribly hot, but the boys only go in there when the paper breaks, to pull it through. This takes 3 or 4 minutes perhaps, and may happen several times a day',  while other parts are 'nearly as hot as the flues, and the boy has to be up in them a score of times and more a day to feed the fires'.  Servicing the machines was relentless throughout the day, some jobs allowed meal breaks to be taken outside the mill, but not if working on the machines, where everyone had to have food and drink alongside the machine. This was not the case for hand block printers, who were in comparative luxury being allowed breaks of up to 1½ hours.

The commission took place during the cotton famine associated with the American Civil War, which somewhat strangely impacted positively on the stainers, as it was noted they found it easier to source younger boys for employment. They acknowledged that cotton factories previously paid better  'If factories were busy now we should scarcely have a boy ', weaving on two looms paid boys of fourteen 12/- per week, Potters paid less at 11/6d. Girls who were employed as winders to hand roll the finished paper were paid much less at 5s to 7s, while number stampers only 3/-. At hand printers Scott, Cuthbertson and Whitelands, Chelsea, boys earned 4/9d.

At Lightbowns and Aspinall's they had unspecified concerns about employing girls and women, 'We have no females here; if we don't have any their morals can't be corrupted. I don't know how they manage at other houses but we thought it safer without them'. Whilst at their hand-printing supplier Ropers, the owner noted his men were 'very irregular. One I had, worked a week and drank a week alternatively for 10 weeks and then I sent him off'.  It is a regular thing with them to take the Monday as a holiday, but I don't let them work overtime to make up'.

The London trade was predominantly hand block printing, while the North West was mainly machine printing, the latter never worked beyond 2pm on Saturday, but this was not always the case in London. The larger machine printers in the North West all commented on the seasonal nature of their work, with a peak around Christmas. For block-printer and machine printer, Allan and Co, of London the peak was January and February, for Potters November to April, while Lightbown stated for four months of the year, workers 'when not employed …will just go adrift'.

A number of health related issues were identified by London's hand block printers James Toleman, they noted 'we do suffer from weak sight. Every printer over 40, I would say, does', but despite this 'the men don't wear spectacles for fear that it should be thought they were unfit for their work and so be discharged'. This view was contradicted at Holmes and Aubert, who said that 'my father is 70-odd … there's Phelps too, he is 80' and at Erwood's they suggested the eye strain was less arduous, 'not like fine needlework, or small print, where you look continuously' while 'an average worker will put his block on to the print perhaps 40 times in 8 minutes, and each time he has to fit the pin to the gauge'.  They also suggested a more likely cause 'if a block-printer's eyes suffered, it was from drink not work' and drunkenness was mentioned on nearly every one of the twenty five or so visit to stainers in London.

Another health issue related to the use of emerald green colour made from aprocos of arsenic (an arsenic derivative), and other problems were from red and white lead, turpentine and flocking materials.  A book carried by the commissioners identified the symptoms of poisoning in this industry, it noted stainers suffered loss of appetite and headaches due to the arsenic and white lead, sickness from Prussian blue colour and arsenic, made worse when mixed the turpentine. Also a fine dust while making flock borders affected respiration. It also identified eyesight was an issue, particularly as the stainers approached 50 years of age. The combination of these factors meant longevity was an issue, the commission stated 'there are a few cases of aged paper stainers. We heard of a solitary case of a man now living at the age of 55, but he has not been able to follow the employ for the last five years'


Potters development of machine printing of wallpaper occurred at a time of change, not only was machine printing of paper advancing apace, but the removal of stainers duty and the allowance by excise authorities of the use of continuous rolls of paper provided a huge fillip. Cheaper machine made paper and the vast increase in production levels opened a new market and prices dropped dramatically. The patent that protected machine printing allowed Potters a lead, but competition was closely behind them and for a while arguably overtook them.

The history of the styles and nature of the patterns used lie outside the scope of this article, but sufficient to say up to 1875 the closely knit Potters family continued to provide the public with new designs at affordable prices, such that by 1865 something like 2,000 new patterns per year were issued from Belgrave from a total of 6,000 patterns. So perhaps the most appropriate concluding sentence relates to the importance of the consumer.

Taken from an article in the Manchester City News and Salford Hundred Advertiser, of 3rd June, 1865, its titled Lancashire Workshops, C and J G Potters and Co. and coincided with J G Potter's standing for Parliament the following July.[20] It states:
'It is not necessary here to remind a good housewife, whatever station she may occupy, how much more of the feeling of comfort and pleasure she enjoys when she has the several apartments under her care decorated with a clean, a cheerful and a tastefully designed paperhanging', and Potters wallpaper designs fulfilled that aim in spades.[21]


[1] Sugden A V and Entwisle E A, Potters of Darwen 1839 to 1939 - A Century of Wallpaper Printing By Machinery, 1939

[2] The information regarding wallpaper widths kindly provided by Peter Bower

[3] Dagnall H, The Taxation of Paper in Great Britain 1643-1861, 1998, pp.26-27

[4] Bradshaw's Journal, Volume 3, 1842, p.35

[5] The London Gazette, 27 August 1844, Issue 20377, p.3001

[6] Blackburn Standard, 2 June 1847, p.1

[7] The London Gazette, 23 November 1852, Issue 21383, p.3287

[8] Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Volume 51, p.3

[9] Rothwell M, Industrial Heritage of Darwen, 1992, p.55

[10] Abram W A, A History of Blackburn, Town and Parish, 1877, p.492

[11] Rothwell, p.55

[12] Directory of Manchester & Salford, 1853, p.446

[13]  Preston Herald, 11 December 1886, p.11

[14] Malley M, Thomas Grime and the Knott Mill (Darwen) Paper Company Limited, Darwen. 1873 to 1882, The Quarterly, The Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians (BAPH), Forthcoming

[15] Rothwell M, p.55

[16] Manchester Evening News, 8 January 1873, p.3

[17] A V Sugden and J L Edmondson, A history of English wallpaper, 1509-1914, p.204 

[18] Malley M, Five Paper Company Foundations on the River Roddlesworth, Darwen. 1873 to 1882, The Quarterly, Forthcoming

[19]  Sugden and Entwisle, p.107

[20] Sugden and Entwisle, p.106

[21] For full article see: Malley M, Potters of Darwen, Quarterly, BAPH , Vol 118, April 2012, p.11

Mike Malley, published on Cotton Town, October 2022
Mike is a member of the British Association of Paper Historians

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​​​​Thomas Grime and The Kn​ott Mill (Darwen) Paper Company Limited​

Thomas Grime led an eventful life.
Born at Darwen in 1826 he lived until May 1895, when a newspaper report précises his life as follows (1).  His first job, possibly aged ten or younger, was in a cotton mill working from 5.30am to 8 and 9pm.  Next he worked as a clerk on the railways and around his twenty first birthday he was promoted to a station manager. In 1852 his career took a change when he joined papermakers and eminent paper stainers, C J and G Potter at Hollins Paper Mill as cashier (2).  He impressed sufficiently to be promoted and after twelve years in 1865 he ‘took leave of the firm and conducted the business as a paper maker at Knott Mill’. Knott Mill was said to have been previously operated by Potters and Co whose paper staining business was going from strength to strength. It is likely that Knott paper mill was supplying Potters with paper before their more modern Belgrave paper mill was commissioned and accounts for Grime’s business partner being Potters director Doctor Aspinall (3)
Yet as interesting as Grime’s business life it is his kinship links which identifies how Darreners not only took advantage of change in the paper and wallpaper industry, but demonstrates a compassion whose story is worthy of telling.

Darwen’s Spirit of Intelligent Enterprise
Grime took the leading role at the paper mill, but after ten years and aged only about fifty he had ‘a wish to retire’, which proved to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment, more of which later. During this decade the business became known as Thomas Grime and Nephew but to fulfil his desire it was incorporated in January 1875 to become the Knott Mill (Darwen) Paper Company Limited. It had £30,000 share capital in £5 divisions and the first company directors and their shareholding were as follows.

Thomas Grime​Paper Maker​Darwen​​100
John Tomlinson​​Coal Merchant
William Tomlinson​​Coal Merchant
James Carter​​Lime Burner
James Bromley​​Printer
William Isherwood​​Paper Stainer 
Richard Dickinson​Coal Agent​Bolton​100​

I previously identified a mania for founding limited liability paper manufacturing companies occurred in Lancashire in the mid 1870’s, when twenty five were incorporated in a twenty month period from
1873 to 1875 (4).    These  ‘mania-mills’ were not founded due to any commensurate increase in paper use, rather it was the relatively new limited company legislation that was being used and in many cases manipulated, to produce a helter-skelter of paper manufacturing company foundations, many with connections to Darwen. 

The prospectus for the company was published in local newspapers and it identified that Grime wished to retire (5).  It also noted that the comments made by the influential Mr T.Browning , secretary of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce that  ‘the profits from the firm had exceeded 25% per annum’, further suggesting that ‘the concern is an exceptionally safe and prosperous one’. By April 1875, all 6,000 shares had been sold and Grime was the largest shareholder. Even though he had previously spent about £3,500 installing new boilers, machinery and buildings, it was probably still an outdated mill reliant upon some machinery left by Potters and the new company spent an additional £9,800 in buildings and machinery (6).  But it is not known if the speculative advertisement in December 1875 for a new or second hand Yankee paper machine for the mill in the Glasgow press was successful (7).  

The new company published its first results for a period of twenty one weeks on July 24 1875, it showed a gross profit of £1,285, less £400 for depreciation, a legal bill of £22 and a £97 payment for the Managing Director Thomas Grime, resulting in a dividend of 15.5% or 2s 6d per share (8).  Leaving the 220 shareholders optimistic for the future, but this was not to last!

There are no other references from the mill until 1880, when it is clear that in the intervening four years something had gone badly wrong, because by March 1880 about a quarter of its shares had been forfeited, losing the owners almost £4,000. Worse was to follow when in December 1880 a petition to wind-up the company came from creditor, John Whittam Bretherick, of Over Darwen, Mechanical Engineer (9).  Following the failure of the company, Thomas Grime, by virtue of money owed to him on mortgage took over the business. Trading as Thomas Grime and Company he continued for another nine years. However, in March 1889, Grime aged about sixty three was again at the Blackburn bankruptcy court. In the creditor’s meeting it was noted he owed £11,942, an outstanding mortgage of £4,000, with assets of £10,150, (10).  In 1890 it was confirmed that the mill was out of operation, having 60, 72 and 80 inch paper making machines, previously producing long elephants (a base paper for wallpaper), purple hands, browns and glazed casings. (11,12)
Grime’s Agreement with the Knott Mill (Darwen) Paper Company Limited
For the Knott mill incorporation we are fortunate to have a copy of the original agreement between Grime and the new company, it provides some information as to how the incorporation progressed and identifies that Grime was to be the chief beneficiary.(13)  

The most obvious benefit he received was the £20,000 purchase price, £10,000 to be paid within six weeks of signing the agreement and the other £10,000 could either be paid to him later, or be loaned for a minimum period of twelve months to the new company against a mortgage secured on the property as collateral. If the company exercised this option Grime would receive a guaranteed 5% interest per annum.  He was also required to remain as unpaid managing director for six months, only receiving commission equating to 25% of all dividends paid to shareholders over and above the rate of 7.5% per annum. The agreement also stipulated he could continue as managing director, but if not he would impart all his ‘secrets related to papermaking’.  A clause in the sale agreement required Grime ‘not to carry-on the business of papermaker in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire for the term of five years’, but this clause was broken only three months after the incorporation, when in April 1875 he was declared as a provisional director of the Heap Bridge Paper Mill Company in Bury.(14)  

Grime would also receive dividends from the 500 shares he was obliged to buy for the period whilst remaining as managing director and with the profits from the previous firm having exceeded 25% per annum the future prospect looked rosy, but this was not the case.  By April 1876 he was the largest individual shareholder, but in 1880 when the shares were worthless, he was left with 150 now valueless shares, so whatever profit he made in earlier sales would have been lost.  

So despite three stints at running the mill Grime and all his ‘paper making secrets’ could not secure Knott mills future, but another thread of Grimes story shows a more successful  and humanistic side to the man and his relatives.

Thomas Grime and The Carlisle Family 
In a previous article I identified that former and current employees of Potters and Co, paper stainers of Darwen,  went on to establish their own world class wallpaper companies, in that case it was Henry Lightbown and Doctor Aspinall.(15)  Thomas Grime did not produce wallpaper, but with his contacts to Potters and Co, he probably produced base paper for wallpaper for them, he also had a number of relations who made an impact in the paper industry. 

I earlier noted that before incorporation the Knott mill was trading as Thomas Grime and Nephew and the nephew in question was Charles Henry Carlisle, whose father was papermaker John Carlisle, who married Grime’s sister. John’s  illustrious career in the wallpaper industry began at C. H. and E. Hiltons in Darwen, ‘the most extensive (paper mill and colliery) in Great Britain employing upwards of four hundred and fifty hands’, firstly as apprentice, then manager and finally partner from 1857 to 1864, when he was appointed manager at Hollins Paper Mill.(16)    The Hollin’s Bleach Works in Darwen had been taken-over for conversion to making the paper used in wallpaper production by Charles and Harold Potter in the 1840’s. 

That the Grime and Carlisle families were close was graphically illustrated when Grime’s sister tragically died just after childbirth and in a completely self-sacrificing act, John Carlisle allowed Thomas Grime to adopt the baby boy, Albert Carlisle Grime.  John Carlisle’s family included at least three other sons by two mothers, who also made prosperous futures.  By the time of John’s death in August 1887, his will noted their employment as follows.(17)  Henry Carlisle, of 3, Marquess-road, Canonbury,  North London, Paper Stainer.  John Webster Carlisle, of Primrose House, Clitheroe, Paper Maker. Charles Henry Carlisle, of 51, Threadneedle-street, in the city of London, Stock Broker. I shall now outline the business success enjoyed by the four brothers, starting with adoptee Albert Carlisle Grime. 

Albert joined his adopted father in business as a paper merchant, trading as Thomas Grime and Son, which he later ran on his own behalf.(18)  He married Miss Dray, the only daughter of the late Mr. George Dray who was an Alderman of the City of London and head of the firm of Messrs. G. W. Dray and Sons, Limited, paper makers and printers.(19)  Having an underlying health issue he died in February 1898 at the young age of thirty two, leaving a widow and one child. The Dray company was founded in 1856 as a printing company with its main base in Newcastle.(20)  The Drayton Paper Works opened in Sullivan Road, Fulham in 1910 and gained notoriety for manufacturing the first toilet paper in rolls in the UK, rather than the single sheets as was the norm at that time. The factory also made paper carrier bags, wrapping paper and high quality envelopes. 
John Webster Carlisle worked alongside his father at the Lower Primrose Paper Mill at Clitheroe, later taking over the reins. The mill had been founded by John Carlisle in 1872 and by 1890 the mill had 90 and 112 inch machines producing Newsprint, Printing and Long Elephants, by 1903 it was only the larger machine that was running.(21) 

Thomas Grime’s former partner at Knott Mill, Charles Henry Carlisle, was a partner in Thomson and Carlisle, Stocks and Share Brokers. Other than suggesting the choice of this profession may have come about from the share mania seen in and around Darwen, I am unable to add any additional details to his career.

Henry Carlisle was a paper stainer in partnership in the firm of Carlisle and Clegg, both were former natives of Darwen and both gained their experience while working at Potters (22).  The company started in Islington as block-printers with warehousing, later becoming wallpaper machine printers, dealing extensively with fellow Darreners, Potters and Lightbown and Aspinall. They exhibited in the International Exhibition of 1862 and the company won medals in other exhibitions in Australia in the 1880’s. The company became one of the ‘big four’ wallpaper suppliers of the late nineteenth century. Both founding partners died in 1888.

Thomas Grime was the driving force behind the incorporation of Knott Mill and his timing was impeccable, because it is almost certain that had he decided to sell only one or two years later, when so many failed limited and family owned paper mills were advertised for sale, he would have found buyers less forthcoming. Yet the depth of the trade depression and the excessive competition would have exceeded even his expectations. Grime, as President of the Paper Makers Association of Lancashire Yorkshire and Midland Counties was well placed to comment.  Just as Knott Mill was heading for bankruptcy in December 1879 Grime took the chair at a meeting of paper makers from ‘Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and elsewhere’, to seek measures to help the industry as ‘a price rise in the price of paper becomes imperatively necessary’ (23).  The outcome was a move to increase the selling price of papers ‘because of a general increase in materials and chemicals’, agreeing to an increase of at least 1/2d per pound for news, print and fine glazed, plus 3s per cwt for brown and shop papers. It’s no surprise that all in attendance agreed, but with cutthroat competition it could only prove futile.

Another article draws to a close commenting upon the special place Darwen had in the growth of paper making and wallpaper manufacture in the United Kingdom. Not all of its private or limited paper mills were successful, some quickly fell by the wayside, many failed and were resurrected, while others prospered. Yet my lasting memory of this article will not be the facts of papermaking, but the compassion shown by John Carlisle in allowing his brother-in-law to adopt his son, a particular poignant memory.


[1] Preston Herald, 11 December 1886, p.11

[2] Preston Herald - 25 May 1895 p2

[3] https://www.cottontown.org/Politics/Mayors/Pages/Darwen-Mayors.aspx#01

[4]  Malley M, The Illusive Silver Lining: The Rise and Fall of the Lancashire Limited Paper Companies, Volume 11 of The British Association of Paper Historians Monograph, 2017

[5] Preston Herald, 02 January 1875, p.1

[6] Blackburn Standard, 23 March 1889, p.7

[7] Glasgow Herald, 09 December 1875, p.2

[8] Preston Herald, 24 January 18756, p.3

[9] The London Gazette, 14 December 1880, Issue 24913, page 6744

[10] Blackburn Times, 12 January 1889, p.8

[11]Rothwell M, Industrial Heritage of Darwen, 1992, p.55

[12] By the 19th century, Long Elephant was being produced in 12 yard lengths, 22, 22½  or 30 inches wide, which are wallpaper sizes, but originally it was a wrapping paper size. Information courtesy of Peter Bower

[13] Public Record Office (PRO) BT 31/2062/9091

[14] PRO BT 31/2100/9475

[15] Five Paper Company Foundations on the River Roddlesworth, Darwen. 1873 to 1882, with The British Association of Paper Historians

[16] Potters of Darwen, 1839-1939, Alan Victor Sugden, privately printed, 1939, p.24

[17] The London Gazette, 16 October 1888, Issue 25866, page 5668

[18] Blackburn Standard, 19 February 1898, p.6

[19] South London Press, 03 June 1893, p.3

[20] http://cosgb.blogspot.com/2012/08/drayton-paper-works.html

[21] The Paper Mill Directory of England, Scotland and Ireland for 1890 and 1914, Simpkin, Marshal, Hamilton, Kent and Company, (London)

[22] Sugden A V and Edmondson J L, A History of English Wallpaper 1509-1914 ,(London), p.216

[23] Manchester Times, 06 December 1879, p.6​

By kind permission of Mike Malley, published on Cotton Town December 2022
Mike is a member of the British Association of Paper Historians

Fifty Years of Paper Making at Samlesbury Paper Mil​l​

The cotton spinning mill located at Samlesbury Bottoms, near Blackburn was located on the River Darwen, it operated in the eighteenth century and continued to run until the mid-1870's. The 1860's and 1870's saw a huge increase in new large spinning mills in Lancashire, fitted with the latest machinery they were capable of a huge production, to the disadvantage of older mills. The last owner of the Samlesbury cotton mill prior to its conversion to paper manufacture in 1875 was Blackburn cotton manufacturer, Pickering and Abbott, whose main business was at Quay Street Mill and it was Thomas Abbott who was the linchpin in the Samlesbury mill's conversion to manufacture paper.

The arrival of the purchaser, the Samlesbury Paper Mill Company Limited, was announced in a fanfare in the local press, having respectable Blackburn and Darwen businessmen in charge, many would have believed it a safe place to invest - how wrong they were. Bankrupt within thirty months, its ninety or so shareholders, its equipment suppliers and its money lenders would quickly regret their involvement

The Records
The Defunct Company Archives held at the Public Record Office provides the following outline information on the company's short operation.(1) The Samlesbury Paper Mill Company Limited was founded with £25,000 share capital in £5 divisions. It was first registered on 30 March 1875 and wound-up 1 Oct 1877.(2)

First Directors and shareholding were:

Abode​Shares at Incorporation​Shares 02 Aug 1875​Shares 17 Aug 1876​
​Elijah Knowles
Cotton Spinner​Over Darwen​100​100​
​Joseph Watson
Commision Agent​Blackburn​100​100​
​Edwin Hamer
​James Ingram
​Roll Coverer

​Edward Ruston
​Thomas Abbot
​Cotton Spinner
​Thomas James Hargreaves

By 2 August 1875 a total of 2,992 shares had been taken-up and £2 per share had been called-up, the share capital raised was £5,628. Just over sixty of the ninety five shareholders were from Blackburn.
In the Memo of Association compiled at incorporation the directors 'resolve upon borrowing money … as they think fit either by mortgage of the whole or any part of the property of the Company, or by debentures, bonds, notes or otherwise, and may borrow … provided that the total amount of such borrowed money shall never exceed the sum of £10,000.' In a special resolution of 13 September 1876 the company increased this amount stating that '£10,000 be omitted and £20,000 substituted', more of which later.

The Helter- Skelter Of Limited Company Foundations in Lancashire and its Aftermath
I previously identified a mania for founding limited liability paper manufacturing companies occurred in Lancashire in the mid 1870's, when twenty five were incorporated in a twenty month period from 
1873 to 1875. (3) These  'mania-mills' were not founded due to any commensurate increase in paper use, rather it was the relatively new limited company legislation that was being used and in many cases manipulated, to produce a helter-skelter of paper manufacturing company foundations, many with connections to Blackburn and Darwen. Of these mills around 50% were built from new, 25% were previously privately owned paper mills and the remainder were mills operating in another trade, of which four or so were cotton spinning mills.
The prospectus for the Samlesbury Paper Mill Company was published in local newspapers, it identifies that £17,500 was to be paid to the vendor and 2,000 of the 5,000 shares were reserved for 'the vendor and his friends'.(4) The vendor in question would have been former owner, Thomas Abbott. It also identified the provisional directors as:
  • Thomas Abbott, (Messrs. Pickering and Abbott), cotton spinner and manufacturer, Blackburn. William Chambers, Colliery Proprietor, Blackburn.
  • Giles Parkinson, Cotton Waste Dealer, Blackburn.
  • John Taylor, jun. Paper Manufacturer, Darwen.
  • B. Knowles. (E. and T. Knowles), Cotton Spinner and Manufacturer, Blackburn and Darwen
The purpose of the prospectus was simply a vehicle intended to attract share investors and with little legislation covering their legality, liberties were taken. For example, the Samlesbury prospectus notes five respected businessmen as provisional directors who would have been well known in the area. Yet significantly four did not take up the appointment and the first board of directors included four with little business experience. In the share mania occurring in Blackburn and Darwen, recognition of the individuals involved was crucial in selecting incorporations to fund. In particular the reassurance given to investors by having Paper Manufacturer John Taylor, as director would have been paramount, instead the board with two auctioneers, a commission agent, a roll coverer and cashier was decidedly lightweight. So it is fair to say shareholders in Samlesbury paper mill were duped.

Vendor Thomas Abbott, would have been the driving force behind the incorporation and his timing was impeccable. If his mill had been offered for sale only eighteen months to two years later, at the start of an economic depression it would not have been sold, but in 1875 and 1876 credit was readily available. Lenders competed against each other, providing mortgages with only cursory examination of the property, sometimes with none at all, as in this case most arrived at an inflated value which could not be achieved in the event of a downturn in the economy. The individual who valued many properties that became incorporated paper mills, including Samlesbury, was Samlesbury director to be Edwin Hamer. As it would have been Abbott who was to pay all costs prior to Incorporation, in valuing the property Hamer was actually working for the seller and time and time again Hamer estimated high values which benefited the vendor. Of course it also guaranteed Hamer further employment of this kind. But in an economic downturn when assets such as these lost value, it also guaranteed a shortfall when mortgages were foreclosed as bankruptcy loomed.

With also a mania for new limited liability cotton spinning mills in Lancashire occurring from the 1850's onwards, by 1874 the Samlesbury cotton mill, with outdated equipment would have been uneconomic and Thomas Abbott would have been well aware of the events at a larger, 35,000 spindle spinning mill at Catterall, near Garstang.(5) There another new company, the Catterall Paper Making and Cotton Spinning Co Ltd was also about to be incorporated and Blackburn Cotton Spinner and Manufacturer Thomas Livesey, was to be paid a substantial £18,500. It's not difficult to imagine fellow cotton manufacturers talking to each other and Abbott wanting to join the gravy-train, however, the economics of the Samlesbury start- up looked fatally flawed from the outset.

With around eighteen months required to equip and commission the paper mill, it could only have been producing paper for a matter of months before a winding- up petition was raised on 23 July 1877 and the reason for its speedy demise can be derived from events at a nearby mill. (6) The Feniscowles Paper Mill Company spent £47,000 to install two machines and equipment in new buildings, in which case the cost for converting the Samlesbury mill to a one machine paper mill would have been no less than about £18,000. (7) I noted earlier that the articles of association initially allowed the Samlesbury company £10,000 of loans, but likely coinciding with the end of the conversion in July 1876, this was increased to £20,000 and the money would have been badly needed.

If we assume Abbott left £7,500 on mortgage with the company, its balance sheet would show a share capital of £5,628 plus borrowings of £20,000. On the negative side would be a £10,000 purchase payment to Abbott and about £18,000 conversion cost, so overall a shortfall of over £2,000. Perhaps the company's banker would have provided a small amount of unsecured capital and if Abbott forewent his mortgage interest, the mill could have been built. However, when complete working capital would be required to pay for raw materials and wages, or more likely goods were supplied on credit, but by 1877 competition in the paper industry had become cutthroat. Profits became non-existent and as a trade depression took hold loans dried up, in these circumstances creditor's patience ran out and the inevitable bankruptcy proceedings commenced at Samlesbury in July 1877. Two months later the mill, including horses Speedy, Duke and Bally were for sale.(8)  The advertisement noted the site was divided into a Higher and Lower mills, one of which had operated as a cotton spinning mill let to the firm of McAlyn and Taylorson, whose business was also liquidated in September 1877.(9)

Purchasers of the business could now buy all the assets, but with none of the debts. Around 50% of the mania mills were up for sale in the late 1870's and they offered the opportunity to purchase a paper mill including modern paper making machines and ancillaries at a fraction of the money already expended. Because of the economic downturn it was only in July 1879 that the paper trade press reported that Messrs Isherwood and Brindle of Darwen have purchased Samlesbury and intend to produce brown paper, promising  'the mill will start forthwith'. (10) By 1890 they were manufacturing 'browns, shop papers and casing's' on its 76" wide machine and producing 22 tons per week.(11)

In 1898 the ownership of the mill changed as Isherwood left the business to establish Isherwood Brothers paper mill at the Red Turkey Dye Works, Simonstone, near Burnley and the Samlesbury mill briefly traded as Brindle and Mather. By 1900 Brindle and Isherwood registered a new company with a nominal £20,000 share capital and G. Brindle and H. Isherwood became its first directors. This was a private limited company where the share sales were restricted to family members as follows:
  • G. Brindle, Darwen. paper maker
  • J. Isherwood, Blackpool, paper maker
  • H. Isherwood, Pleasington, paper maker
  • Joseph Isherwood, Preston, paper maker
  • Mrs. E. A. Brindle, Darwen
  • Miss M. Brindle, Darwen
  • Miss B. Brindle, Darwen

Both George Brindle and John Isherwood were from Darwen and both were paper merchants and had been involved in successful paper mill incorporations at the Darwen Paper Company Limited, incorporated February 1871 and the Burnley Paper Works Co Ltd. incorporated April 1875.

BY 1903 the mills 76" wide machine had an increased output of 30 tons per week.(12) Around this time the mill came in for praise as author A. D. Spicer reported, 'The principle alterations have been speeding up machinery and keeping abreast of the times, so production of one machine is double what it was 20 years ago'.(13) He also identified the output was limited to producing only brown paper because of its water quality, suggesting 'Brindle and Mather, now work rags for brown paper, the water being not of the best description, and therefore more suitable for this quality of paper'. Upstream there were ten paper mills operating twenty five or so paper making machines, meaning the amounts of effluent discharged into the River Darwen was immense. Latterly those using esparto and pulp as feedstocks generated particularly harmful effluents and other cotton mills such as dying and printing were particularly polluting and using only river water to make paper, it would easily affect paper quality. Not only did local authorities and landowners bring cases of river pollution to court, but paper mills prosecuted other paper mills. For example the nearby Withnell paper mill was forced to close by the downstream Star paper mill and papermaker Thomas Grime of Knott paper mill won £1,775 damages against the upstream, Spring Vale paper mill.(14) Samlesbury was also having difficulties in 1894 when a report identifies local authorities were prepared to give the mill additional time to complete settling tanks for their effluent, because the mill was alarmingly, 'destroyed by fire'.(15)

Without detailed business records it is not possible to make definitive statements about the financial health of the Samlesbury Paper Mill under Brindles ownership, but with a doubling of paper production and with lower overheads than many of the bigger paper mills, at least it survived. For Oakenclough paper mill, near Garstang, for which such detailed records do survive, the First World War provided a huge stimulus to profits. Changing its output to suit the war effort provided capital to invest in the future. This may also have occurred at the Samlesbury Paper Mill because by 1923 and renamed Brindle  &  Son,  Ltd had again increased production, this time to 50 tons per week and enlarged its range of products, now including kraft papers, cotton samplings, cash bag manillas (sic), chalk drawing papers, twist casings,
bag and rope brown.(16)

The later history of the company lies outside this study, but as noted above small privately owned paper mills could survive, if not necessary prosper into the second half of the twentieth century. Documents held at Lancashire Record Office could confirm if Samlesbury was one such example.(17)

1] Public Record Office (PRO), BT 31/2088/9349
[2] The London Gazette, 2 October 1877, issue 24508, p.5484
[3] Malley M, The Illusive Silver Lining: The Rise and Fall of the Lancashire Limited Paper Companies, Volume 11 of The British Association of Paper Historians Monograph, 2017
[4] Preston Herald, 6 March 1875, p.1
[5] PRO, BT31 2094/9418
[6] The London Gazette, 27 July 1877, issue 244878, p.4436
[7] Blackburn Standard, 28 October 1882, p.5
[8] Manchester Courier, 21 September 1877, p.1
[9] The London Gazette, 28 September 1877, issue 24507, p.5446
[10] The Paper Makers Circular, July 1879
[11] Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co. Ltd, The Paper Mills Directory of England, Scotland and Ireland. (London 1890). 
[12] Lancashire Record Office (LRO), QSP/4677/13 - Ratings of Paper Mills in the County of Lancashire c1903.
[13] A D Spicer, The Paper Trade, 1907. A Descriptive and Historical, Survey of the Paper Trade, from the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century. (London 1907), p.203
[14] Preston Herald, 15 April 1885, p.7
[15]  Manchester Courier, 23 May 1894, p.7
[16] Phillips' paper trade directory of the world,  1923, Phillips (S.C.) and Co., ltd., (London), p.13
[17] LRO. Samlesbury Paper Mill Ltd. Sales catalogue and associated papers. DDX 3209/1/696, 1966

​​​By kind permission of Mike Malley, published January 2023​
Mike is a member of the British Association of Paper Historians