Research of Sarah Tanner


One hundred years ago Wiggins Teape purchased Chafford Mill, Fordcombe near Penshurst and Tunbridge Wells in Kent and after co

CHAFFORD MILL (a short history)

          by Sarah Tanner

[This was incorporated into an article co-written with Daven Chamberlain that appeared in ‘The Quarterly’  the Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians No 57 in February 2006 – 100 years after Wiggins Teape (now Arjo Wiggins) purchased the mill in 1906  ]




On Wednesday 17th September 1834    The Princess Victoria wrote in her Journal

‘At 10 we went to Mr Turner’s paper mill near Speldhurst with lady Flor, Lehzen, Lady Conroy, Victoire, The Dean of Chester and Sir J.C. [John Conroy]. It was very curious.  We came home at 1’[1] , and it was curiosity that led me to research the history of the mill to try and ascertain why Wiggins Teape purchased Chafford 100 years ago.


During its 160 year history as a paper mill Chafford was unsuccessfully advertised for sale on many occasions. Situated at Fordcombe, which was until 1848 in the parish of  Penshurst, it was near the turnpike road,  four miles from Tunbridge Wells about the same from Tonbridge and thirty four miles from London. The mill was worked by a stream branching from the River Medway and by an excellent spring sufficient to work both vats in the dry season.[2]   Due to its very rural location transport cannot have been easy. Records survive from the 1820s that show the Medway was used to transport coal and freight via the wharf at Tonbridge and during 1843 rags from London.[3]  After it opened in 1842 deliveries were made to Penshurst railway station, but this was about three miles away at Chiddingstone Causeway.


The first mention of paper was in May 1756 when Oliver Stidolph took out a Sun Fire Insurance Policy ‘for £600 on his paper, falling and corn mills all under one roof and the stock therein not exceeding £400’.[4]  His son William was shown as a papermaker when he took an apprentice in 1762 and ‘the paper mill and all other buildings and premises of about 15 acres in the tenure and occupation of Oliver Stidolph and William Stidolph  was sold to Robert Crofsely in the sum of £800 for 1000 years in December 1767[5]’, the 18th century equivalent of a mortgage.


Oliver died in 1769 and in October 1772 William took out another Sun Life Insurance policy for £1000 on the buildings and £500 on the stock.[6]  


By 1781 William was borrowing money  and it was at this point he became indebted to James Taylor for £2000. In January 1782 another creditor Stephen Monkton called in the debts at the Court of Kings Bench in Westminster[7] and this resulted in a proposed sale of Chafford, details of which appeared in the Kentish Gazette dated 7th and 10th of August.  However, it did not sell and in July 1783 Robert Crossley the younger, George Mills, Stephen Woodgate, Thomas Horton and William Stidolph  on the one part entered into an indenture with James Taylor and Thomas Swayne.  However by March 1785 the accumulation of debt forced William Stidolph into bankruptcy[8] and once more the mill was put up for sale[9] but again with no success.


William Stidolph ceased paying rates on Chafford from 1785 and it appears that during this period the mill was run by the mill manager,  a man named Demeza, on behalf of  James Taylor and Thomas Swayne. In 1786 the Mill was again advertised for sale in the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser[10], but no sale took place. James Taylor died in 1787 and it was his executor and son-in-law William Elgar who purchased the mill the following year when the ‘estate and premises shall be put up for public sale at the Bell in Maidstone on Thursday the 6th of March next at 12 noon by the said Thomas Swayne or some person on his behalf at the sum of £1400 and that in case no person shall not bid more for the same the said William Elgar shall be adjudged purchaser thereof at that price[11].  It also stated in the agreement that Elgar was allowed to match any outside bids providing he covered the costs and charges as well.


The earliest paper seen is a white sheet watermarked W Stidolph on an overseas document for Teston in Kent dated 1778[12] and, according to the Tunbridge Well Guide of 1780 the mill was making fine writing papers and were employed in making cartridge papers to supply the ordinance at the Tower of London, although there appears to be no existing documents to substantiate the latter.  From 1795 land tax documents survive on watermarked sheets made at Chafford[13] and in 1796 Jane Austen used a sheet marked Elgar & Son when writing to Cassandra Austen.[14] The artist Joseph Mallord William Turner RA used white wove drawing paper marked W Elgar 1796 for a drawing of Blair Atholl[15] on a trip to Scotland c1801.


William Turner took over the mill in 1796[16] and in 1803 was employing 13 men[17]. Tax papers survive from 1802 bearing the mark W Turner  and in 1811 W Turner & Son[18], and there are several surviving letters written by Jane Austen between 1813-15 bearing this mark[19].  William’s sons George William and Richard took over the running of the Mill in 1817[20] although he continued to be involved with the business until his death in 1828.   The mark G & R Turner is rare although there is a land tax assessment paper for Penshurst Hall Borough dated 1821[21].


Turner & Co were also running Mill No 117 at Blue Anchor Lane Bermondsey but little is known about this business.  In 1830 the partnership at Chafford between George William and Richard was dissolved[22] with Richard staying at Chafford and George continuing at Bermondsey until 1835 when he went bankrupt[23].


In 1831 George William Turner, ‘an English paper-maker, obtained a patent for a peculiar strainer, designed to arrest the lumps mixed with the finer paper-pulp, whereby he could dispense with the usual vat and hog in which the pulp is agitated immediately before it is floated upon the endless wire web of the Fourdrinier apparatus. It could also be applied advantageously to hand paper machines.’[24] Subsequently in 1837 he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Fourdrinier’s Patent[25] saying that ‘although it was claimed that the Fourdrinier machine would do the work of five hand-made vats, it was capable of doing  seven vat's work, and he frequently did this amount in his own mill’.  By this time he was no longer at Bermondsey and the Fourdrinier was obviously at Chafford,  although it was probably not installed until c1820 as it was not included as one of the early licencees on the list that was produced for the committee.


Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1833  drafted some of his poems  on plain white wove paper watermarked R Turner Chafford Mills, there are ten sheets measuring 23 cm. wide and 18.5 cm. tall; each sheet folded in half to make four pages 11.5 cm wide, and the first and third pages have a circular boss in the upper left-hand corner with a crown in the middle and the words "London" above the crown and "Superfine" below it. A pencil note (E.T.) indicates that this fragment is in Emily Tennyson's hand and begins with a stanza of "In Memoriam:"[26]

In the inland revenue replies of collectors of taxes for cutting paper into half sheets in 1845 it states that Richard Turner of Chafford Mill Papermaker Tunbridge Wells Mill No 389 ‘Occasionally cuts a few reams of paper in half sheets but in this operation there is no waste and it is of no advantage to the papermaker or inconvenience to the officers’[27]


Fine writing paper manufactured at Chafford was used by Henry Fox Talbot to produce calotype paper for his photography and the following is found in an extract from a letter dated 25 May 1850 sent to him from Thomas Augustine Malone ‘It happens singularly that we have good news of the paper manufacture Mr Turner and his brother of Chafford mills (good makers) have been conversing with Henneman[28] & myself & some Amateurs his friends on the requisites for a good sheet of Photographic paper.  They have already made improvements & promise they will not rest until much more has been accomplished[29].  In another extract from a letter in December of the same year Henry Fox Talbot wrote to William Crookes ‘I will at present mention one, which if successful would be of considerable interest. Since collodion is made of different kinds of paper, amongst others of Turner’s photographic paper which is nothing but common writing paper I believe.[30]


From 1847 R Turner & Co of Chafford Mills, Fordcombe, Kent  supplied paper for stamps which were printed by Thomas De La Rue & Co[31], however the first reference I found in the Inland Revenue Journal or Drafting Book of Mr Ormond Hill of the Stamping Branch was the following dated 26th August 1853 ‘With reference to the adhesive stamps for Receipts, Drafts on Demand and Life Policies, I beg to report that Mr Richard Turner of Chafford Mills near Tonbridge Wells is preparing a supply of Anchor water-mark paper applicable to the production of each of these kind of stamps’.[32]  From then until 1878 there appear numerous references to paper orders which included paper for stamps for the Crown Agents for the Colonies.  Indian stamps, letterpress stamps, Admiralty Court Stamps, Ireland Petty Sessions paper 5/- postage stamps, South Australian postage paper and paper for 3d and 6d stamps.  During this period there was an excise officer in constant attendance at Chafford Mills to supervise the manufacture of the Inland Revenue and India Office Stamp Papers and in 1871 De La Rue suggested that he should also check the Colonial Stamp papers in each stage of production[33].


In 1864 the mill once again came up for sale, possibly on the retirement of Richard Turner,  but the sale does not appear to have taken place and in the Penshurst rates for 1865 his son Richard David Rains Turner is the occupier and Henry Warden, his son-in-law is the owner.  Henry and R.D.R. were in partnership as R.D.Turner & Co but this was dissolved in February 1868 with Henry Warden taking on the business at Chafford trading as Turner & Co. However,  R.D.R. continued to be associated with Chafford until 1 November 1878 when he entered into co-partnership with Walter Monkton, under the style of Messrs R. D. Turner & Company at Roughway Mill,  and  on the 24 December the Anchor Dandy Roller was sent from Somerset House to Roughway and other papers also referred to the transfer of the paper making from Chafford to Roughway[34].   Why this split came about is unclear.  From recent research in the records of both the Inland Revenue[35] and the Edwin Amies collection[36] (mould makers of Maidstone) it is clear that from this point Chafford ceased production of paper for postage stamps and the Turner family association ended.  


It is interesting  that J B Creek wrote in The Adhesive Stamps of the British Isles published in 1899, in his section regarding surface printed stamps,  that ‘both hand-made and machine made paper were supplied by Messrs Turner & Co of Chafford Mills, under the supervision of the Inland Revenue Officers deputed for that purpose, the paper was always wove and, until 1880, of a fine, firm texture ….. but after that date the paper was not of such good quality and its firmness and texture inferior’, and one wonders why the production and business was removed from Chafford if the paper produced at Roughway was not as superior.


From 1881 until his death in 1897 Henry Warden continued to own the Mill, and during this period they were making superfine tub-sized and loft dried writing, bank post, loan, drawing bank note and cheque papers, copyings and tissues with two machines and two vats[37]. In August 1890 the mill was unsuccessfully put up for sale and in the particulars was thus described “The Mills are well adapted for the high-class and profitable trade (established about 100 years) now carried on by Messrs. Turner & Co., have good Water and Steam Power, 2 Machines and 2 Vats, and contain the following excellent accommodation: Rag Boiling, Washing, and Bleaching Rooms, Hand-made Paper Room, First and Second Machine Rooms, Sizing Room, 4 Air Drying Rooms, Machines Drying Room, Glazing Room, Sorting and Finishing Room, Manager’s and Foreman’s Office, Engine Room, 2 Store Rooms, Wrapper Room, Engine and boiler House, &c. The Outbuildings  comprise Rag House, Heated by Hot Water, with Rag Store over, and Rage Dusting Room, Coal and Hide Stores, Gas House with Purifier and Retort, Gasometer, Millwright’s Shop, Size Making House, Smith’s Shop, Bleach Mixing Room, Store House for Chemicals, Rag Stores, &c. There is an abundant supply of Spring Water flowing direct into the Mills”.  At this time there is a letter written  by E. Barlow, a Wiggins Teape director, stating their intention to bid for the mill but this did not materialise, probably because the reserve price was too high[38].


In his will Henry Warden ‘desired that the Chafford Paper Mills should be sold as speedily as possible’ so they were put up for auction on the 8th March 1897  but were withdrawn as the first bid was £2,500 and the highest offer was only £6,100[39]. However in September 1898 the Company of Turner & Company (Chafford Mills) Limited was formed  with nominal capital of £15,000 divided into 15,000 shares of £10 with  Herbert Green (of Hayle Mill) as Chairman and Managing Director[40].   In March 1902 Owen Reading[41], the manager of the mill died suddenly aged 41.  He and his father William had long been associated with Chafford and they were witnesses to Henry Warden’s will and it could be that this event,  combining  with the obvious decline in business, caused the resolution in November 1905 for the voluntary winding up of the company with Herbert and Lawrence Green appointed liquidators.


It was at this point that Wiggins Teape purchased the mill from the liquidators when it failed to sell for a third time at auction[42]. From then until 1912 the mill  produced pure rag papers only, superfine tub-sized and loft dried. Hand and machine made writing, bank post, loan, drawing, bank note and cheque papers, copyright and tissues[43], but there appears no mention of photographic papers.


It is still unclear why Wiggins Teape had such a long-standing interest in such an antiquated mill.  It may be that they saw it as a ‘pilot plant’ where they could pursue their interests in photographic paper manufacture, and at the same time make the general grades which the company sold.  It is known from a prospectus issued in 1919, when they underwent capital flotation, that they ran experiments around 1911 at Chafford, so if this was the case, then that would be the reason why it was important to obtain the mill cheaply[44]. 


It would seem, therefore, that the reason for the eventual closure, is obvious,  at a time when their main mills at Dover and Chorley were both making profits of around £20K per year, Chafford hovered between a positive and negative balance of under £900 per annum and there was no way that the mill could keep going under these circumstances[45].  As a result it was finally closed in 1914, however, during its 160 year history as a producer of fine papers the Mill provided employment for upwards of 150 people in and around Fordcombe and Penshurst even though its fortunes appeared to rise and fall on many occasions.




My thanks to Daven Chamberlain for all his input regarding Arjo Wiggins, Maureen Green and Jean Stirk for their continued help and support.   After extensive searches at The National Archives I am still unable to locate the Excise General Letters - if anyone knows their current location I would be most grateful for any information. [CKS Centre for Kentish Studies: TNA The National Archive:]

[1] By kind permission of the Royal Archives, Windsor [Ref: RA/VIC/QVJ/1834: May-November]

[2] 1780 Tunbridge Wells Guide and Morning Post & Daily Advertiser 1 July 1786

[3] MALSC Medway Navigation Accounts  financial miscellaneous ledger 1828-44 SMN FL27 p.131

[4] Guildhall Library ref: MS 11936/114

[5] CKS ref: U36 T459

[6] Sun Fire Insurance Policy No: 303789 (Vol. 210)   Guildhall Library ref MS 11936/210

[7] CKS ef: U36 T459

[8] London Gazette Tuesday 8 March and Saturday 12 March 1785 Guildhall Library

[9] Morning Post & Daily Advertiser 1 July 1786 – British Library ref: Burney Catalogue 769.b

[10] British Library ref: Burney Catalogue 769.b

[11] CKS ref U36 T459

[12] CKS P132/13/1[Overseas of the Parish of Teston From Wm Stubbersfield and Henry Medhurst   jointly of Teston for the payment of two shillings a week for Richd Selves natural son of Mary Selves singlewoman so long as the said Richd Selves shall be chargeable to the Parish of  West Farleigh]

[13] CKS

[14] Jane Austen’s Letters collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye 1995.  y

[15] Turners Papers 1787-1820 by Peter Bower  p73 

[16] The Turner Family and Chafford Mill No 389 ‘The Quarterly’ October 2004

[17] [Balston Papers: Ref: JVS]  1803  22 September             Sir  

I have enclosed the names of those men who were in my employ prior to the 9th July last

        I am    yr obd    serv t      Wm  Turner

        Thos Hews:     Jn Neal:     Rob t Hunt:  Wm Storm: Thos Fisher:  Geo Clear: Edw Franklin,

        Geo Demiezer:  Geo French:    Wm Vanil:  Wm Constable:  John Childs:  Jms Heath.

[18] CKS

[19] Jane Austen’s Letters collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye 1995.

[20] October 1817 : Change of occupation at Mill no 389 at Chafford in the Sussex Collection.  Present  occupiers G. W. & R Turner, Paper Makers [Excise General letter 8 Oct] ][Simmons collection on Wind and Water Mills held at Imperial College Library].

[21]  CKS

[22] London Gazette Friday June 18th.

[23] London Gazette Tuesday 5th May 1835

[24] Chronology of the Origin and Progress of Paper and Paper-making' Munsell, J., (New York;  London: Garland Publishing House Inc., 1980), p.93. 

 Original manuscript TNA C73/38 Turner George William 6095 Machine for making paper.

[25] The Report from the Select Committee on FOURDRINIER’S PATENT’ with the Minutes of Evidence, and Appendix Printed 1 June 1837.

[26] Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, Baron 1809-1892. Papers: Guide – Houghton Library Harvard College

    Library,  MS Eng 952.1 / 101  Loose Papers

[27]  TNA Cust 119/182

[28] Nicolaas Henneman 1813-1898, Dutch, active in England; William Henry Fox Talbot’s valet, then  assistant; photographer

[29] Fox Talbot Museum/Lacock Abbey Collections Lacock: LA50-023 Correspondence of William  

     Henry Fox Talbot, Fox Talbot Museum LA50-023 Doc Number 06326]

[30]  Agfa Fotohistorama Cologne collection FH4424 Document number 07098

[31] British Watermarks: An Introduction to Watermarks in Early Postage and Fiscal Stamps

   1840-1900 by Peter Bower [BAPH Quarterly 23 July 1997]

[32] IR42/13 p34 Board of Inland Revenue Secretary (Stamps) Postage Stamps Journal or Drafting Book of 

      Mr  Ormond Hill of the Stamping Branch

[33]  The De La Rue History of British & Foreign Stamps 1855-1901 by John Easton

      [British Library ref: 8247/11]         From chapter on Crown Agents – Procedure Paper p294/5

[34]  TNA IR79/53 Register of Incoming Papers 1876-94

[35]  Held at The National Archives (TNA)

[36]  Held at The Centre for Kentish Studies at Maidstone (CKS)

[37]  1885 Craig’s Directory of Paper Makers

[38]  Arjo  Wiggins Archive 1890 Secretary’s Letter Book

[39]  The Paper-Maker March 1897

[40]  TNA BR31/8142/58831

[41]  JVS  He was apprenticed at the Chafford in 1876 and received his cards of Freedom in 1882

[42]  Information from Daven Chamberlain

[43] Paper Mills Directory

[44] Daven Chamberlain

[45] Daven Chamberlain

Intercambios de enlaces
Copyright Sarah Tanner 2008