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Thread: A Paper Mill in Scotland – May 2008

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    Arrow A Paper Mill in Scotland – May 2008


    This is a large paper mill in Scotland, which I visited with Pincheck and Cuban. It was on my list for quite a while, during which time I scratched around for information and gradually figured out its secrets. We spent the best part of a day wandering its sheds and towers, then just after exploring the final building we had to make a rapid exit …

    Until the turn of the 21st century, Scotland had an extensive papermaking industry. Paper of every type was manufactured – cartridge, writing, printing, coated, artboard, kraft paper – using many different raw materials, including esparto grass, softwood, hardwood and flax. The concentration of mills in one part of Scotland is next in scale only to those of Lancashire, and in the south-east of England. Fortunately, some of these giant mills, like Tullis Russell at Markinch and Curtis Papers at Guardbridge are still working. This is one which isn’t.







    A small papermill first opened here in 1788, in a deep wooded ravine at the side of a fast-flowing river. It was built by the local laird for £500, and consisted of one vat which produced paper from cotton and linen rags. Compared to today’s industrial-scale paper manufacture, its output of a few tons each year was minisule. Over the years it was leased to a series of papermakers, and by 1818, a second mill had been built quarter of a mile upstream, sharing a common mill lade, and it manufactured paperboard from old tarred rope. As paper-making technology was born in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, new machines were invented and installed in the mills: the paperboard mill was producing 20 tons each week, a mix of board, cartridge and coloured papers. Five “Hollander” beaters were installed in the earlier papermill in the 1820’s: they were a large investment, so they were kept running day and night, producing pulp to feed the process – each beater needed around 40hp, which was provided by the mill’s steam engine.









    The biggest draw on capital for the papermakers, though, was the “Fourdrinier” paper-making machine which the mill installed to complement their beaters. The Fourdrinier used an endless loop of woven wirecloth onto which the saturated paper pulp was sprayed – further down the machine, the wire was given a shake and most of the water drained through it. Next the “water leaf” of pulp passed onto a continuous “couch” of felt, on which it passed over a series of steam-heated drying cylinders. Watermarks were impressed into the paper using dandy rolls, and when the paper emerged at the dry end of the machine, it was ready to be cut. The Fourdrinier was invented in France in 1799, and first installed at Hemel Hempsted in 1803, closely followed by a machine at Culter Mills in Aberdeen. The earliest machines produced a web of paper 24 inches wide, which was gradually increased to 48 inches, until a revolutionary 80 inch high speed machine was displayed at the 1862 London International Exhibition. It was constructed by a famous Edinburgh paper engineering company … and so I can carry on telling the story of Bertrams, who I mentioned in my report on Fletchers’ Mill at Oldham.







    When they left school the Bertram brothers, George and William, worked with their father at Springfield Mill at Polton on the North Esk near Edinburgh. William was then apprenticed to an engineering works, while George became a papermaker at another of the mills on the Esk in 1837. As far as I know, although it once supported nine or ten, there are no mills left in the Esk Valley today … ;) George and William then joined together to build paper machines at St Catherine’s Works in Sciennes, Edinburgh. Their younger brother, James, started his own paper engineering company in 1845, building a works in Leith Walk. Together, the Bertram comapnies became world leaders in paper machinery, building a vast range of machines that included stuff catchers, paper cutters, beating engines, boilers, papermaking machines – and particularly relevant to this mill, conical esparto willows and patent esparto dusters. In contrast to Fletchers, which used flax and hemp as raw materials for thin ‘baccy paper, this mill originally used esparto grass to make a thick paperboard. The grass was imported from Spain and Tunisia and put through a machine called a willow to beat out the dust, then fed into digestors where a mix of lime and soda was added, then boiled for five hours. The caustic residue of “black liquor” was drained into storage tanks for later treatment; and the esparto was taken from the digestor to be washed and beaten in a “potcher”, which removed the soda and any residue of organic material. The pulp was then rinsed in a sodium carbonate solution, or bleached … then it was ready for the papermaking machine.






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    Default Paper Mill continued …


    By 1855, both of the papermills on this stretch of river had passed into the same ownership, and although they were bought and sold several times over the next few decades, their destinies were bound together from then on. In 1869, one of the mills installed a Bertrams No.50 papermaking machine which was 84 inches wide: it employed 200 people to make 800 tons of esparto printing paper annually. In 1880, a similar Bertrams machine was installed at the other papermill: it had an 81 inch wide “wire”, and eleven 4 foot diameter drying cylinders. In fact, by 1877, a new company had been created to run both mills as an entity: their combined site ran to nearly 30 acres, and the business continued to expand. The biggest change happened at the turn of the 20th century, when a major fire provided the impetus to integrate the two neighbouring papermills properly. The smaller of the two mills (which was the earlier) was shut in 1908, and the site was cleared to make way for a new 112 inch papermaking machine, one of the largest in the world. It was constructed by James Bertram’s company in 1909, and became the “No.3 Papermaking Machine”. A fourth paper machine and was installed in 1912, along with other paper equipment, much of it also supplied by Bertrams.







    The company changed hands twice in the 1920’s, but continued expanding as it concentrated on esparto paper: new buildings housed a production line for coated papers, and weekly output grew to 370 tons of coated and uncoated paper by the 1960’s. However, the mill started to lose money in the 1970’s, and a succession of managers tried to stem its decline – they shut down the No.1 and No.2 papermaking machines, each of which had been faithful servants for a century. The workforce declined from a high point of 600 people, but automation and rebuilding of the remaining two machines doubled paper production. Finally the mill was sold to an American corporation in 1981, and while the remaining old paper machines were shut down, a new “Twin Wire” machine was introduced, which made 40,000 tons of coated art board each year for greetings cards, CD cases and glossy packaging. In 1990 it passed back into Scottish hands, and remained in production until a few years ago … when it fell silent.







    So much for the history and statistics … the most powerful impression this mill made on me was how decayed it had become in the years since it shut. A great brick tower looms down over rusting steel-clad sheds with dark, cavernous interiors. The dampness and humidity have acted on the old parts of the mill, which went out of production in 1984, to decay everything from paintwork to steel and timber. We travelled over cast iron floor tiles into buildings from just before the Great War, with soot and chemical-stained brickwork, and octagonal columns that were cast at the very birth of reinforced concrete construction. Every surface is flaking and crumbling, the metal parts corroded through, each tread on the stairs is suspect. Old treatment tanks and lagoons still contain chemical residues that have reacted to create vivid colours. Nature is creeping into the joints in the brickwork, shrubs are sprouting in the steel water tank, and surrounding the mills are overhanging trees which shut out the outside world. Each time we crossed between buildings, the roar of a weir on the river reminded us why the mill had been built here; yet when we looked up, we were surrounded by silent, brooding buildings.







    The greatest discovery was that there were parts of a papermaking machine left in situ. I’d expected the worst, as research had turned up accounts of the machinery being sold, and presumably stripped out. Instead, the wet end of the Twin Wire machine was still in place; the drying cylinders had been stripped, but parts remained, including the massive carcass of the dry end, looming up in the darkness. The control room still had panel after panel of push buttons and mimic lamps, and motor ammeters reading in hundreds of amps. The Accuray machine, which measured the thickness of the paperboard using X-rays, was still there too. However, unlike the bright rooflit spaces inside Fletchers’ papermill, the Twin Wire machine at this mill sits in the darkness, with shafts of light penetrating the gloom and glinting off a metal casting or a length of railing. The character of the place is dark and mysterious, and the scale of everything is large: the papermaking machine was around four hundred feet long and twenty feet high.







    Hunting through my bookshelf, I came across a commemorative book published by the papermakers in 2000, with a foreword by the mill’s manager, who looked forward to many years of future activity at the mill, because, “… a papermill is a dull, dank and gloomy place if the machinery is shut down and there are no people making it work.” I guess that counts as an epitaph of sorts for the Scottish paper industry.

  4. #3
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    Great report and pics!!! Well done :) i especially love that second pic its great :)

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    Nice clean canteen. Cool find, great explore. Thanks for the photo's
    ...Hear me now from the Invisible Opera Company of Tibet...

    Neolithicsea.co.uk

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    pretty place! Love your shots!

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    What a fantastic place, great explore.

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    This is one huge place to go. What a test for my fractured back, That and coming straight off a 12hour nightshift to go and visit the place. mr Wolfism has this how can i put it effect on me when ever i go exploring with him(cuban will back me up on this :biglaugh:) i never sleep before hand that and its always silly oclock starts so finish at 6am and meeting them at 7:20:shocked::shocked: I must be daft and as usual we over ran on the time :err:by about 6 or 7 hours so we onl;y managed the one stop and reecy of 2 others after hot footing it out of dodge.











    bloody huge








































































    one of the few times i have seen a excited and smiling Wolfism (like a kid at christmas )when he discovered the machinery was still there :biglaugh:will post more tommorrow when i get the chance :) hope this has been entertaining for you all

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    That looks like a brilliant place to visit, I'm pleased theres been a few industrial sites cropping up north of the border. I'd be interested in learning the location of this place (via PM.) Cheers. RM

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    Nice one guys :)

    The usual high standard of research we've come to expect from you there Wolfism

    If this is the place I think it is, I thought it was still live, I must be wrong
    " ...I wasn't born of a whistle or milked from a thistle at twilight, no, I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully-formed, knock-kneed and upright... "

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    Flick-arghhh!

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