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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A typical view of a retail park that could be anywhere in the country but up until the 1990`s you would have been looking at the John Dickinson paper mill. In the early 1800`s John Dickinson (1782-1869) acquired Apsley, Nash and Croxley mills.
The main site here at Apsley, Hemel Hempstead had in 1809 no trains, buses or cars but what it did have was a wet motorway system of the 1800`s called the Grand Jct. Canal. The London & Nth. Western Railway came along in the 1830`s but it was not until 1938 that Apsley station was built because of the paper mills. It was about this time the railways played a big part in the transport of the mills products.
Up to the railway era and for a long time after the canal played a big part in distribution of the mills paper products and in fact J. Dickinson`s had its own fleet of steam powered narrowboats bringing in coal and raw materials and re-loading paper and stationery for shipment not just in the UK but across the world.
Esparato Grass was a raw material used in paper making and came from Africa never touching dry land until being unloaded at Apsley having been transshipped onto narrowboats in London.

In 1818 Mr Dickinson had negotiated with the canal company to re route the canal closer to his mills (must try and find some evidence of the old route sometime) which i suppose must have been the reason boats played a big part in the daily life at the mills for so long.
Workers at the mills were treated fairly well and in the late 1800`s a whole train would be hired to take workers to the south coast. The 1904 centenary saw every worker getting an extra weeks pay and many workers were in the company Silver Band that often played to radio audiences.
Well before the NHS came about Dickinson maintained a ward at the local hospital for his workers.

The Basildon Bond brand was established in 1911.
No Mr Bond we don`t expect you to talk we expect you to make paper (sorry couldn`t resist)
Other than this clock and 2 small buildings nothing else remains.
The mills closed in the late 1990`s and having lived myself in Watford for 12 years i remember in the early 70`s the site was a landmark along the original A41 to Aylesbury before the new by-pass was built. Nowadays just a retail park, housing and a hotel line the route past this once magnificent group of buildings.
What started me off looking into the John Dickinson site was the need to satisfy my lust of knowing whats around that corner or where does that lead to. Having always had this desire and i think that`s how i learnt my way around London & the home counties when driving it was on

this my 6th time cruising through the lock pictured above that being moored here for 2 weeks it was time to find the answer. Where does that bit to the left of the lock go?. So i set off wandering around the streets at the side of the canal until i traced the end and it turned out that it lead to Frogmore Mill. The mill wasn`t part of the JD site but they did do business with each other.

This is the basin by the mill that is behind me and here boats would un-load coal used to power the steam driven paper making machines.

The mill is owned and operated, yes still making paper today, by Apsley Paper Trail Charitable Trust- using machinery a 100yrs+ in age.

In 1803 the first commercial paper making machine was developed here. The mill is open during the year giving guided tours and boat trips during the warmer weather.

The trust has recently been awarded a £1 million lottery grant to preserve the site and hopefully re-instate the mills waterwheel.

So i`ve enjoyed my myself delving into a bit of history and if you would like to read more try scroll down the page almost to the bottom to" Local History "and click on" Hemels Mills " Happy reading.
Red text added Thursday-must employ a proof reader.


Anonymous said...

Hi Les,
We'll be at KingsLangley at the weekend so may see you sooner than you thought !
I loved the Dicko's blog, several generations of my family worked there so know it well. You didnt mention Shendish House, amongst other things was once the companies sports and social centre now a manor house and golf course up on the jill overlooking Apsley. My old dad used to take us up there when we were kids toplay snooker lol
Anyway, we;re loving being afloat..and about to purchase those little inverters for the same reason as you mention, good advice there so thanks.keep blogging Les you have lots of support.
Les+ Heidi
Blue Pearl

Anonymous said...

Good to see you back on the history trail once more. It feels strange to read that the areas where I shopped in 21st century Britain used to be a part of 'those dark Satanic mills'! Well, sort of, anyway.
Did you also read on the Hemel link that Red Kites have now been seen regularly in the area? - still waiting for my buzzard sighting!
Have a great weekend.
S x

Anonymous said...

Nice one Les. You see your blog has something just that little bit different to snare the interest and here it is! Fascinating..
Lesley K.

Les Biggs said...

Hi Annon S
Plenty of Buzzards to be seen travelling the canals but don`t think i would know a Red Kite even if i saw one.

Les Biggs said...

Hi Lesley K
Thankyou and keep "popping in".
You have encouraged me by thinking there must be so many like you who pop in.

Les Biggs said...

Hi Les/Heidi
Looking forward to seeing you.
There must be a lot of folks in Hemel who had family at JD`s

Anonymous said...

The canal & papermaking

At the end of the 16th century, the poor state of the roads made land transport slow, unreliable and expensive and, in the case of bulky goods such as coal, near impossible. The building of the canals solved the problem bringing great benefit to commerce.

Loading a canal boat

Loading a canal boat

Canal boats in the mill

It was the diversion of the Grand Junction Canal at Apsley in 1818 from its original route to follow the course of the Gade by Apsley and Nash Mills which gave John Dickinson direct access to the canal network. All the Dickinson mills were connected by canal to the Dickinson depot at Paddington (later Kings Cross). From there deliveries were made to the London area.

The boats took finished goods to London and brought back raw materials such as waste paper and rags. Other raw materials such as esparto grass, woodpulp, chemicals and china clay were also used in vast quantities. Once steam engines were in use in the mills, coal came in by canal. During the period 1904-1928, the average annual amount of coal delivered was 38,540 tons. The last deliveries of coal were made between 1960 and 1970 as the mills switched to oil.

It is not clear who manned the boats in the early days but Dickinsons did own some boats such as Lord Nelson and Hero of the Nile (registered 1870 and 1891). However, in 1890 Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd. contracted to operate the Dickinson intermill service. In 1897 they had replaced horse-drawn boats with "steamers" - Countess and Princess together with two "butties" - Maud and May, followed in 1910 with replacement "butties" - Alice and Kate. In 1927 motor boats - Jackal and Jaguar replaced the steamers and new butties - Helen and Hettie came into service in 1930.

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Sue said...

Les, I remember Croxley Mills being there back in the 1970s, I was walking along the towpath watching working boats up through the locks!

I was living in Uxbridge at the time at the RAF base.. the home of the Queens Colour Squadron no less.


Les Biggs said...

Thanks Annon for copying all that info onto here. Readers will find it interesting. Nice contribution.

Les Biggs said...

I`m moored near to the Croxley site at the moment, and being born in Paddington i spent my childhood watching working boats on the Gd. Union, maybe i`m now living a childhood dream.
See you soon i hope,hi Vic.
Be safe.

Anonymous said...

A red kite has a pronounced V shaped tail, very distinctive and easily identifiable. If you go anywhere near Beaconsfield (not by canal obviously) you'll see dozens of them. Lovely birds.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs