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Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I have cruised through Apsley near Hemel Hempstead many times intending each time to visit Frogmore Mill the last of many paper mills, Apsley, Two Waters, Croxley among others, that stood along this mixture of canal and river in what is called the Gade Valley.
Frogmore is now run by the Papertrail so perhaps it might just avoid the bulldozers and not end up as another supermarket.
In the picture above can be seen a trip boat with a school group on board coming from the Mill along an arm that once would have been used by work boats carrying coal to feed the steam powered engines that powered the paper making machines or to carry away the finished product. The building behind the boat is Sainsbury`s built on the site of John Dickinsons the paper makers known worldwide.

The 110yr old steam powered paper making machine pictured below now stands silent in the mill the cost of producing paper on it becoming to costly for the dwindling demand but at least it still
forms part of an interesting mill tour and has not been re-cycled into modern day consumables, too much history has been lost already in this area.

Below is another part of the mill where the waste paper is pulped and treated before it was
fed into the paper making machine downstairs. The nice thing about this tour is you get up close to everything with no viewing from behind glass screens or metal barriers until of someone slips on a wet floor but in the meantime Health & Safety bods eat your hearts out.

This is where the original water driven mill wheel was located, well on the left of the brick pier
in fact, the river water seen flowing is the diversion channel that could be used to slow or speed up the wheel by allowing more or less water to flow into the wheel itself. Note also the indentation behind the brick pier and also the hole in the wall on the right this is where the wheel shaft passed into the mill to power machinery.

Also within the mill is a Letterpress print shop that still produces documents for the House of Commons the old fashioned way and memories of my time spent in this section of the print trade 40 plus years ago came flooding back, which reminds me i didn`t mention this is a guided tour and the guide rested his voice through the print dept as i was the only one on the tour.

I mentioned near the beginning of this blog about the work boats bringing coal to the mill and following the tour whilst looking at the exhibits i came across an original book in a display case opened up at entries for the 1930`s.
Boatman J. Nixon coal from Newdigate Colliery.
Gauged weight passing thru Coventry, Oxford & Grand Union canals was 52 Tons.
Tolls paid were £o-10-6d, £2 -12-0d and £3-15-5d respectively.
Coal un-loaded at Frogmore 52tons-19cwt.
At 13/6d per ton cost to mill was £35-14-10d.

For the younger readers these are pre decimal figures of pounds shillings and pence with 20 shillings to the pound and a shilling being the now decimal 5p with 12d (old pence) to the shilling and the weights are 20cwt to the ton. Ask dad or perhaps grandad.
I can handle the money but millimetres and metres can go back from whence they came i measure in yards, feet and inches, again youngsters ask some old gent like me.

Frogmore Mill like all the other paper mills had it`s own fire dept and this machine still runs and pumps water at many shows around the country.

Below is a short video i made on the tour showing paper making by hand. The chap is using a mould which is a sheet of fine wire mesh with a wooden frame on top called a deckle. The mould is filled with the pulp mix the water drains through the mesh is then tipped out onto a piece of felt and the pile will then be placed in a press. In days gone by the sheets of paper would be hung up to dry but nowadays they are hung in a drying cabinet.
Various things such as re- cycled banknotes, grass cuttings, finely cut foil even coffee can be added to the pulp to give different effects the mix in the video contains wild flower seeds. A lot
of the hand made papers produced here are used by artists.
So press the button on the video and see an ancient craft still being performed in this high speed world we live in ....well you lot live in my world is a lot slower and stress free.

1 comment:

D Tremaine said...

Hi I'am just browsing the net and as Hemel is my home town found this site.It maybe of some interest that my father worked at this mill in the fifties (not sure exactly when)and I remember going with the fire crew when they practised thier drills And of course having a ride on the fire truck , the good old days !

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs