Ford Paper Mill before demolition in 1971
Ford Paper Mill before demolition in 1971.

The building of the Mill was commenced in May, 1836 by Vint Hutton & Co., who were already making paper at Deptford.

The site was on flat ground near the river, convenient for transport by water, and had a good spring of clear water nearby.
The mill was opened on Wednesday, August 28th 1838 and made paper from rags on a 70″ deckle machine.

A memento printed on that occasion claims that the paper was made and printed by T. Marwood in five minutes. The printing press must have been taken to the Mill especially.

The mill was built on a timber frame of pitch pine, 12” x 14″ square and up to 30 ft. long. The floors were 2½” oak, caulked and pitched like ships decks. A tramway was built to carry goods to and from the riverside. The initial output was 15 tons per week. Mr. Robert Hutton was Manager and lived at a large house, Claxheugh Grove, built in the Mill grounds to the west of the Mill.

In 1844 the business was described as Hutton Fletcher & Co., and Mr. Robert Hutton left in 1848 to manage the Deptford Mill. Two men were killed in a boiler explosion in 1849. By 1850 the business was Fletcher, Blackwell and Falconer with Mr. Francis Blackbird as manager living at Claxheugh Grove.
In 1856 the business changed again to J. Blackwell & Co. with the same manager now living at Rock Cottage at the east of Claxheugh Rock.
The Grove had been taken over as the Vicarage of the parish. A new vicarage was built in 1855 and The Grove reverted to the Mill Company.
By 1860 the Mill was in difficulties and was sold to a Company headed by Mr. John Evans, later Sir John Evans, KGB The key figure was Thomas Routledge who had been experimenting with Esparto grass for paper making He had taken out patents on the process in 1856 and 1860. All the requirements for the process were to be found at Ford. Easy effluent disposal, access to the sea and a good water supply. He brought three of his paper makers from Eynsham, named Bryant, Flaxen and Curd and their families still worked at the Mill until it closed in 1971.

Routledge concentrated first on producing Half-stuff, that is thick sheets of pulped esparto which could be used by other paper mills in their process. It wasn’t long before he was supplying many mills who were finding a great shortage of rags.

How quickly Routledge expanded can be shown by the imports of Esparto grass into Newcastle-on-Tyne, which were 1224 tons in 1860 and had reached 9534 tons by 1862. In 1864 Mr. Routledge was owner and managing director of Ford Mill, living at Claxheugh Grove, with Mr. Fred N. Miller of Rock House as manager. The latter became the first manager of Hendon Paper Mills, leaving Ford in 1872. He was succeeded by Mr. Routledge’s stepson, Joseph A. London, who in turn was succeeded in 1883 by Mr. J. P. Cornett.

A great deal of expansion and redevelopment was undertaken during that period. An incline railway was built to link the Mill with the Sunderland to Durham Branch railway. Wells were sunk to increase the water supply.  New plant, heaters, boilers. steam engines and paper making machines were installed and an extensive soda recovery plant was developed. Experiments were made with jute, straw and bamboo as paper- making materials. Straw was extensively used during the 1939-46 war.

The second machine of 60″ deckle was installed in 1876 and must have been an important event. The mill road from the village to the mill was laid down between 1879 and 1885. A sum of £18-8s-4d was paid to Col. Scurfield for limestone from Claxheugh Rock, presumably for foundations but the road was only a cinder road and very bad in winter and was not finally concreted until after the 1939 – 46 war. A new quay was built between 1880 and 1883 and a railway extension to it, and ships carrying Esparto grass or china clay were able to come up river and be unloaded there. A locomotive and steam cranes were installed. New offices were built at the Mill Gate in 1882 and survived until the closure although they had been vacated some years before.

The Mill had produced its own gas for lighting from the start of the plant but was joined to the Sunderland Gas Company’s supply in 1885. In 1886 Mr. Cornett was living in the village at Ford Villa. In 1887 a third machine of 90″ deckle was installed and in the same year a disastrous fire destroyed the esparto warehouses and preparation plant. By this time Mr. Routledge had retired and he died in London on September 17th 1887. Mr. Cornett moved to Claxheugh Grove and in 1893 the company was reconstructed as Ford Works, Ltd., The Evans family were still very much part of the business and Sir John was a director. His son, Mr. Lewis Evans, became a director in 1905 and chairman in 1909 at Sir John’s death.

All half-stuff was being used within the mill by 1878 and production was steadily rising. In 1898 a new steam engine of 600 h.p. was installed and named `Lady Evans’. A second smaller engine of 400 h.p. was installed in 1900 and aptly named `New Century’. These engines drove the beaters and pumps. There was also a gas engine driving a small generator for weekend lighting and line shafting in the fitting shop. The only recorded strike at the mill was in 1913 when the workers tried to incorporate a Monday morning start instead of Sunday night. After three weeks Mr. Cornett gave in. At that time workers worked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and night shift workers from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was not until after the first war that eight hour shifts were introduced. Many mill workers served in the forces during the two world wars. During the second war women worked in the paper making process on shift work.

The post war crisis of 1921 put the mill under considerable pressure and in 1923 a new company was formed called Ford Paper Works and a Hylton man, Mr. Joe Markham became manager. He had begun work at the mill as an office boy in 1895. He scoured the country for orders and it was largely due to his efforts that the mill was able to keep going. It. had to go into liquidation in 1926 and an Official Receiver was appointed. Yet another company called Ford Paper Mills was formed in September, 1927 and Commander W. B. Pirie became associated with the Mill. The two steam engines had come to the end of their useful life and were replaced by electric motors.

In January, 1937, the mill was taken over by the Wiggins Teape Group of paper makers and an extensive modernisation took place. The most urgent need was for a new power plant. This had been discussed for many years but lack of capital had always been against it. Now it was decided to go ahead. The old mill cottages were pulled down to make way for it and new cottages were erected further west. The power plant with three Sterling Tri-drum water tube boilers 375 psi. supplied steam for mill processes and drove a 3,000 k.w. turbo-alternator providing electricity at 2750 v 3 pH. 50 Hz. The plant came into operation on 9th May, 1938.

Mr. Markham finally retired in 1939 and was succeeded by Mr. Andrew Allen representing the owners.

Nos. 1 & 2 machines were scrapped in the early years of the war and the entire production of the mill, chiefly from straw with the addition of a small amount of birch wood chips, the waste from the manufacture of cotton reels , was concentrated on machines No. 3 & 4.

The supply of esparto grass was cut off by hostilities and so the use of this fibre came to an end in the mill which had seen much of its development under Mr. Routledge. Owing to the peculiar nature of straw, paper made from it has high oil resistance and much of the wartime production was of imitation greaseproof paper.

After the war wood pulp became increasingly available and the old grass processing and soda recovery plants became obsolete and their use was discontinued.

In 1947 control of the mill was transferred to Alex Pirie & Sons, a subsidiary of Wiggins Teape, at the same time the use was changed to Hylton Mill. The Wiggins Teape Group came under the control of the British American Tobacco Co. and in 1970 there was a severe financial liquidity problem and the decision was taken to close the mill. This was done in June, 1971.


Planet Hibberd Diesel Industrial Locomotive D3967

Planet Hibberd Diesel Industrial Locomotive D3967

We have received an e-mail in 2009 asking for help.
“I’m a Director of the Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway Trust; we
have on site a Planet Hibberd Diesel Industrial Locomotive D3967 on site
that worked at the Paper Mill from day 1 of its birth. We knew its name
was Hylton, but had no idea why. Thanks to your web site we have been
able to solve this mystery. However, history of its work at the mill is
sketchy and any info you may have would be most appreciated”.