paper mill little paxton

History of the paper mill, Little Paxton

Okestubbe Mill was a water-powered medieval corn-grinding mill by the Great Ouse in Little Paxton and was owned by the monks of St Neots priory. It was acquired in 1799 by Owsley Rowley, who rebuilt and let the mill to Mr Hobson of Eaton Socon.

In 1804 it was leased to a firm of paper-makers, Henry and Sealy Fourdinier and John Gamble. They spent £60,000 on machinery to change it from producing flour to a paper mill. Instead of making single sheets Henry invented a process to make rolls of paper. Unfortunately they did not patent it and other entrepreneurs used their ideas and competed with them.

The mills was powered by the waterwheel turning a spindle which turned cogs to operate the machinery.

The Fourdinier brothers went bankrupt in 1808 and sold the company to Matthew Toogood who employed experienced paper makers and used sound business methods to make a success of the venture.

The 1823 flood left the machine room five feet (1.85m.) under water and four men were trapped for four days. Toogood, and then his sons after him operated the paper mill until the 1887 when the business closed down. Steam power units were introduced in 1851 and updated in 1861 to reduce the mill’s reliance on water power.

A raised footway, called the traps, was built to allow the workforce to get to work in the winter months when the river flooded.

The closure of the mill and the decline of the Vulcan Iron Works led to unemployment and distress among the poor. As the mill had provided employment to hundreds of local men and women some local business people (John McNish of Paine’s Brewery, Joseph Wilcox, W. Emery, James Paine and W. Bowyer) set up a consortium and reopened it in 1888 as St Neots Paper Mill Company Limited. They took no money from it themselves until the business became profitable again.

They were limited by out-of-date machinery but by 1903 new turbines and steam engines were installed.

Just under a decade later, in 1912 when 200 people were employed at the mill, many of the wooden buildings were destroyed in a fire, but rebuilding using brick and improving the equipment made the mill safer and more profitable. By 1913 the mill produced the finest grades of bank, writing, ledger, drawing, chart, cartridge, typing, loan and envelope papers, and cream and tinted typing and envelope papers.

However its fortunes declined during the economic depression after the 1920s and it closed down in 1939. During the Second World War, Wigmore Teape evacuated their paper mill at Dover and moved to the safer inland site in Little Paxton.

After the war there was a trade in paper to countries like India, Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon  and the Far East that had previously got their paper from Japan.

The mill was converted to manufacture nylon but had closed down by 1948 and the lease was sold in 1950 to Samuel Jones Limited.

Sources: Young, R. (1996), St Neots Past, Phillimore; Tebbutt, C.F. (1978), St Neots – History of a Huntingdonshire Town, Unwin Brothers.