The Paper Trail Project is a unique new industrial exploration centre. Based at the two mills that pioneered paper’s industrial revolution, the project brings together the past of an industry that helped shape the modern world, allows visitors to experience the present of commercial recycled papermaking and learn about the future of one of the world’s few inherently sustainable industries – paper. The foundations of the Paper Trail Project are the two neighbouring sites of Apsley and Frogmore Mills, the birthplace of paper’s industrial revolution.
Frogmore Mill offers educational visits and skills training facilities in traditional papermaking. Visitors can watch paper being made on a continuous paper making machine that dates back to 1895 as well as try out their skills in hand-making paper and arts & crafts. A new Heritage Interpretation Centre is also planned. The two sites are linked by a short section of the Grand Union Canal. Around 1800, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier employed the British engineer Bryan Donkin to make a practical machine for making paper, based on the process they had bought from the Frenchman, Louis Robert. The first fruits of Donkin’s labours were unveiled at Frogmore Mill in 1803. Known as a Fourdrinier machine, the fundamental principles of this machine with its continuously-revolving forming wire and drying cylinders are still the basis of the most modern paper machines. In 1803 Frogmore Mill became home to the world’s first commercial papermaking machine and just six years later, John Dickinson installed his cylinder-mould machine at Apsley Mills. With paper available in quantity through mechanisation, the era of mass communication became possible and with it the huge steps forward in science, arts, literature, technology, literacy, education, politics and commerce that have created the world we know today. Frogmore Mill has remained a working paper mill since 1803, specialising in recycled papermaking for over 110 years.
The innovations at Frogmore were continued by John Dickinson, founder of the Dickinson paper group. His company leased the Fourdrinier mills until 1886, and he also bought Apsley Mills, building new mills at King’s Langley in 1826 and Croxley in 1830. Dickinson’s patents incuded silk thread paper, which protected against forgery, and a process to prevent paper discolouring. Much of the Apsley Mills site has now been redeveloped but the former John Dickinson timber-clad offices and boardroom have been retained, incorporating the original cottage bought by John Dickinson in 1809. This building together with the canal side John Dickinson Enterprise Centre (also in nineteenth-century buildings) offers extensive business conference and training facilities. The famous Basildon Bond Clock is a prominent landmark on the office façade adjoining the street.