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Two women papermakers

February 2, 20211:49 pmLeave a Comment

While searching for other records I came across this apprentice indenture showing that William Nock was apprenticed to Sarah Falkner, a paper maker, in 1768. This made me wonder how widespread papermaking was in Shropshire and how unusual it was for a woman to be involved in the industry at this time.

Apprentice indenture, P68/L/11/152

The first confirmed example of paper produced in England is found in a book published in 1495 using paper from a mill in Hertford, owned by John Tate. Britain was a relatively late adopter of paper and parchment remained a popular material for written records. However, the increasing use of printing technology helped to promote the use and production of paper. Early attempts to make paper often failed to match the quality of the leading manufacturers in France and Italy and the best quality papers continued to be imported well into the 18th century.

In his survey of Shropshire papermaking, published in the Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society in 1937, L C Lloyd, shows that paper production was established in Shropshire by the mid 1600s. He gives evidence for three locations of manufacture; Cound in 1656, and Milson and Great Bolas in 1659. By searching churchwarden’s accounts, Ralph Collingwood has shown earlier production at Cound in 1634 and at Besford Mill in 1636. More locations came into operation and by 1760 it is thought that thirteen Shropshire mills were in production.

At the time of the apprentice agreement in 1768, Shropshire manufacturers were part of a growing industry, responding to a general increase in demand for paper. A number of factors stimulated this; increased trade required records and accounts as well as paper for the packaging of goods; an increasingly literate population, had an appetite for books, newspapers and letter writing and the legal profession, courts, public institutions and all levels of local and national government created ever increasing amounts of records, as any archive can testify.

The indenture is printed on paper and is amongst the records of the Poor Law administration of Claverley parish. It is likely that William Nock was an orphan or from a poor family in receipt of poor relief. The apprenticing of poor children was common practice, as the pre-printed document suggests. It is more unusual for a woman to be the employer. However, it is noted that Sarah Falkner was a widow. L C Lloyd notes an entry in Shropshire Notes and Queries which states “John Falkner, paper-maker, Claverley, died in 1761, aged 43.” No source was given for this information but he surmises that it is from a tombstone. The parish register records the burial of John Faulkner at Claverley on 30 March 1761. Sarah is likely to be his widow and carrying on the family business. At the time of his death, the paper mill was well established, a register of apprentices at the National Archives lists John Faulkner, a papermaker at Claverley, had taken on George Newell as an apprentice in 1743.

A plentiful supply of clean water was essential to the paper manufacturing process, not only for the propulsion of machinery but also in the washing and preparation of the fibres to form sheets of paper. A document recording a dispute over the water supply, ref 6000/1086, shows further evidence for paper making at Claverley. Articles of agreement between Thomas Whitmore of Ludson, esq.,Edward Ridley of Hopston, Claverley, gent., and William Evans of Hopston, miller, recite that Whitmore is the owner of certain corn mills (now paper mills) called Sutton Mills, and that Ridley is the owner, and Evans the tenant, of the water corn mill called Hopston Mill, supplied by water from the Claverley and Powkehold brooks. Ridley and Evans have committed trespass and damage to Sutton Mills, by raising the banks and floodgates and impeding the waters back from Sutton Mills. Lawsuits ensued, and it was agreed that Ridley and Evans were to pay £10.00 and covenant for the future management of the water of the mill. A lease dated 1727, ref 6000/1085, also mentions three former corn mills converted to paper.

While compiling his survey, L C Lloyd corresponded with the Rev R P Guy, vicar of Claverley, and quoted his information. This is what he had to say about the Claverley mills:-

“There were two mills at Hopstone, one known as Hopstone Mill and the other as the Paper Mill. When the latter ceased to be worked as a paper mill it was turned into a milling and malting house. The original paper mill did a very flourishing business in the days when paper was made from rags. Its output was mainly confined to paper used in accountancy. The mills were driven by water power, and to secure night and day production the Daneford and Sandford brooks were channelled, which must have cost the proprietors a substantial sum. The aqueduct is nearly three-quarters of a mile long, and in places is fifteen feet above the water-bed. Even today the mill pond is a fairly extensive sheet of water, and the natural flow is continuous and strong.”

Evidence of another woman working in the paper industry is in the form of this monumental inscription. With delightful spelling it stands testament to the life of Mary Phipss at Cound.

X7381/68/354A  University of Birmingham, ref MYT/1-7

Her involvement in the business must have been substantial for it to be recorded on her grave. It is interesting to note the division of labour between husband and wife and that it was “browne papar” which they specialised in.

As well as water, the other essential ingredient to paper manufacture was a supply of linen rags. The scarcity of good linen rag was often cited as a limitation on the quality and quantity of local papers and provincial producers complained that rag was being exported to France. Brown paper could be made from lower grade materials such as stained or dyed linen, old rope and hessian.

In order to follow this detour into Shropshire papermaking I am indebted to the research of L C Lloyd and Ralph Collingwood. Poor law records and monumental inscriptions have also proved useful in adding detail to the history of this industry and to lives of these Shropshire women.


  • History of papermaking in the United Kingdom. (
  • Paper-Making in Shropshire, L C Lloyd. C27.1
  • ‘The Early Paper Mills of Shropshire: An Update’, Ralph W Collingwood, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society vol LXXX, 2005 pp 113-124
  • Shropshire Notes and Queries, 7 October 1904
  • Country Apprentices 1710-1808. National Archives and on Find my Past.
  • Antiquarian notes and drawings relating to Shropshire parishes, collected by William Mytton (d. 1746). Images can be viewed on our website but the original volumes are held at Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham, reference MYT/1-7


Written by alisonm - Modified by sarahd

One thought on “Two women papermakers”

  1. Jemma Bryan says:

    This is very interesting thank you! I’m just starting out as a woman in papermaking in Shropshire! Great sources.

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