Basted Paper Mills – Potted history by Frank Bangay
Largely taken from Basted Paper Mills – W.E. Bridge (1948)
Paper was being made at Basted over 200 years ago, but there are two references to mills in this spot in the Ightham Court Rolls, one in 1504, the other in 1438, and Mill Lane in 1614. These references are probably to a water mill for grinding corn. During 1931 excavations found traces of Roman occupation, from the third century.
The first paper was made here in about 1750 from rags. Rags were always used at Basted, It was not until after 1774 when Scheele discovered chlorine that useful white papers were made from materials other than rags. In the 18th century an Act was passed forbidding under heavy penalties the use of linen graveclothes for burials, an estimated 1180 tons of cloth was saved, no doubt Basted Mill had their quota of this.
In 1836 the first machine was installed at this time the water wheel here was the largest in the County. Steam was now the motive power. The railway at Wrotham came in 1874 and prior to this coal and rags were carted from Aylesford Station in waggons drawn by two heavy carthorses. Stationery Office orders were dispatched to London the same way, the wagons would start from the mill about 4 p.m. and. arrive in London the next day. In 1872 another 57 ins machine was purchased from Hamptons Mill near Hadlow, capacity now being 12 tons of first-class papers per week. This included fine ledgers, stamps, banks and loans, drawing and writing. Exhibitions took place of these papers in London 1872, Paris 1878, Sydney N.S.W. 1879.
In 1886 the machinery consisted of water wheels, two paper machines, four large steam boilers, six steam engines, and seven sets of glaze rolls. On 15 April in the same year a serious fire gutted recently erected offices and rag house. These were finally rebuilt in 1907. In the First World War large quantities of map and chart paper was sent to France for the use of the Armed forces,dispatched from Wrotham Station. (South Eastern and Chatham Railway.) In 1931 about 150 people were employed.
In December 1935 the New Hampton machine was taken out after 63 years of yeoman service.
In 1937 the old steam engine was replaced by a new steam turbine, new boilers with mechanical stokers were fitted. The Second World War came, and the Mill was heavily engaged in producing security papers. Through 200 years the mill continued turning out Rag to Ream.
The first name in connection with paper making here was Clement Taylor 1718 – 1776. Thomas Wildes bought it in 1815 and leased it to John Pine and William Thomas of Tovil Paper Mills, Maidstone. In 1833 George How Green Paper Manufacturer of Hamptons had part of the property on lease. On 1st June 1838 Thomas Wildes sold the property to H.A.Wildes who occupied it together with John Benge and Jonathan Biggs.
In the Kent directory of 1862 there is also a T. H. Busbridge at Basted. In 1857 Walter Monkton J.P. came to Basted. Walter Monkton purchased the freehold in 1875. He subsequently purchased Medway Mills, near Maidstone, and Roughway Mill near Tonbridge. In 1888 the Basted Paper Mills Company was formed. In 1930 the mills were purchased by Messrs. Wiggins Teape and Co. (1919) Ltd. In 1949 with very little notice to the staff the Mill was abruptly closed down.
I praise the man that first did paper make,
The only thing that sets all virtues forth;
It shoes new bookes and keeps old workes awake,
Much more of price than all the world is worth;
It witness bears of friendship, time and troth,
and is the tromp of vice and virtue both;
Without whose help no hap nor wealth is won,
And by whose help great works and deeds are done.
(Thomas Churchyard, 1588)