Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Kemsley Paper Mill

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1936. The power plant at the Kemsley paper mill.

Paper manufacture started in Sittingbourne in 1708, when Peter Archer was recorded as a paper-maker. Sittingbourne Paper Mill existed from circa 1769, which by 1820 had grown and was owned by Edward Smith. After newspaper editor turned publisher, Edward Lloyd, bought the factory in 1863, it burnt down that August.

1863 Lloyd had the Sittingbourne paper mill rebuilt but closer to the new railway to enable easier shipping of product to his newspaper presses in Bow, East London. Paper supply was maintained by extra production from his London sites - see Edward Lloyd - through use of longer shifts.

1876 After purchasing the Daily Chronicle, Lloyd installed new machinery capable of producing 1,300 square feet (120 m2) of paper per minute, and handed over management of the site to his youngest son, Frederick.

By 1882, the transfer of paper-making from London to Sittingbourne was complete, enabled by using esparto grass imported from Algeria and Southern Spain via the creek port as a replacement for expensive cotton rag; the plant supplied newsprint to the Bow presses.

The site's production capability was expanded by converting the mill to steam power, and, after the death of Edward in 1889, his eldest son Frank introduced a horse-drawn tramway to carry materials from a new wharf at Milton Creek to the mill.

As the mill expanded and silt built up in Milton Creek, in 1904 the tramway was converted into a narrow gauge railway, to allow both ships and barges to offload pulp product at Ridham, for onward transport to the mill. On what is now known as the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway, the first of three steam locomotives came into operation in 1906, all being 0-4-2 Brazil-type tank engines, sourced from Kerr Stuart.

1910 United Newspapers was created to buy out Lloyd’s newspapers, separating it from the paper-making side which continued as Edward Lloyd Ltd.

By 1912, the resultant investment made the Sittingbourne Paper Mill the largest producer of newsprint in the world, with 1,200 employees using 17 machines to make over 2000 tonnes per week and supply the demands of Fleet Street.

Following a shortage of pulp in the early 1920s, from 1924 Frank developed a new mill at Kemsley, together with a model village for its employees - this became the present-day Kemsley village.

After Frank's death in 1936, the a majority interest in the renamed Lloyd Group was taken over by Bowater Paper Mills; a joint sales organisation was established for the two companies, a joint organisation was formed to acquire and develop mills in Newfoundland.

After both plants were acquired by Finnish-based paper company Metsa Serla in 1998, the decision was made to close the Sittingbourne Mill in October 2006, with the last reel being produced on 23 January 2007.

Today the Sittingbourne site has been redeveloped, whilst the Kemsley mill is owned by D. S. Smith. With an annual production capacity of around 800,000 tonnes, it is the second biggest recovered fibre-based paper operation in Europe. Presently the plant produces K-Light testliner in white and brown, dual purpose liner/fluting, standard fluting and plasterboard liners.

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