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Bersham Paper Mills

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In the post-John Wilkinson iron era, Bersham became a prominent centre of paper manufacturing (above Bersham Turkey Mill circa 1890’s).  The river Clywedog fulfilled the main requirements of a good supply of fast-flowing clean water and a windy location for drying.  In the early part of the nineteenth century, three paper mills were constructed within a short distance of each other:

Bersham/Top Mill (known as Rolling Mill Works) used the same waterwheel and buildings as John Wilkinson’s East Works.  In 1818 William and Joseph Harris leased the site from Ann Wilkinson, widow of the iron master, for 45 years @ £103 per annum.  The lease was later sold to Thomas Fitzhugh of Plaspower, even though William Harris continued to operate the works.  The mill consisted of two buildings on either side of the waterwheel. The water was controlled from a weir at the ‘Argie’ (the Welsh word for dam or weir is ‘Argae’).  The weir would raise the level of the water at the leat’s mouth.  The gap in the low stone wall on the near side at the top of the waterfall would suggest that it was the position of a sluice-gate to regulate the flow of water in the leat.  The attachment holes for the sluice-gate are still visible on the upper stones on either side of the gap.  The gently-sloping leat would deliver its water to the water-wheel at the East Works situated at the site of Bersham School.

Sluice-gate gap at the ‘Argae’

Esless/Bottom Mill: Edward Bozley bought this corn mill in 1813 from Joseph Clubbe’s son, Thomas, for £2450 (these names will appear again for Esclusham Mill).  He converted it to a paper mill and built a distinctive classical style house on the site.  After Bozley died in 1814, Richard Hughes & Co took over the mill.  He left to open a paper store in Bank Street, Wrexham, and established the stationery firm of Hughes & Son in Hope Street.  In 1852 it was sold for only £850 to Ellis Phillips but was never worked as a paper mill again.  It became a chamois leather manufactory in 1875 and later the Wrexham Steam Laundry Co, before falling into disuse.  Today little remains of the former mill buildings or the house at the bottom of Esless Lane to the right of the little bridge.

Esclusham Mill/Turkey Mill: the landowner Joseph Clubbe built the mill in 1799 and let it to Edward Bozley on a 40-year lease.  Clubbe also agreed to erect a weir between the 46 Steps and Bersham pub to divert water along the leat or millrace; this ran along the bottom of the woods to the waterwheel and can still be seen today.  It continued as far as the Esless Mill.  Bozley’s lease began in 1801 @ £130 per quarter.  Clubbe built Laurel Grove across the river as part of the complex but it is not certain if the cost of the lease included the house.  Bozley lived in Esclusham Lodge built from one of the outbuildings adjoining Laurel Grove.  The house was later enlarged when the Harris family took over the running of the mill.  The former mill site is reached by going down Y Ddol past Bersham Black Lion, along the lane as far as the little bridge.  The main entrance to Laurel Grove, now subdivided into The Mews, is from Bersham Road.

Site of Turkey Mill                             

Leat or Millrace                         

Side view of Laurel Grove

It is this last mill, which became the most famous and employed the most people.  It specialised in extra superfine handmade paper for use in banknotes, chequebooks, account books, writing and drawing paper with names and watermarks.  In 1810 Bozley transferred the lease to George and William Harris of Liverpool [A Welsh Bible printed by Painter in Wrexham starts on Bozley paper and ends bearing the watermark ‘Harris 1811’]. Bozley died in 1814 and his widow, Ann, stayed on at Esclusham Lodge.  In 1831 William and Joseph Harris bought the mill outright from Thomas Clubbe, now a bankrupt, taking out two mortgages on this and Esless Mill.

Sometime during the 1840s the name Esclusham Mill was changed to Turkey Mill.  The origin of the name is unknown but since there are other Turkey Mills in Britain, it could have been a make of paper based on the colour Turkey Red or possibly a denotation of good quality.  The Harris family became bankrupt and all their Bersham property was sold at auction in Liverpool in 1850 for £5250.

The era of Henry Methold Greville, a Northampton chemist, began in 1854 when he leased the Mill and Laurel Grove from the new owner.  He died seven years later and his widow, Anne, and son, Charles, bought the property outright  for £4400.  By 1881 there were 74 employees under the manager James Matthews.  Charles died in 1894 and the business was continued by his sister, Emily, helped by managing director Robert Dover.

The mill burnt down in 1897 causing a huge loss of stock and great hardship to those employed there.  Local residents in the villages sent a letter of sympathy to Laurel Grove and formed a relief fund for those put out of work.  H M Greville & Son issued a statement full of optimism that the mill would soon be back in business.  This became urgent, as they had a pending order for £2000 with the Indian Government.  

Soon after this fire Mrs Ann Greville died at the age of 85 and her funeral was attended by all the mill workers.  Robert Henry Done, a Wrexham Alderman, purchased the mill and set about rebuilding it.  Many improvements were made to the now fireproofed building, including a 60HP engine to supplement the work of the waterwheel, a water tower, office and boardroom.  Emily entertained guests at Laurel Grove for the new opening ceremony.  She too died in 1900 at the age of 60 and the house was advertised to be let.  The mill continued under various owners until the outbreak of the First World War, always using the Greville & Son watermarks.  Wood pulp gradually replaced rag as the main raw material for papermaking and hand-made paper started to become a rarity.  Machines were invented to produce an unbroken sheet of paper but without this new mechanisation, the Bersham mills ceased production.

Paper Making Techniques:

Employees: In the latter part of the nineteenth century it is possible to see from censuses who the manager of the Turkey Mill was.  In 1881 the mill was quite a family affair for James Matthews:

His address is written as ‘Near paper Mill’, presumably Esclusham Lodge at  Laurel Grove. Ten years later the manager is John Isgar, who was living at Rose Cottage, Rhostyllen, before moving into the mill accommodation.  He had moved from Somerset to work in the Bersham paper industry and now lived with his wife and eight children in the ‘Turkey Paper Mill House’.

John Matthews was a 23 year old foreman who had worked at the mill for thirteen years. He started in the ‘picking engine’ at 2s per week (“I picked bits of dirt out of the pulp as it was turned in the vat by the engine”).  He was now earning 23s per week as foreman and was responsible for hiring the boys and girls, some of whom were paid ‘by the piece’ and could earn 1s. 6d. more than those paid by the day.  Girls were employed from the age of 11 as rag cutters, glazers and paper sorters; boys worked as ‘engineers’ on the beating machines.  Even though the hours were long, work conditions were generally good and workers were allowed an hour to go home for dinner.  The boys and girls had had little education and were mostly illiterate.

There were also jobs for rag collectors, who would tour houses to collect unwanted cloth and sell it directly to the mills.  The ‘Rag and Bone’ man was a common sight in the nineteenth century, especially after the Irish Famine when many people emigrated from Ireland to Wales and England.

Today: Nothing remains of the Top Mill at the site of the former Bersham School; only the weir at the ‘Argae’ reminds us of the past heritage.  The Esless/Bottom Mill became a private house before demolition in the 1960s; the Harper family lived there for many years until they moved to Henblas Road, Rhostyllen.  The Turkey Mill was converted into a private residence and remains so to this day. (Eryl Jones)

Bersham Paper Mill Workers c1894

“This is a picture of workers from Bersham Paper Mill, c1894. My great grandmother, Emma Price from Machine House, is seventh from the left front row. Her first born son, Charles Hampden Edwards (my grandfather) married the young girl, Emma Evans, at the front of the group.

Charles and Emma married at Plas Power Chapel (Bersham church) on 17th June 1901 My grandfather was at one time, a barber in Rhostyllen, then Wrexham. They lived for a while at Y Fraich, Aberoer and later at Canal Cottages on Croesnewydd Road” (Janet Robinson)

Esless Mill Fire Insurance Plate

Bersham Paper Mills - (17/06/16) - Produced by Philip Philips and published in his column in the Wrexham Leader