Sittingbourne Mill History

The Early History

Map of 1769 showing the paper mill

The earliest history of paper making in Sittingbourne dates back to 1708, when Peter Archer was recorded as a Paper Maker living in Sittingbourne. Between 1720 and 1749 the ownership changed to William Stevens (Peter Archer moved to Chartham); however, in 1749 Stevens was made bankrupt. By 1756 the Lays were recorded as Paper Makers in the parish. The first evidence of paper being made on the Sittingbourne Mill site is a map drawn up in 1769 (see left the 'papper mill' is just right of the centre). By 1820 the mill had changed over to the ownership of Edward Smith. The East Kent Gazette in 1858 describes Mr Smith' and his mill as "of rather a novel and extraordinary character". It is possible that Edward Smith was the first owner to install some type of machinery, but by 1850 the mill had started to fall into disrepair.

The Lloyd Years - 1863 to 1937

The Mill before the office block was built in 1891

The publisher Edward Lloyd bought the site in 1863 to supply his mills in Bow with pulped straw (from the local farmers) and esparto (imported from Algeria and Southern Spain). These materials began to replace cotton rag as the basic fibre of paper from around this time, as cotton rag was becoming more expensive. Lloyd expanded the site to the south of the old mill after a fire in 1863. In 1876 the first machine was built on the site and by 1887 there were 4 machines in the building located on the site of the old mill.

Picture of Frank Lloyd

In 1890 on the death of his father ownership passed to Frank Lloyd. In the same year wood pulp was used for the first time in addition to straw and esparto. In 1891 7 more machines (in the New Mill - No.2 Mill), a new power house and the office block were built. These same machines were destroyed again by fire in 1900, but the mill and its machines were rebuilt very quickly afterwards.

The Mill in 1918

1904 saw the building of the light railway from the mill to the wharf at Milton Creek and was extended in 1913 to the new dock built at Ridham. The height of the mill's importance came in 1912 when, with its 17 machines making over 2000 tonnes per week, Sittingbourne Mill was the largest mill in the world. It employed 1200 people at that time. The new mill at Kemsley was built in 1924 with two machines and in 1927 the new Kemsley Village was planned and the club house and sport grounds were opened. Later in the same year Frank Lloyd died aged 73; his planned work was continued by Sir William Berry who then bought the mill. In 1936 the first roller coating station was installed at Sittingbourne and the smaller Bowaters group took over the ownership of the mill and the Edward Lloyd group to become the Bowater-Lloyd group.

The Bowater Years - 1936 to 1986

The water tower near to completeion

In 1937 Sittingbourne started to move away from newsprint to new grades of paper, including Kraft papers, a white coated paper and the development of the Cotine range. In the lead up to the second world war, paper demand was reduced which resulted in the closure of 2 machines. During the war the mill was turned over to the production of munition transportion carriages and "drop tanks" which were made of paper and resin. These 'disposable' fuel tanks allowed fighter planes to carry more fuel and therefore support the bombers on their night-time raids. Once the fuel had been used, the tanks would be dropped and a small explosive charge inside them detonated. After the war there were major changes to the infrastructure of the mill with the relocation of the power plant to Kemsley and the laying of the 2.5 mile steam line. In 1957 the water tower was completed and by 1961 the Jubilee Street expansion had been completed, with the finishing department now on the site where Jubilee Street once stood. As with much in the mill the name stuck until the closure of the mill.

The next major development was the introduction of a trailing blade coater at Sittingbourne, the first one to be built in the UK. Another pioneering development happened when in 1966 a start was made to computerise PM16 (paper machine 16); this work continued to 1969. The last machine to shut in No.2 Mill (the second oldest part) was PM11 in 1967, which left 4 machines in No.3 Mill.

The Salle in 1962

Prior to 1969 there were a large number of women employed in the mill, working in the three Salles sorting the cut paper by hand for debris, joins etc. In 1969 two new cutters where commissioned that meant that much of this work was no longer required. In the 1970's the Nimrod brand was first introduced, which stay until the closure in 2007. The Coater was rebuilt in 1978 and in 1982 due to the recession PM15 and 4 cutters were shut. Towards the close of the Bowaters era there was a major restructuring of the mill, with movement away from the wharf at Milton. There was also investment in the machinery with new advanced computer systems for PM16 and PM17 and again the coater was upgraded with the addition of the Matt On Line Rolls that allowed for a paper with a soft shine finish off the coater.

Sittingbourne Paper Company Year

Content to be added shortly, please come back soon!!

The Final Years

Reeler 41 shortly before the shut

In 1998 Metsa Serla took over both Sittingbourne and Kemsley sites. The mill continued to run, with investment made to the stock preparation area, CTMP plant, coater heads and most notably the comissioning on Reeler 41. Also during this period 2 prewinders, 2 Reelers and 3 Rewinders were shut. Sittingbourne also started to make uncoated paper again with the introduction of Crossbow. Unfortunately after many years of rumour, the notice of closure came in October 2006 and the mill was shut on the 31st January 2007. The last reel of paper off PM15 was at 09:32 on the 23rd January, PM16 10:37 on the 28th January and the last set reel off Reeler 41 at 22:08 also on the 28th January 2007. The last reels off the machines saw the close of paper making at the site after over 300 years of history.

The last reel off PM15