Earlier this month we had the pleasure of visiting St. Cuthberts Paper Mill. Located in Wells, England this picturesque mill has been creating quality papers since the 1700s.
This mill is fortunate to have one of the few remaining Cylinder Mould Machines left in the world. It is now over 100 years old, and was originally built in 1907. This single (albeit quite large) machine, along with their master papermakers, is responsible for manufacturing every sheet of stunning Somerset, Saunders Waterford and Bockingford paper.
One of the distinguishing factors of this mill is its water supply, which is crystal clear and flows through the property from the River Axe. Although St. Cuthberts employs modern technology, it’s fascinating how the current weather still influences their paper production. When there is rain it causes the silt from the river to cloud the water, thus impacting production schedules to eliminate the manufacturing of bright whites during that period.
All paper begins with a mixture of cotton rag and/or wood pulp depending on the sheet. This pulp is added to a giant metal vat and mixed with purified water from the river to create a slurry. The slurry (or “stuff” as it’s technically referred) is carefully broken down as to not break the fibers, and thus reduce the overall strength of the final sheet. The stuff is kept in constant motion until it is fed into the mould machine. If the pulp is left to sit, the slurry will settle and result in a less than desirable sheet.
Once the slurry makes its way to the mould machine it is fed through an elaborate sequence of baths, rollers, and temperature/moisture controls. As the material weaves its way through the machine it is met with a number of water baths, heating and drying elements, and perhaps gelatin baths and/or calendering rollers depending on the sheet. The sheet will run approximately 20meters from start to finish on the mould machine! This distance can make quality control a challenge.
When the paper reaches the end of its journey a sample is removed and taken into quality control. There it put through a wide variety of tests including weight, color, texture, bursting strength, and feathering — just to name a few! At this point any necessary adjustments will be made. Once the revised sheet has made its way to the end of the machine, a sample is removed and tested. This process will continue until the sheet has passed all quality tests.
Now that the master rolls have been completed, the material will make its way upstairs for finishing. This is where the rolls will be hand teared, which is the process that enables each sheet to have four deckled edges. Other sheets might be machine cut, which results in two deckled edges or four cut edges.
It’s at this stage that all drawing and painting pads are created – by hand. Sheets are cut to size using oversized guillotines on site. The pads are then neatly stacked inside of a custom press. The edges are painted using a special padding adhesive and left to dry under pressure. Once the adhesive has dried, the stack is removed, and each pad is then hand sliced from the stack. A cover sheet is then added, and the pad is ready to go!
Thanks for having us, St. Cuthbert’s Mill! What a great and informative visit.