Sir John Evans Centenary Project - image background is marbled paper from one of John Evans's books John Evans Numismatic Society Medal 1899

John Dickinson & Co Ltd

John Dickinson (John Evans's father-in-law) was born on 29 March 1782, the eldest son of Captain Thomas Dickinson, R.N. and Frances (nee de Brissac). When he was 15 he was apprenticed for seven years to Thomas Harrison, a stationer, in London, and was admitted to the livery of the Stationers' Company in 1804. 3 years before this however, he had set up his own business. A notebook of 1801 shows him making money by discounting bills and by 1802 was making a good income this way. Papermakers and publishers were his clients. By 1804 he was trading as a stationer and paper seller in London.

Dickinson family tree
Dickinson family tree

Dickinson entered the business of paper manufacture when he acquired his first mill in the valley of the River Gade in Hertfordshire. He had bought paper from George Stafford of Apsley Mill, Hemel Hempstead and purchased Stafford's mill in 1809. Dickinson then acquired a partner, George Longman, son of a publisher from the Longman publishing house in London, where they acquired an office at 63 Old Bailey. Dickinson purchased his second mill, Nash Mills, around 1810-11, shortly after his marriage to Ann Grover. This mill was another converted old corn mill as Apsley had been. John and Ann had 7 children, four dying young and only Frances, John and Harriet survived. Harriet became John Evans first wife. In 1815 Dickinson took over a small paper mill at Batchworth, developing it for the production of half-stuff (the raw materials used to make the finished paper).

Dickinson was a man of iron determination and had courageous vision. He refused to admit defeat by the initial difficulties and disappointments. Disputes over water rights of the Gade, caused the canal to be built closer to his mills in 1818 financial difficulties, wheel shafts breaking, boilers bursting; a bad fire in 1813 destroyed nearly all the mill and in 1821 a chimney fire at Batchworth was put out just in time to prevent too much damage. In 1830 a gang of machine makers from the 'Swing Riots' marched upon the mills on the Gade Valley, but turned back when confronted with Dickinsons hurriedly gathered defence force.

Dickinson continued to expand the business, acquiring more mills and installing his newly invented and patented machines. He reorganised Nash Mills and installed a steam-engine to supplement the old water wheels. In 1826 he built a new mill, Home Park, about a mile down stream from Nash Mills. The next mill was at Croxley, near Watford, five miles by canal from Home Park mill. Around 1835 he built a second half-stuff mill at Manchester, a larger paper machine replaced the smaller one at Apsley and in 1838 Croxley Mill was enlarged to produce 14 tons of paper a week. The financial strains eased with small amounts of money coming in from benefactors. Around 1834 John and Ann left Nash House and moved to London, John finding it very difficult to commute to London several days a week; instead he kept a room at Nash Mills Farm when he needed to attend to business at the mill. The London and Birmingham Railway followed the Grand Junction Canal up the valley of the Gade in 1837 which made travelling between London and Nash Mills much easier.

Financially things were improving greatly. In 1836 John Dickinson built a new house, Abbot's Hill, where he had purchased 125 acres of land east of Nash Mills. He subscribed towards a new church at Leverstock Green, in 1847 he built a school at Nash Mills and gave land by King's Langley Station to build a retreat for the Booksellers Provident Retreat. At the same time, son John, who had been well educated at Eton, began working reluctantly at the Old Bailey branch. Taking off for Bonn and Italy and working in between. By 1840 his parents knew John would not be making a career in the family business, but his aunt Anne Evans, had four sons and her second son John Evans was sent to work in the mills under his uncle John Dickinson.

John Dickinson's daughter Frances Elizabeth (Fanny) married Frederick Pratt Barlow, and his other daughter Harriet married her cousin John Evans, who eventually took over the business.

The chairman at the time the Endless Web was written was J.W. Randall and he stated 'In the House of Dickinson we believe that the spirit of our Founder lives on, and that it is a never-dying inspiration to all who serve beneath the 'Lion Brand' banner, our trade mark'. John Evans adopted the lion in his crest.

The Endless Web, the publication written by Joan Evans in 1955 on the history of Dickinsons was produced on Croxley Mill antique wove paper, the illustrations on Croxley photogravure printing paper and the jacket on Evensyde Offset (smooth finish). The text is set in monotype Caslon Old Face, based on the first set of type punches cut by William Caslon the first, in 1722.

After a series of mergers and takeovers, John Dickinson's Stationery Ltd relocated to Sawston, Cambridgeshire in 1999, merging with the large stationary company, Hamelin, in 2005. The company is now known as Hamelin Paperbrands and in 2008 relocated to a new headquarters at Red Lodge in Suffolk. Until recently there were still branches in Hillsborough, Belfast, Tetbury in Gloucestershire and Washington, Tyne and Wear.

Apsley Paper Trail has recently acquired a bust of John Dickinson, an image of which appears on the front cover of The Endless Web and an oil painting of him as a young man.

Further References / Links:

Joan Evans, Time and Chance: The Story of Arthur Evans and His Forebears (1943)

Joan Evans, The Endless Web, John Dickinson & Co Ltd 1804-1954 (1955)

Apsley Paper Trail has details of the Dickinsons paper mills.

More can be found on recent developments for what was formerly known as John Dickinson's Stationery Ltd at the Hamelin Paperbrands website.