Wednesday, 4 March 2015

RIP Chimney, Wansbrough Paper Mill, Watchet

The remains of the Wansbrough Paper Mill Chimney can be seen from the footpath that runs from the junction of Harbour Road, South Road and Brendon Road to St Decuman's Church (grid reference ST 065 429).  It was built in around 1865 at the end of the underground flues, which were installed to solve draught problems from the mill's coal-fired boilers.  It was made from red bricks made at Wellington Brickworks and contrasting bands of buff coloured brick from Ebbw Vale.  Coal for the boilers arrived by sea from South Wales on the SS Rushlight until 1953 when the mill installed oil-burning boilers.  The chimney became redundant in 1962.

The chimney was dismantled in 2011 for safety reasons, despite opposition from Watchet Conservation Society and is now only 3 metres high.

The earliest record of paper making in Watchet was at Snailholt Farm in 1652 when a local farmer made money during the winter by making paper using a cider press.  Snailholt Farm was on the site of the present paper mill. 

In 1727 John Wood took over the tenancy of the mill.  He was the first of 4 generations of his family, who ran it until 1834.  By 1840 the mill was run jointly by John Wansbrough, James Date, and William Peach.  The Wansbrough family continued in partnership with other people until 1903. The first paper making machine was introduced in 1869 by A.C. Wansbrough, who was the owner at this point. In 1898 much of the mill was destroyed in a fire but it was rebuilt by the following year and became the largest manufacturer of paper bags in the country.

W. H. Reed then bought the business  in 1903 and from 1910  it formed part of the Reed and Smith group. In 1978 the company was taken over by St. Regis International, a New York company.  It was acquired in 1986 by DS Smith, who are the current owners.  It is currently the UK's largest producer of coreboard and it also produces Liner 3 (used to make corrugated cardboard), recycled envelopes and bag papers.

Update: the Wansbrough Paper Mill closed down in December 2015 with the loss of 176 jobs.


Further Reading:

The Book of Watchet and Williton Revisited: A Past and Present Pictorial Portrait - Maurice and Joyce Chidgey and Ben Norman.  Published by Halsgrove, 2007


The base of the chimney March 2015

Part of the derelict Wansborough Paper Mill in June 2020

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