In the first of a two-part series, historian Mark Muller leafs through the fascinating history of paper-making in the county

WE take paper for granted but it has had a rocky history. Once it became used extensively, the government saw a tax opportunity, partly because it was becoming such a well used commodity, but primarily because there was a real fear of the working class being influenced by regular, radical writing which might suggest that they had rights.

So the remedy was to make sure that newspapers became too expensive for the masses. At its highest, taxes on newspapers meant that a newspaper cost sevenpence (7d), when the wage for a male agricultural worker was eightpence (8d) per day.

There were ways to get round this by clubbing together over a large area and buying one newspaper that did the rounds for months... having it read to large gatherings... it didn’t matter that the news was out of date. Paper had other uses and before bags became the norm, paper was used for wrapping purchases.

Paper manufacture is a highly skilled and an enormously complex industrial process; not one that you might associate with Pembrokeshire; Pembrokeshire has always been an agricultural county.

The very few examples of heavy industry in the county might be represented by the Castle Malgwyn Tin Plate Works, situated in Llechryd in the north east of the county and which at its height employed 350 men and women, or the Stepaside Iron Works which had a brief lifespan in the middle of the 19th century.

On a much smaller scale, we might want to include the Marychurch Foundry, for centuries in the centre of Haverfordwest, but it’s very rarely that we think of the three paper mills, in and around the town which had a long and successful life and which employed hundreds.

As early as 1766, there was a paper mill at the site that became known as St Martin or Haverfordwest Mill at Crowhill. (All of the mills in Haverfordwest had a variety of names which can on occasion be confusing, but Terry James and Robert Kennedy, both deceased, seem to have found, through detailed research, which name refers to which site.)

A mill had operated on this site for some considerable time prior to this. In 1764 a lease refers to, ‘two water corn grist mills and two tucking or fulling mills’. Tucking or fulling mean the same thing and were terms used for cleaning wool. (It is where the surnames Tucker and Fuller come from).

By viewing lease documents, it is possible to follow the uses to which this mill was put and by 1771 snuff appears to have replaced fulling and a partial lease was offered on a corn mill, paper mill and snuff mill. The plural use of the term, ‘mills’ doesn’t necessarily mean multiple concerns, but refers to the number of water wheels.

However, the structures in place at this site, practically in the town, must have been huge as, 60 years or so later in 1832, a report of a fire at the premises describes them as, ‘extensive’. The fire incidentally, was brought speedily under control through the, ‘very active and judicious exertions of the persons assembled’.

As a child I remember being taken along the beautiful Crowhill walk and being impressed by the still substantial ruins that remained. Now, sadly, there is nothing to be seen, but a keen eye can fairly easily make out the bridge on which the mill sat and the stone lined leat, or race, that fed the water to the mill. (It’s amazing how things can change so markedly in thirty years... well, maybe just a touch longer).

A second mill named Priory Mill (or St Thomas Mill) was situated very close to Haroldston Bridge. The leat ran behind Haroldston House, the home of artists and potters Theo and Ann Whalley, under the road and into the property that was until recently, and for fifty years, used by the O’Dare family as a pop factory. The mill buildings have long since gone.

There are a few names that keep cropping up when any of the Mills are mentioned. Lloyd, seems to be a family that owned more than one of them and who perhaps retained ownership, leasing them long term. But the name most associated with all of the mills is that of Benjamin Harvey. And so we come to Prendergast Paper Mill.

lTo be continued next week