The origin of the paper mill dates back to 1877, but there has always been a mill of some type or another on or near the site.
The attraction was the ample supply of water from the Hyndburn river, and coal from shafts near the canal. The paper mill was a branch of a Scottish firm and Scottish labour was brought into Rishton and is though to be responsible for the strong element of non-conformity.
Rishton Paper Making and Staining Co., Ltd., formed in 1874 to build and run works on north side of Holt Bridge. The mill was erected on, or near to the site of a late eighteenth century carding engine and the corn mill drying kiln.
In 1876 the paper works commenced on June 17th.
BY 1876 the works included esparto, chemical and rag sheds, chopping, boiling and bleaching rooms. Machinery comprised two paper machines, 14 rag engines, three paper cutters with auxiliary engines, a double 50 horse power beam engine by W. & J. Yates, three boilers by the same maker, and a 25 horse power water turbine wheel. The company went into liquidation during 1878. In 1879 the mortgagees sold the works to Philip C. Peebles, a London paper maker.
A.M. Peebles & Son, Ltd., incorporated 1896, made major extensions and restoration followed, including erection of auxiliary works south-west of Holt Bridge in 1904-06. A. M. Peebles floated on July 18th, 1896 raising capital worth £200,000
On November 13th, 1879, a boiler exploded at the paper mill, 11 women were injured by scalding. The boiler had only been fitted several weeks early, and commenced working 10 days prior. At the time of the explosion the boiler contained 3 tons of Esparto Grass, and steam pressure regulated at 6lb. The boiler was emptied via a door or lid, approximately 4 ft 6 in, by 3 ft 9 in, and it was this that gave way. A great rush of steam and liquid forced its way through the floor above where the women where having breakfast in the canteen, they were partially sheltered by the grass, or the injuries would have been much worse than just scalding1.
During the early twentieth century the manufacture of art and chromo papers replaced newsprint production. There were about 300 employees by the 1920's. After the collapse of A.M. Peebles & Son Ltd., in 1927 R. Gilroy and others formed A.M. Peebles (1927) Ltd., to continue the works.
At the end of March and the beginning of April 1936 there were 2 fires in the space of two weeks at the mill. On 4th May, another mystery fire broke out. This was followed by the fourth fire on the 10th, and the last.
A second company, Peebles (Papermakers) Ltd., was registered in 1937 and in the following year the name was changed to Rishton Paper Mills Ltd. A public company was established in 1946 and subsequently became a subsidiary of the British Printing Corporation Ltd. The plant at this time included two paper making machines producing wood free white and tinted banks, cream woves, bonds and body papers. There was approximately 140 operatives.
Plans were submitted for a new roof at the Rishton Paper Mill Company's Works, Hermitage Street, Rishton on the 12th August 1943. The plans were approved under the Council's Bye-laws.
The council Clerk was instructed to draw the attention of the Rishton Paper Mills, Ltd., to the littering of roads with straw on the 9th August 1945.
On the 30th August 1951, Attention was drawn to the condition of the wall of the burnt-out building adjoining the main road. The Surveyor was instructed to inspect this wall, and if found to be dangerous to take the necessary action in serving the required forms notice.
The Clerk reported that he had discussed the service of the notice regarding this Building with the Secretary of the concern, on the 22nd November 1951, who had informed the Clerk that application had been made to the Ministry of Works for a Building Licence in order to commence demolition of the dangerous building.
The Rishton Paper Mill, Ltd., commenced work on the demolition of the building on the 7th January 1952.
On the 15th December 1952, the Paper Mill closed because of a trade recession.
In 1967, Rishton paper Mill Company were a member of a group of companies whose head office was at Paulton near Bristol.
The original reasons for location are no longer valid. One of the main reasons was the water of the river Hyndburn. The river was harnessed to provide power for the wheel at the paper mill and an artificial island and weir were constructed to divert the flow of water. Instead of river water, the water supply is now filtered from the lodge South of the A678, but the river still maintains the man made course. The coal for firing the boilers has been superseded by coke delivered by lorry from Altham coke works near Burnley.
There are disadvantages to the present site. Access to and from the A678 is very bad, the entrance is concealed at the foot of the downhill speed section of Hermitage Street. The gateway is to narrow for the large lorries and traffic delays are always caused as they attempt to manoeuvre across the road. The basic material, wood pulp was imported from Scandinavia in dry powder form and transported from Preston by road.
In present circumstances, the buildings are adequate and during the 1960 to 1967 extensive renovations took place.
Of the 140 employees there in 1966, 81 lived in Rishton and the mill employed 106 men and 36 women. The manufacturing processes were all done by machinery and only 25 were directly concerned with this. The greatest percentage of the workforce were engaged in maintaining the boilers and power plant, cutting and storing paper, loading and unloading lorries and administration work. The majority of the women worked in the packing department. 8 shifts maintained a 24-hour working day. The majority of young people used the mill as a stopgap till there was an employment opportunity at one of the larger firms in the area.
Rishton paper mill produced wood free white and limited banks and bands of high quality used in the printing industry. Everything was for the home market and most of the paper was sent to Dunstable and Bristol. This means that Rishton was a considerable distance from the markets, but this was a result of business negotiations and mergers behind industry.
The future was promising as long as the present group was not taken over. If this occurred, the mill would close down because of age, location, and small profit margins. There was room to expand, but this seemed unlikely at the present time.
The paper mill closed in 1980 when a certain Newspaper magnet (Robert Maxwell) landed in his helicopter informed everyone that there jobs were safe. That Christmas he sent all the employees a Christmas card depicting his family, and wishing the workers a happy new year. The following February he closed the plant down.
I have never seen a more sorry day as the excitement of an helicopter landing in the town became realisation of what had happened, watching all those people trudge up the hill with long faces as the helicopter soared away in the background.........
The machines from the plant were all stripped and sold, with much nastiness between the paper mill workers and the men breaking the machines up.
Now the mill is another building that has been divided up into smaller units. The only remains are a waste paper company that gives it a certain feel.
Identifiable structures include the brick built auxiliary works, roadside offices, weigh house with weighbridge dated 1919, former beam and turbine engine houses and circular brick chimney. Most of the works appears to date from the twentieth century. The works reservoir was sited above the auxiliary works, south of Hermitage Street.
Here’s a photo of the former Hostelry looking towards the paper mill. The level of the road has increased so much over the years that from road level you can look directly into the top windows of the house.
Council Minutes 1935
A North east Lancashire Town by Marian Sleigh
Industrial Rishton by Kathleen Broderick
A Chronology of Accrington and Men of Mark, by R. S. Crossley, Published 1924.
Gladys McLachlan, former paper mill worker.
1 The Times, Saturday, Nov 15, 1879; pg. 6; Issue 29726; col B