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Esk Mills

Esk Mills header

In 1805 the two cotton mills at Esk Mills were purchased by two distillers, James Haig and John Philp. Their brother-in-law, John White spent nearly £4,000 converting one of the cotton mills into a hand made paper mill with two vats. However, six years later the paper mill closed and Esk Mills was leased to the Transport and Barracks Board. It became a French Prisoner of War camp, but, following escapes, it became a barracks for the guards of French prisoners at Valleyfield.

James Brown took control of Esk Mills in 1820 and gave his name to the company. Under his able leadership papermaking flourished. By 1825 there were 4 vats, but the future lay in machines, paper machines. In 1832 Esk Mills had 2 machines making printing and writing paper with a warehouse in Edinburgh. In 1826 James Brown patented a method for bleaching paper. 10 years later he patented suction boxes for paper machines. On his death in 1852, the business passed to his son-in-law Thomas McDougal. The mill grew and prospered. Steam engines supplemented water power.

Demand for paper was boosted in 1861 when excise duty was removed. Esparto grass from Spain and North Africa now supplemented rags.

Transport costs were reduced considerably when in 1872 the railway brought in coal, esparto grass and wood pulp and carried paper to the UK and international market. In this year John Jardine joined the company. His engineering abilities helped modernise and expand the mill. Waterpower gave way to steam.

The manufacturing of coated papers started in 1896, bringing in new markets. In 1904 John Jardine’s son, William, founded the London Office.

The mill continued to expand its markets at home and overseas. Investment continued with new and refurbished machines and in the skilled workforce.

J Brown 1887

James Brown

Enamelling House workers, c1935

No 4 paper machine, 1877

Esk Mills map

Esk Mills site, Penicuik 2009

Shutting down No5 Paper Machine

Workers at the tip

Plan of Esk Mills

The Pug at Esk Mills

Brilwhite Art and Eskbridge Art were highly regarded top quality coated papers. Strathesk watermarked duplicator and electro stencil were popular copier papers of their day.

Esk Mills papers were exported around the world — New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, USA, Switzerland and even Sweden!

By the mid-60s, the Mill’s papermaking and coating machinery was totally outdated, and a decision was made to install a new Coating Preparation plant and double-side air-knife Coating machine, which started-up in 1966. Unfortunately, trying to make good quality coated paper on a new high-speed coater, using base paper from antiquated paper machines is a recipe for disaster, and this, along with other commissioning problems, resulted in financial ruin and the shut-down of the whole mill.

link to Esk Mills timeline resource
One way to avoid complete shut-down had, previously, been suggested by a member of the management, who wanted to buy-in all the base paper from another paper mill, whose base-paper had shown excellent run ability  on the Coater, and produced top quality coated Art paper. However, this would obviously have meant shutting the rest of the mill, and the Company was, alas, not prepared to do that.

Esk Mills went into liquidation on 16 April 1968 and papermaking ceased after 163 years.