On the Paper Trail in Apsley….
Frogmore Paper Mill isn’t somewhere you’re going to stumble over on the way to somewhere else. Yes, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump off the A41 at Apsley, but the entrance is tucked well away down a residential street. Blink and you’ll miss it. And that would be a shame.
We’d been there before, years ago, before our youngest was even a twinkle, and had a great time at one of their open days. But there’s been loads going on there since then — and so we booked in to one of the tours of the mill which let you have a good nosey around and have a go at some bits and bobs yourself.
Now — history time — Frogmore is remarkable for, among other things, being the first place in the world (oh yeah) where paper was made with a machine, rather than by hand. And it’s still a working mill. Paper is still being produced there commercially every day, and that’s what makes it special as a place to visit.
We were given our tour — us and another family — by a super-knowledgeable volunteer. Not some teenager with a Saturday job who’s learnt it all off notes, but an experienced chap with a history of working in the paper and printing industry who had all sorts of arcane info to share and who could answer pretty much any question we threw at him. He also teaches the letterpress classes that they hold at the Mill, having set up and collated the letterpress collection they have there himself.
When we got to the working part of the Mill, the chap who was there making paper — as he does every day — took over and talked us through the mechanized process, giving the children bits of paper from every stage — from very soggy almost-still-pulp right up to the finished product — to feel and compare.
The production part of the Mill is loud and cold and a bit smelly — not a bad smell, but quite distinctive — and absolutely fascinating. Most of us don’t often get to see proper working machinery up close like that, and it’s actually really interesting and — shh… don’t tell the kids — educational.
My two loved learning about the different things that you can turn into paper — old bank notes, banana peels, denim, and — ewww… — elephant poo, which they get from Whipsnade Zoo. There’s even paper for sale in the shop there that includes grass clippings from Centre Court at Wimbledon. How cool is that?
The tour started with a chance for our two to make paper themselves by hand, in the way it’s always been made right back to its very beginning. It’s gloopy, it’s wet, and it’s extremely satisfying to see what essentially resembles very sloppy porridge turn into a piece of paper that’s flat and smooth and dry enough to write on — right, quite literally, at your fingertips.
They’re not open every day, but it’s worth checking out when — and looking up their open days and workshops. The open days include all sorts of craft activities and paper-related fun stuff — whether that’s making paper, making things with paper, drawing or printing on paper, folding paper, you name it.
For us, it was a pretty spot-on afternoon out. It satisfied with kids’ desire to get hands on and do something, Mr C’s engineering inclinations, and my stationary fetish — all in one place. With a nice cup of tea at the cafe afterwards. Result.