John Dickinson (inventor)

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John Dickinson

John Dickinson (29 March 1782 – 11 January 1869) invented a continuous mechanised papermaking process and founded the paper mills at Croxley Green, Apsley and Nash Mills in England, which evolved into John Dickinson Stationery Limited.

Dickinson built and lived at Abbots Hill, Nash Mills, on a hillside site looking down upon his mills in the valley bottom.


Dickinson was the eldest son of Captain Thomas Dickinson RN and his wife Frances born de Brissac. Thomas Dickinson was the superintendent of the Ordnance Transports at Woolwich and Frances Dickinson was the daughter of a French silk-weaver in Spitalfields.

At the age of fifteen, Dickinson started a seven-year apprenticeship as a stationer with Messrs Harrison and Richardson in London. He was admitted to the Livery of the Stationers' Company in 1804 and began to trade, in stationery, in the City of London.

He demonstrated his resourceful nature by inventing a new kind of paper for cannon cartridges. This type of paper did not smoulder after the cannon had fired, which had been the cause of constant accidental explosions in the artillery. Until his time, paper was produced using rag and esparto, instead of the conventional wood pulp[1] Dickinson patented his invention, and it was taken up by the army. It was said to have been of great value in the battles against Napoleon, increasing the British firing rate while simultaneously reducing premature firing accidents.

In an age of technical innovation, attempts had already been made to build a machine capable of the continuous manufacture of paper to replace the handmade techniques then used, notably by the Frenchman Henry Fourdriner.

Dickinson patented his own design in 1809. In that same year he found financial backing from financier George Longman. He was then able to purchase a former flour mill at Apsley, Hertfordshire which had already been converted to manufacture paper by the previous owner. John Stafford, the seller, had been one of Dickinson's suppliers. Dickinson installed his own design of machinery at the mill.

Dickinson was also involved with producing a paper containing silk threads, which was produced for security purposes. This paper was known as the Penny Post.[2] Another achievement that sprang from Dickinson's factory, was the invention of envelopes that had a gum like adhesive to keep them closed. This production started in 1850[3]

In 1858, Dickinson passed along his thriving business to his nephew John Evans.[4] Over the years, the company has merged with several other stationery manufacturers. The most recent was with Hamelin Brands in 2008[5] From small beginnings, his company went on to become John Dickinson Stationery, one of the largest stationery manufacturers in the world.

Dickinson paper making process[edit]

The process consisted of a perforated cylinder of metal, with a closely fitting cover of finely woven wire, which revolved in a vat of wood pulp. The water from the vat was carried off through the axis of the cylinder, leaving the fibres of the wood pulp clinging to the surface of the wire. An endless web of felt passed through what was known as a 'couching roller' lying upon the cylinder drew off the layer of pulp which when dried became paper.


Dickinson was probably born in London as the eldest of nine children of Captain Thomas Dickinson RN (1754–1828) and his wife, Frances de Brissac (1760–1854). In 1810 he married Ann Grover (1789 - 1874). She was the daughter of Harry Grover (1761 - 1835), a banker from Hemel Hempstead. There were seven children. John Dickinson, the writer, was the eldest surviving son. One of the daughters, Harriet Ann, married her first cousin, son of Dickinson's sister Anne and her husband Arthur Benoni Evans. John Evans, Dickinson's nephew and son-in-law, took over the business, and also achieved eminence in several scholarly fields.[6]

Dickinson's grandchildren included Sir Arthur John Evans (1851–1941), curator of the Ashmolean Museum and excavator of Minoan Crete, and his brother Lewis Evans (1853–1930), the collector.


  1. ^ Magee, Gary (Summer 1997). "Competence or omniscience? Assessing entrepreneurship in the Victorian and Edwardian British paper industry". Business History Review. 71 (2): 230–259. doi:10.2307/3116159.
  2. ^ "John Dickinson 1782–1869". The Paper Trail. Archived from the original on 14 May 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  3. ^ Matlach, Mark. "John Dickinson & Co. Ltd." COSGB. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  4. ^ Matlach, Mark. "John Dickinson & Co. Ltd". COSGB. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  5. ^ Matlach, Mark. "John Dickinson & Co. Ltd". COSGB. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  6. ^ Jenkins, Ailsa. "Dickinson, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/94145. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

Further reading[edit]

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