Sir John Spilman (also spelt Spielman) (died 1626) was a Lindau, German-born entrepreneur who founded the first commercially successful paper-mill in England, establishing a factory on the River Darenth in Dartford, Kent in 1588. Spilman was also jeweller to Queen Elizabeth I, and was knighted by King James I.
In 1588 Spilman was granted a Crown lease on two mills in the Manor of Bignores at Dartford (the mills were previously leased to local landowner William Vaughan who died in 1580). Spilman repaired and altered the mills, at an estimated cost of £1,500, and financed the employment of skilled German paper-makers to produce good quality white paper. One of the first works published using Spilman's paper was a poem by Thomas Churchyard dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh thus:
A sparke of friendship, and warm good will ; with a poem concerning the commodity of sundry sciences ; especially concerning paper, and a mill, lately set up near Dartfort by a high German, called Mr. Spilman, jeweller to the queen majesty.
The works became a major source of local employment, with some 600 workers.
Spilman secured a patent dated February 1589 giving him a monopoly in buying materials for making white paper, and preventing anyone from setting up in competition without his permission. This monopoly was extended by a further 14 years in July 1597 and effectively prevented other mills from making highly prized white paper (most rival concerns were engaged in producing inferior quality brown paper).
John Spilman was knighted by James I in 1605, probably in relation to his work as court goldsmith and jeweller rather than his paper-making exploits. At the same time, he was also granted the Manor of Bexley, which he subsequently sold to William Camden.
Spilman is also reputed to have been responsible for introducing Lime (Linden) trees into the UK.
Spilman died in 1626 and is commemorated in Holy Trinity Church, Dartford. His first wife Elizabeth Mengel, daughter of a Nuremberg merchant, died in 1607 aged 55. He had several children by his second wife Katherine who survived until about 1644.
- Dartford: Cradle of Britain's Papermaking Industry; http://www.dartfordarchive.org.uk/technology/paper.shtml
- Timperley, C. H. (1839), A Dictionary of Printers and Printing
- "Parishes: Bexley", The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 2 (1797), pp. 162-183. . Accessed 14 March 2008.
- Kent Online; http://www.kentonline.co.uk/aroundkent/details_general.asp?village=15970