Stoke Holy Cross Mill
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Additional History & Information

Like the mill at Oxnead the earliest reference to a paper-mill at Stoke is at the time of the death of one of the paper-makers. The Stoke mill was sold to the papermaker Abraham Caught in 1718, although the deeds then refer only to a water mill, and the earliest reference to a paper mill is in 1723. Abraham Caught the occupant died in 1727, aged 42. As the mill was not mentioned by Francis Burges in 1701 it can be reasonably assumed that it was founded after this date. There is a very full inventory in the Norwich Consistory Court series listing Caught's affects, and his will is also extant.

The inventory shows that Caught did not rely solely on the manufacture of paper for his livelihood, he owned several animals, crops and farming equipment. His stock is listed as paper of brownsorts' valued at five pounds and paper of white sorts' valued at six. Also mentioned are scales, weights, moulds and felts, together with 'three tunn of paper stuff'. The 'stuff' being the rags after washing and perhaps rotting; prior to suspension in water. The three tons were valued at twelve pounds.

The sum total of Caught's inventory is £208 16 05., quite a respectable sum in 1727, but before one is tempted to conclude that he made a lot of money from his business, there is attached to the inventory

'An account of what money Mr. Caught stoed indebted when he died Aug 27th 1727'.
This second document lists debts totalling £191 07 03 1/2 leaving a surplus of less than £20. Most of the debts were of the kind that might be left by any man, servants wages, repair work to the house, and various other small bills; but some of the items are of interest to Caught's work. Five pounds six shillings was owed 'to the king for excise' and twenty eight pounds seven shillings 'to Mr. Woodger for interest on the mortgage' (probably on the mill). Two further items show what Caught paid for the rags he needed as raw materials, 'To Mr. Wilch of Yarmouth for four tunn 4 Hund and 1 Quarter of Paper stuff' £16 17 00., and 'Pd Mr. Marsh for paper stuff' £9 16 00.

It is also apparent that at the time of his death Caught had quite a large sum of money tied up in equipment, in finished paper awaiting delivery, in raw materials, and most of all in debts due to him (presumably for paper already supplied) which alone amounted to nearly fifty pounds. The problem of providing enough capital to invest and keep making paper whilst still awaiting the receipts from earlier manufactures must have caused serious financial worries to any man setting up in such a business as the manufacture of paper. Perhaps many of the early mill owners or tenants kept a precarious balance, like Caught, between the monies owing to them and their own debts, often being close to bankruptcy. This may be the reason why Caught (and William Paultlock at Taverham mill) continued with another trade at the same time.

Caught was initially succeeded by his son Abraham, but by 1744 the mill was occupied by Villers Brooksby a surgeon and paper-maker. The Norwich Mercury for Saturday 26th May 1744 reported:

On Thursday a fire broke out at Stoke Paper-Mill-House in the Day time and burnt it to the ground with part of the Mill. The damage is computed at several hundred pounds. But what is most shocking, a great many things, which were rescued from the merciless flames and carried into the adjacent meadows were in great part of them stolen and carried away by persons unknown.
The report of the fire in the Norwich Gazette added that an engine worth one hundred pounds had been burnt down. The following week (June 2nd) Brooksby advertised in the Norwich Mercury that he would be rebuilding the mill and appealed for help from certain local gentry.

The rebuilding took place and the mill was again equipped with one of the early 'Hollander' beating engines to separate the cellulose fibres in the rags. In 1746 Abraham Caught the younger sold the mill to James Denny, with a deed referring to a mill house and the remains of a dwelling house lately destroyed by fire. In 1747 the mill was advertised in the Norwich Mercury of 24th October to be let. The mill soon began to produce paper again and an advertisement in the Norwich Mercury 29th April 1748 claimed that William Larger who had lately worked at the paper-mill had broken into and robbed the house of John Cooper, citizen of that town. Possibly the master at this time was the James Denny whose death is reported in the same paper on
April 4th 1767.

The next proprietor appears to have been Henry Cook, who was James Denny's nephew and executor, to whom the mill was conveyed in 1767. Cook is first noticed by Shorter in 1772, when the slightly bizarre antics of this man that brought the mill once again into the public eye four years later; these can be best described in Cook's own words from an advertisement in the Norfolk Chronicle for March 9th 1776:
Henry Cook of Stoke Holy Cross, near the city of Norwich Papermaker, through great Assiduity, Application, and Expence, hath invented and brought to Perfection, a Composition for the purpose of covering Houses and other Buildings, much lighter and neater than either Lead, Slate, or Tiles and more durable than either of the latter. It is neither liable to be affected by Fire, nor penetrable by Water; for the sole making and vending of which, his majesty hath granted him his Royal Letters Patent. He hath also met with such Approbation and Encouragement from many Noblemen and Gentlemen in divers Part of the Kingdom as hath induced him, to lay aside his former business and adapt his Mill &c. to the carrying on this useful and ornamental Manufactory as extensively as the very promising Prospect he hath, may require. But on the 25th January last his mill and its adjoining Premises by means unknown took fire and were entirely consumed: Hence some individual Persons, with a View to Injure the said Henry Cook, hath propagated Insinuations to the prejudice of his said Manufacture, pretending that it was impossible by any Means, to quench the fire, by reason of the inflammable nature of his composition, wherewith the Buildings were said to be covered; whereas, the said Henry Cook solemnly assures the Public, that no Part of the said Buildings were covered with the said composition, but were built of brick, and covered with pantiles, excepting a small Lean to lately erected, the spars and rafters of which were entirely consumed, whilst the covering remained unhurt . . .'
(There follows a list of names of local worthies vouching for the truth of Cook's statement.)

Cook was possibly being a little premature in his statement for the Letters Patent are in fact dated 16th March 1779 and were not inrolled until the 15th June of that year. His invention consisted of a mixture of a wide variety of materials including litharge, red lead, chalk, stone, black flint, brick dust. sand and ground glass. However he obviously made use of some of the functions of the old paper mill for at one stage in the process there was added 'old junk, rope or hemp reduced to a pulp, and all worked together in water by a watermill'.

Cook rebuilt the mill and it was again advertised to be sold or let (Cook being on the premises) in the Norfolk Chronicle 19th September 1778. Cook leased the mill to Ralph Buck for twenty-one years, with the deed referring to dwellinghouse, mill, millhouse, drying houses etc. belonging to the paper business and two tenements near the fall gate.

According to Shorter, Ralph Buck became a freeman of Norwich in 1760 as a paper dealer and chapman. He was also in business as a linen draper in Norwich until September 1778 when he took over Stoke Mill. Listed in Chase's Norwich directory 1783. (He was also in partnership with Robert MacGlashan of Swanton Morley Mill in 1783 (Insurance policy 1783 with McGlashan £1000 (Maxted). He died October 1784 (Norfolk Chronicle 24 October 1784) but was still listed by Pendred as the proprietor of Stoke Mill 1785.

Buck was succeeded first by his widow Mary in 1785, (who insured the mill for £200), and then in 1789 by his son Robert. Robert and his wife Sally were quakers, and their son George Watson (baptised 4 August 1789), later achieved fame as a civil engineer. The lease was assigned to George Watson in 1788 and was advertised to be sold next in 1790 with a lease expiring in 1799. The advertisement in the Norfolk Chronicle for 20th February mentions drying houses, sizing houses, paper engines and presses and other instruments. It was again leased to Thomas Sheton[?] in 1794.

There was still paper being made at the mill in 1801, five paper-makers being enumerated in the census of that year; however shortly afterwards the firm of Jeremiah Colman took over the premises and used it for crushing mustard seed. The mill is now a restaurant.

There is an interesting story reported by Helen Colman in 1905, about the last paper-maker at Stoke, but unfortunately she gives no dates. It seems that a man named Edward Ames used the mill as a flour mill towards the end of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately he lost a child by drowning and was so upset that he resolved to close it. After a time he once again opened the mill for the manufacture of paper, not realising that the same was subject to a Duty. A visit of inspection from the Revenue Office so much annoyed Ames that he once again determined to close it. It was at this time that the Colman family took over. This may however refer to one of the sons of Joseph Ames, who was involved in Hellesdon and Oxnead. In which case the story of not realising that paper was subject to duty is not credible.
David Stoker

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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2003