For many years Sittingbourne and papermaking were synonymous. It all started with Edward Lloyd around 1840 in the east end of London although as can be seen from earlier maps there was a paper mill in Sittingbourne in the 18th century.
He built the Sittingbourne Mill during the 1870s and with the expansion of newspapers it became a major supplier of newsprint. Many will remember the lorries carrying huge rolls of newsprint travelling daily between Sittingbourne and London.
At the beginning, the mill produced some 2 small reels of paper per day, a weekly output of about 40 tons. By the 1930s this had increased to 5000 tons.
Various raw materials were tried and at one time, straw, esparto grass and sugar cane were the principal ingredients along with waste paper. They even experimented with rice matting. Wood pulp then became the main raw material. Many years ago a retired employee commented that straw was purchased from farmers all over the country but to meet the output of the 1930s a shed as big as Sittingbourne would have been needed to store it !
Ridham dock was the entry point for white spruce logs, wood pulp and other raw materials. To move the raw materials a light gauge railway was built, part of which still operates as the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway.
The expansion of the firm was due largely to Frank Lloyd who built in the 1920s the Kemsley Mill and the Kemsley garden village to house the employees. The firm also provided recreational facilities at the Sittingbourne Club House and a similar facility at Kemsley. The Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital in Bell Road was opened in 1930 in his memory.
Before the second world war, the firm had over 2,500 employee and was far and away the largest employer in the area. It claimed that despite the years of depression in the 20s and 30s the workers were not put on short time.
One final reminiscence, to recall the noxious odour which came from Milton Creek when conditions were right. Once you could smell that you knew you were in Sittingbourne. Just how far that unloved aspect of papermaking was caused by effluent from the mills discharged into the Creek we leave you to ponder.
Production at the Sittingbourne Mill ceased in 2007