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British Industrial History

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Thomas Routledge

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Thomas Routledge (1819-1887) of the Ford Paper Mills

1841 Thomas Routledge of Lambeth, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1887 Obituary [2]

THOMAS ROUTLEDGE, of Claxheugh, near Sunderland, was born in London on 22nd September 1819, and was educated by Rev. Dr. Lord, of Tooting. His father had intended him to follow his own business of a wine merchant; but finding that his heart was set upon chemical and scientific pursuits, he wisely allowed him to follow the bent of his inclinations.

Accordingly when quite a young man he because connected with Coad's works at Lambeth, and afterwards with copper smelting works in South Wales. He was thus impelled to give attention to the study of mineralogy and practical mechanics.

Possessing a quick and discerning mind, he invented many new appliances whereby the cost of labour might be reduced, and the manufacture of useful articles from mineral products be effectively and profitably carried out.

Having become acquainted with the Marquess of Besano, who had been devoting his attention to the use of fibrous substances in the manufacture of paper, he took up the idea at once, and spent much of his time at Kew Gardens in order to find out what fibrous materials could be best employed for the purpose. In the result he rented an old paper mill at Eynsham, near Oxford, and there began to manufacture paper from esparto grass, being in fact the very first manufacturer who did so.

Having visited Spain to see the grass growers themselves, he entered into contracts with them for their produce, and thus introduced Spanish grasses into the English market. He very soon found however that, if he wished to make his enterprise a profitable one, it must be carried on upon the sea-coast, where the esparto could be imported direct to the works, and a corresponding reduction be effected in working expenses in other respects also.

He therefore established the Ford Paper Mills at South Hylton, on the Wear, near Sunderland, as a centre from which this new trade could be carried on. Here his sound practical mechanical experience and scientific attainments found ample scope for application, in replacing old appliances and devising new processes; and he carried out his designs in a manner that secured for himself and for his paper a high place in public estimation.

Eventually indeed he became the chief English authority upon all questions affecting the paper industry; and references made to him in the reports of the Hew Gardens, as an expert upon fibrous substances, sufficiently show the value attached to his opinions by those who were best qualified to judge of them.

His death took place in London on 17th September 1887, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1880, and was also connected with many other scientific and learned societies.

1888 Obituary [3]

. . . . He began his working career as a manufacturer of scagliola and terra-cotta at Lambeth, and was so engaged when he was elected into the Institution on the 9th of May, 1841, his proposer being Joshua Field, Vice- President. He appears to have followed this business until about the year 1856, when he was induced to take up paper-making. In this latter industry he was destined to bring about a revolution that fairly entitles him to recognition as a national benefactor. He took a paper-mill at Eynsham, near Oxford, and at once began experimenting on substitutes for rags, the supply of which was then barely equal to the demand, and threatened soon to become inadequate. . . . [more]

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