The first paper mill established in England was at Dartford, by a German, (who was jeweller to Queen Elizabeth,) about the year 1588. For a long period afterwards the manufacture was, however, of so inferior a quality as to render it necessary to have recourse to France and Holland for those of the better quality. The process at this time consisted in subjecting the rags to fermentation, by which destructive operation they were of course more easily reduced to a pulpy consistency, which was effected by stamping or triturating in a kind of mortar, similar to the action of the Asiatic oil mill, described at page 201. About the middle of the last century the process was, by successive ameliorations, entirely changed, so as to approximate nearly to that now used in making paper by hand. We shall therefore proceed to describe, in the first place, all the ordinary manipulations practised in making paper by hand; and afterwards, successively, those improvements in the mechanism by which this important manufacture is now conducted.
The best kind of rags employed in the manufacture of paper are collected in this country, but all these are only sufficient to supply a fifth part of our demand; and the inferior kinds are imported from the continent, particularly from Hamburgh, whence our chief supply has been drawn for many years, that city being apparently the grand rag-market for the German States and the north of Europe. France, Holland, and Belgium, prohibit the exportation; a considerable quantity is, however, brought to us from Italy, and various parts of the Mediterranean. These rags are of course of every quality, from canvas to cambric, and of every tint, as respects filth or cleanliness, between white and black; those from Sicily have the hue of sepia. Notwithstanding they undergo, from their excessively filthy state, a partial cleansing before they can be shipped, they become so completely metamorphosed by the ablutions and manipulations of our paper makers, as to be converted, in a very short space of time, into a pure and spotless white paper. Before rags are brought to the mill, they are roughly sorted into several qualities, distinguished by technical terms, understood by the trade.
At the mill, these sorts are more particularly sorted, according to the requirements of the manufacturer, and at the same time they are cut into pieces, if they are much larger than about the palm of the hand. A number of women are employed for this purpose, in a large room, fitted up and adapted to reduce the nuisance of the filth and dust of the operation. Each woman stands before a kind of table, formed of a wire screen, on which the rags she sorts are from time to time distributed, and moved about, which causes much of the dust and dirt to pass through the wires into receptacles beneath. At each stand there is also a fixed blade of steel, kept very sharp, over which the workwomen draw those pieces of rags that are too large, and thus quickly divide them. If the pieces be small enough, they throw them, according to their respective qualities, into one or other of a series of receptacles designed to receive the various qualities in a separate state. All the seams in the rags are carefully separated; as the sewing threads, if not thoroughly torn into filaments by the engine, would produce indentations or knots upon the paper. An active woman can cut and sort about a hundred-weight a day; the rags are next weighed, and put up into hundred-weight bags, ready for the subsequent operation.
It was formerly necessary to assort the rags with great care, with respect to colour, as well as texture; but from this care they are now in a great measure relieved, by the introduction of bleaching by chlorine, which enables them to produce the whitest paper from any kind of rags: by injudicious management, however, the process is sometimes carried too far, and the tenacity of the vegetable fibre destroyed. The next operation is to boil the rags for some hours with lime, which loosens the dirt, and partially cleanses them; but this preparatory process for the operations of the mill is, we believe, confined to the most improved mills.
The paper-mill consists of a water wheel, or other first mover, connected with a combination of toothed and other wheels, so arranged as to cause the cylinder in the washer, and the one in the beating engine (which are nearly of a similar construction,) to make 150 or more revolutions per minute. On the same shaft, and of the same size as the water wheel, is a cogged wheel, which gives motion to a pinion, on whose axis is a two or three-throw crank, that works as many pumps, which raises a constant stream of water from the mill-dam; this water is kept constantly running through the rags in the washing and beating engines. The building and machinery of a paper mill should be well constructed, otherwise the great velocity of the wheels produces a tremor, which in time shakes it all to pieces. A washing engine, when it revolves at the rate of 120 revolutions per minute, and has 40 teeth, each of which passes by 14 teeth in the block, produces 67,200 cuts in a minute, and makes a most horrible growling noise; but in the beating engine, in which the cutters and teeth are smaller, and the revolution more rapid, the noise produced is one continued loud humming.
The cuts made in the latter amount to nearly 200,000 per minute, which circumstance will account for the rapidity with which the rags are convened into a pulpy mass, in which the filaments are so minute as to be scarcely discernible. The washing engines of a mill are placed at a higher elevation than the beating engines, and they are actuated in the following manner. The large cogged wheel, before mentioned, drives a pinion upon a vertical axis; upon this axis are two horizontal spur-wheels, at different elevations; the upper one drives a pinion on the axis of the washing engine, and the lower one a pinion on the axis of the beating engine; and as these engines are similar in their arrangement of parts, and differ only in certain proportions, we shall make the subject intelligible by the description of one only. The figure on the next page represents a plan of one of these engines. a a is a wooden vat or cistern, about 10 feet long, 4 1/2 wide, and 2 1/4 deep, the inside lined with lead; b is a longitudinal partition, also covered with lead; c is a reticulated cylinder, fixed fast upon the revolving shaft d, extending across the engine, and put in motion through the medium of the pinion e, driven by a toothed wheel on the vertical shaft of the mill, as before mentioned.