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Brief History of the Spicer Family and their involvement in Papermaking along the Wye

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Date: 1600 to 1870
Location: River Wye, Buckinghamshire, Englandmap
Surname/tag: Spicer
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No less than 20 mills are mentioned in the Domesday book along the river Wye, all of which were for milling corn[1]. Over the Middle Ages some were converted for use in the cloth trade, for fulling, but there is evidence that at least one was converted for the making of paper by at least 1612[2].

Hedge Mill started making paper about 1625. An inventory of Bassetbury Manor conducted in 1626 states that Hedge Mill had recently been converted from fulling[3]. This mill is located on the boundary between Wooburn and Loudwater. Nothing remains of the mill today other than the channels, which continue to concentrate an impressive volume of water through them (these can be found under the M40 viaduct across the Wye Valley, near to the entrance to the business park and the roundabout on the Wooburn to Loudwater road).

At that time the lease was held by John Gore[4] , the son of Sir John Gore, Lord Mayor of London in 1624. Both were Merchant Taylors, and a number of London merchants appear to have invested in paper making along the Wye in this period. In fact the first known paper mill in England, near Hertford in about 1490, was started by a John Tate, the son of a Lord Mayor of London.

The Spicer family oral history is that the papermaking Spicer’s were descended from the Exeter Spicers (this goes back to the early 1900's). There is circumstantial evidence to support this, and the various pamphlets published over the years on the Spicers paper businesses all take it as a given but why this is believed to be the case isn’t clear and it has not been proven as of July 2023 who exactly the Wycombe Spicers were descended from.

But the John Gore who had the lease on Hedge Mill in 1626 would definitely have known the Exeter Spicers, as they were in the cloth trade like the Gores, and Nicholas (Mayor of Exeter a couple of times) was also in the cloth trade, a Merchant Adventurer, with extensive London interests including property in the city. Hester Gore, one of John’s sisters, married a William Prestley/ Prisley/ Priestley (many different spellings), and his sister Martha was married to this Nicholas Spicer. All three families also shared a strong Royalist sentiment, which got both the Gores and the Spicers into some difficulties: Nicholas Spicer was one of the signatories of the surrender of Exeter to Parliament in 1644 (he was Mayor at the time), and was ‘exiled’ to London where Parliament could keep an eye on him, while John Gore's support for the King was definitely not shared by those living on his manor at Gilston, Hertfordshire.

As an aside, it is clear that John Gore had other interests in the manor, as shown by the 1626 Inventory. These included Loudwater Mill, where in 1626 he fell foul of the local manorial court (Temple Manor): John Gore hath continued inclosed & built upon the Lord’s wast at Lowdwater Mill with a garden & parcell of the house called the Mill House & he is fined[5].

Going back to Edward's possible origins, there is an alternative based on more recent research, that he was the son of John and Mary Spicer, who lived in Clewer, Windsor and owned an extensive property and possessions.

John died in 1661, before October, and a Mary Spicer was buried in Wooburn in December 1661. And we know that a John Spicer witnessed a document in Wooburn in 1653.

Again, circumstancial, nothing proven. More details of the research and sources for both of these theories can be found on Edward's profile on Wikitree - Edward Spicer

But it is clear that Hedge Mill had a Spicer involved by the mid 1600’s. The House of Spicer, a booklet published by Spicer Bros in 1922[6], states that Edward took over Hedge Mill in 1650. And that is supported by a 1649 Parliamentary survey of church lands (Bassetbury Manor, where Hedge Mill sat, was owned by St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle)[7], which states that the occupant of the mill at that time was ‘the widow Stevens’. And in 1650 Edward Spicer married an Elizabeth Stevens in Windsor (at least one book gives her surname as Clemens, but the first letter in the initial is not a C given the other C's in the document, for example in "corn").

There is evidence in the Bassetbury Court Rolls[8] of Edward being an influential member of the community in the years prior to 1660 , and when Elizabeth died in 1659 it appears Edward took sole control of the operation.

Edward lived till 1696, and left an extensive will, passing the majority of his estate, including the running of Hedge Mill, to his eldest surviving son Ralph. Ralph was the child of Edward’s 3rd wife, a widow named Joan Bowdry (many different spellings, including Boudrey and Bowdrey). Her previous husband was Samuel Bowdry, one of the influential Bowdry family in High Wycombe. They owned the Kings Head inn, located in the middle of town, and also operated Temple Mill on the Wye in 1674 and for at least one hundred years and more afterwards[9]. And there was a period during and after the Civil War when there was a shortage of coinage, and the Bowdry’s issued tokens that were used as local money – at least one such token with the head of a Samuel Bowdrey on it is recorded by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society and is held at the county museum in Aylesbury.

Ralph Spicer died in 1733, and his eldest son Edward took over the running of Hedge Mill. At this point the Spicer family gets a little more complicated. Edward had an illegitimate son, John, the outcome of a liaison with Ann Jones (John was baptised John Jones). But in a highly unusual step John was formally acknowledged as a child of Edward’s via a Bastardy Bond in 1730 (the original survives).

John also went into the papermaking business. He is recorded as a master paper maker some years later, over at Two Waters mill near Hemel Hempstead. He married Susannah the daughter of the owner, Bartholomew Revell (who also owned a mill in Wooburn), and when her brother Henry Revell died in 1790 without issue their son John Edward took over the mill, selling it the following year to the Fourdrinier brothers (who invented the first continuous paper making machine soon afterwards, with the first two trial machines being installed in next door Frogmore Mill, and the third one in Two Waters, before the device was patented in 1806[10]. Two Waters had been a corn mill, and John most probably brought across the expertise to convert it to a paper mill in 1763.

John Edward used the money from Two Waters to buy the mill in Alton, Hampshire, and his offspring went beyond papermaking to start the Spicers wholesale paper and supplies business empire. This was extremely successful and operations could be found in many parts of the empire, with sales outlets in Europe, the USA and South America, and the brand still exists in many countries (the UK operation was sold to Reed’s in 1963).

John’s branch of the Spicers retained a close relationship with the Spicers along the Wye for the next 150 years, with some marriage between the branches, and a lot of paper supplied by the Wye mills to the wholesale business.

But back to the Wye. It’s not clear when a second mill along the river was being run by the Spicer family, but in 1756 Ralph Spicer (Edward’s first son by marriage) is recorded as insuring Glory Mill in Wooburn with George Grove[11]. Glory Mill has a long history, and was almost certainly the first paper mill in the valley (the one mentioned but not named by William Isaac in 1612). One of the oldest mills on the Wye, dating to at least 1235, it had originally been a corn mill like all the other mills of that time.

Glory Mill did not stay in Spicer hands very long, as the partnership was dissolved in 1767 and George Grove took sole tenure of Glory Mlll (but by 1781 he was in Kings Bench prison for debt) then[12].

Ralph however appears to have taken over the running of Hedge Mill in 1763[13], when his step-mother Joanna died, his father Edward having passed away in 1761. Which most probably explains why he sold his share of Glory Mill a few years later.

Ralph clearly worked with his brother John over at Two Waters, and the closeness of their relationship can be seen by the fact that Ralph brought up John’s children after he died in 1771.

Ralph’s eldest son Freeman Gage then took over Hedge Mill upon his death in 1786. And Freeman developed the papermaking business with his brother Stephen, as they insured Glory Mill together in 1798[14], bringing it back into Spicer hands .

Freeman died in 1834 and Stephen in 1839, and the family business was picked up by Freeman’s children, who were to be the Spicers last to operate mills along the Wye.

James Freeman Gage and John Henry were in partnership, but this was dissolved by mutual consent on the 28th September 1840 [15]. The partnership covered Hedge Mill, Glory Mill and Wycombe Marsh.

John Henry stayed in the business and was running Hedge Mill in 1842 and 1844, but not in 1851.

James Freeman Gage sold Glory Mill in 1843 to Edward Fox [16], but continued to live on the estate till his death in 1869 (and was almost certainly involved in running the mill as well) .

And in 1864 he sold Hedge Mill to Mr H Wheeler of Wycombe Marsh Mill[17]. [18]

By this time paper making was becoming, like so many businesses, one where were large scale production using capital intensive machines was essential if you were to be competitive. A number of John’s descendants, who stayed in papermaking rather than the wholesale side of things, certainly failed to make the adjustments needed and went bankrupt.

So having sold Hedge Mill in 1864 none of James children made paper along the Wye. Although his son James Thomas Spicer was milling corn at Ash Mill in High Wycombe till 1886[19]. And James Freeman Gage sister Mary married William Revell Spicer from the wholesale paper business – that family connection remained for many years, and that side of the Spicers both made and sold paper and manufactured products such as envelopes and cards and writing paper till well into the 20th century[20].

There was one last involvement with papermaking in the Wye valley, when John Edmund Philip Spicer provided a mortgage to Glory Mill in 1888 when the business was struggling for working capital [21]. But it's not clear what, if any connection, he had with the Wycombe Spicer's, and if not a coincidence it is currently a mystery.

Written by John Spicer, March 2020, Updated July 2023 Based on research by John Spicer, Berris Spicer and Diana Cowey

Sources

  1. Domesday Book, summary of Wye mills at http://www.petergoodearl.co.uk/ken/wyemills/wyemills.htm
  2. Extract from of the Will of William Isaac, 1612, quoted in Days of Glory by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  3. Bassetbury Manor Papers, held at St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, Survey of Manor, 31st May 1626, SGC CC 117305
  4. Bassetbury Manor Papers, held at St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, Survey of manor, 31st May 1626, SGC CC 117305
  5. Totteridge in Temple Manor Court Rolls, High Wycombe, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies Document D/BASM/87/1
  6. The House of Spicer, 1796, 1865, 1922 by T.P. O’Connor, MP, London, Spicers Ltd MCMXII
  7. Bassetbury Manor Papers, held at St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, Chapter estates, Parliamentary survey of lands. Volume I, 1649-1651, SGC IV.A.2
  8. Bassetbury Manor Papers, held at St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, Court Roll, 14 October 1657, SGC CC 207521. The following year also survives and includes Edward
  9. Details from the Mills Archive, entry can be found online at https://millsarchive.org/explore/mills/entry/11742/temple-mill#.XkXbGyPRXb0
  10. For a good online summary look at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_machine#Fourdrinier_machine
  11. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  12. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  13. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  14. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  15. London Gazette, 2nd October 1840
  16. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  17. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead
  18. Few pictures of Hedge Mill seem to exist, but see http://swop.org.uk and search for Hedge Mill
  19. High Wycombe Museum, document HIWLH : 1999.50.1, sale prospectus for Ash Mill, 1886, James Thomas Spicer. The 1881 census supports this as he is described as a ‘Mealman, Corn’
  20. For more details on the paper wholesale and supplies business a good starting point is ‘From Rags to ROM’s: A History of Spicers 1796-1996’, by Ian Ormes, published by the company
  21. From 'Days of Glory' by Read Mead, 2011, published by Ray Mead, p38




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