No place like home for Cambridge academics

Published: 14 January 2015 at 10:13

New research unearths remarkable history of second paper mill to open in England.

Two Cambridge academics are, quite literally, taking their work home with them, as their new study is about the remarkable history of their property.

Dr Leah Tether, Principal Lecturer in Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University, and her fiancé Dr Benjamin Pohl, a Research Fellow in Medieval History at the University of Cambridge, discovered that their home, close to the River Cam in the north east of Cambridge, is on the site of only the second paper mill to open in England.

Through their research, published in the latest edition of the journal Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Dr Tether and Dr Pohl were able to pinpoint the opening of the paper mill to between April 1551 and July 1553, and they discovered it had an eventful, if short-lived, history.

The mill was run by a German papermaker called Remigius who moved to England, possibly under the patronage of King Edward VI, in 1551.  However, Remigius had financial difficulties and the mill had ceased paper production by May 1557.

Although Remigius’ enterprise is believed to have been linked to the establishment of the Cambridge University Press (CUP), the monopoly of the Stationers’ Guild in London meant that CUP wouldn’t print its first book until 1584.  The Stationers’ Guild worked to prevent book production outside of the capital in order to supervise, and in effect limit, the number of foreigners involved in the English book trade.

Dr Tether and Dr Pohl discovered that the building continued to function as a mill, but not a paper mill, until 1824. Part of the mill and adjacent buildings were also used as an inn, known as the Papermills Inn, between 1669 and 1775, and was later to be revived as the Globe Inn, which closed its doors in 1990.

The current property was built in 1871 and Dr Tether admits she and Dr Pohl couldn’t resist delving into its history. She said:

“Upon moving into the Paper Mill, Ben and I were immediately curious to know more about its history. Initially, we thought it must be relatively modern, since the house on the site is clearly nineteenth-century, but a quick Google search provided very little information."

“Eventually, we found a reference to a paper mill at Fen Ditton and quickly realised that the city boundary may well have moved.  This opened up various avenues of enquiry and we soon discovered that the mill was rather older than we had suspected."

“We’re both medievalists – I work on French literature and Ben’s expertise is in early Norman history – and the fact that the original mill was apparently sixteenth century meant that its history was a little out of our area of expertise. And yet, our interest had been piqued, especially as so little had been done to investigate the mill’s importance.  Additionally, there was a possible link to my own research on publishing history, since I knew that Cambridge University Press was established during the same period."

“Archival research at Corpus Christi’s Parker Library and the Cambridge University Library soon gave rise to various original documents, from letters to leases, which helped us to understand that this paper mill was only the second to be established in England.  It was possible that it may have been set up to service the new Cambridge University Press, although various factors meant this never came to pass."

“Additionally, the persons implicated in the mill’s establishment were of considerable profile – among them the Bishop of Ely and the prominent German reformer, Martin Bucer, who was then a Regius Professor at the University of Cambridge."

“It was exciting to have found that our house had such a fascinating history and considerable level of historical importance, and we were particularly delighted to discover that we were far from the first academics to live here!"

“In the early twentieth century Cambridge scholars Hector Munro Chadwick, an Anglo-Saxonist, and Nora Kershaw Chadwick, a medievalist, owned the house and even delivered lectures here.  We feel incredibly privileged to not only live in, but also provide an insight on, this historic site.”