There has been a mill on the site of the present paper mill since earliest times; no doubt one of the three mills mentioned in the Domesday survey was here. But when it became a paper mill is much more problematical. Henry Scryvener called himself a miller in his will of 1477, but may, of course, have worked at Holborough . John Poulter (d.1590) refers to ‘Goodman Leedes ‘ as his landlord, which suggests he lived here in the manor of Veles , but the picture is confused by a sad entry in the church registers: 2 June 1588: ‘Deborah the daughter of John Powlter , miller, wch was drowned in the mill pond at Holborough , was buried.’ Possibly Powlter was there assisting a fellow miller; there are no further clues. John May senior acquired the Snodland Courtlodge estate in 1732, when the deeds described it as containing ‘Houses, Oasthouses , Dovehouses , Barns, Stables, Edifices, Buildings, Mills, Malthouse and Maltmill and Cistern therein’ – no mention of paper. The next document in the sequence is dated 24 January 1743 [1744], when John Hicks was in ‘actual possession’ of the property for a year. It refers not only to the Courtlodge , but also to ‘the Paper Mill, Drying Houses and other Erections and Buildings lately Erected and Sett up by the said John May on the said premises’, and then goes on to make the same list as before. We know that earlier owners like Edward Leedes , John Crow, John Weebly and others were not themselves papermakers, although that would not rule out their leasing the mill to others (as must have happened). The burial of James Smith, papermaker, in 1705 has been noted by previous writers, but he seems unrelated to other villagers of the time. Nevertheless, we cannot insist that he did not work in Snodland , but unless new evidence comes to light, any history of paper-making here prior to the 1730s must remain conjectural.

The eighteenth-century mill would have been a small affair, perhaps worked by just two or three men. On 2 July 1748 at the Petty Sessions, ‘Robert Cummings, now of Snodland , on Oath saith that he was bound an Apprentice and Served 7 years to one Luke Bale of Duffeild in the County of Derby, Papermaker, and that he has not gained a settlement since’. The judgement was that he belonged to Duffield , so on 2 May 1752 he tried again, having married in the meantime. Again the Court made an order to remove him. A third attempt on 3 February 1759 to gain a settlement here met with the same response. This time he noted that ‘he served … Luke Bale … about three years when he the said Robert Cummings ran away from his said master’. In spite of his failure to gain a settlement in Snodland , Cummings remained here with his wife Anne and children Anne and Robert. Records for 1754 and 1757 note that Richard and John Eason, Francis Aldridge and Elizabeth his wife, and Robert Cummins and Ann his wife freely held two tenements, two barns and three pieces of land (c.5 acres), occupied by Richard Eason, John Craft and Richard Hales, and that these were alienated (= transferred) to Hales in the latter year. It is probable that this property was the ‘Old Bull’ with adjacent houses and land on the east side of Holborough Road at the corner with the High Street. (Older parishioners will remember them as the ‘World Stores’ and ‘ Baldock’s ‘ electrical shop). At any rate, after living in the village for at least 33 years, ‘Robert Cummins, Paper-maker’, was buried on 4 September 1781. His son became a butcher, moving to Teston in 1780.

The Petty Sessions also tell of another papermaker, Charles Lock:

3 November 1764: Charles Lock, now residing at Snodland , born at Ansham , county of Oxford; was bound apprentice to William Fachion of Woolvernett , Oxford, Papermaker, for 7 years (and served 5 years and 4 months); then was a journeyman in Worcestershire of 11 weeks; then about 3 weeks in Shropshire and three years with Thomas Overton, a Papermaker.

He married in 1761 and a son Thomas was baptized on 9 November 1764, perhaps the reason he applied for settlement. Further evidence that a paper mill was here comes from the lists of alehouse-keepers which shows that Jane Munt was victualler at ‘The Paper Mill’ at least between 1746 and 1759 (the records are intermittent only). The site of this alehouse is currently unknown.

John May the elder died in 1761 and his Snodland property was divided between his two sons William and John. William it was who received the Courtlodge and paper-mill estate; at his death in 1771 it passed to John May the younger. But at least as early as 1748 the paper mill manager was Jasper Crothall , from Benenden . Unfortunately the Benenden registers are defective so we cannot trace his birth and family there. Crothall leased the mill from the Mays paying the parish rates on it. By 1758, although he owned another house in Snodland , he himself was living in ‘Prospect Cottage’ in Holborough Road, the old house next to the Willowside estate. Almost certainly it was he who had the brick part added to the property, because it dates from around 1780. He was a prosperous man, owning three houses and land, and able to make bequests of around £1000 in his will. After his death in 1781 the mill was run by his nephew Isaac Wenman , also born at Benenden . Isaac was working in Snodland no later than 1765. Among the apprenticeship records of Birling is one of 1781 for George Edmeads to Isaac Wenman of Snodland , papermaker.Edmeads fell ill in October 1791 and the parish paid him poor relief, followed by £1. 5s. ‘To Nursing & Burying G. Edmeads ‘ (but not at All Saints). When Wenman died in 1785, aged 46,   the mill passed in turn to his son Isaac. On 2 September 1805 he went to the Petty Sessions with a complaint:

Isaac Wenman of Snodland , Paper Maker, on his Oath saith that his apprentice William Hadlow hath in his Service been guilty of several Acts of Misbehaviour . And particularly on the 26: of August last he quitted his Service & went to Strood Fair without his knowledge or Consent. ( Hadlow was committed to hard labour for 14 days.)

Disaster struck on 17 December 1807, reported on the 22nd in the Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser:

Thursday night a very alarming fire broke out at Snodland paper Mill, which in a short time entirely consumed the same and all its contents, the whole to a very considerable amount. The great Double Barrelled Engine of the Kent Fire Office arrived at the spot with great expedition, but two [sic] late to effect any good purpose, as the destruction was complete.

A note in the Overseers accounts acknowledges that Wenman’s rates would need modified: 1 May 1808: ‘2 sets allowd as agreed at the Vestry for Mill being destroy’d by fire’.   The manorial records make it clear that the estate had previously been divided into two parts, separating the mill from the farm. By his will John May had left the estate to Mary Simpson, widow of Thomas of Rochester, but with her as one of the four executors was John Spong of Southwark , hop-factor. He already owned some property in Snodland . It is not until the manorial meeting of 25 October 1810 that the minutes record the alienation of Snodland Court Lodge from John May (who had died in 1805) to Isaac Wenman and William Spong . The church registers show baptisms of five children of William Spong between 1812 and 1820, describing him as ‘papermaker’, so he seems to have been in partnership with Wenman . And when Wenman died in 1815, ‘from ‘ unskilful treatment of an abscess’ according to the rector, his widow Ann alienated Snodland Court Lodge (being a house and 22 acres) to James Martin. On 28 October 1818 the manorial meeting minuted :

Be it Remembered that at this Court the Homage [Jury] present that James Martin some time since purchased of the Representatives of the late Isaac Wainman a Messuage, Barn and about twenty two acres of Land, being part of Snodland Court Lodge Farm and that the remainder of the said Farm, consisting of a Paper Mill, Six Cottages and about eight acres of Land, is now the property of Willm Spong and which he purchased of the late John May. The whole of the said premises are held at the annual rent of 18s. 8d. And the Homage apportion the Rent as follows: vizt . the said James Martin to pay the annual sum of 6s. and the said Willm Spong to pay the annual sum of 12s. 8d.

Thomas Fielder took over between 1816 and 1818 and in 1823 William Joynson came from High Wycombe (one of the English centres for papermaking) to run the mill; several Snodland papermakers and other parishioners seem to have made the journey with him. Some of them moved on with him in 1833 when he went to St Mary Cray. The Land Tax Assessments (and later the censuses) show that the house formerly in the High Street, eventually occupied and enlarged by the Hook family and named ‘ Veles ‘ by them, was also the home of most of the previous mill managers, beginning with Isaac Wenman the younger (1796-1806). Others who lived there were Thomas Cleaves (1807-10) – not known to have been a papermaker, William Spong (1811-23), William Joynson (1823-33) and John Clark (1834-41). When Joynson left Snodland , Spong leased the mill to Reuben Hunt of Wooburn (near High Wycombe), but he immediately re-assigned the lease to John Clark, who probably came from the same area (the 1841 census does not specify exact places like the later ones do). Clark evidently felt the need to modernise the mill and borrowed money to do so. In 1838 the rates were increased because the mill had been ‘improved’. A detailed description survives of the machinery at this time:

2 October 1838

One Rag Engine with Shafts and Drivers in the Mill worked in Gear by Water Wheel or condensing Engine. One set of Glazing Rolls attached to paper machine – one Knot Strainer attached to Paper Machine. A Small Steam Engine of two Horse power – Two Board Tables in theSoll – One pair of small Rollers with swing Shafts and Wheels and Timbers erected in the Soll for rolling Boards – Tube Steam Boiler fourteen horse power high pressure – A large cylinder steam Boiler of Twenty horse power with cocks, pipes and valves erected in the Yard – A sixteen horse power steam engine high pressure and condenser with pipes and cocks; balance wheel, Spur Wheel and large Shaft erected in the new building in the Yard – a Rag Duster with Drivers – Two washing Engines with Rolls, plates and pinions; Water pumps to supply the same erected in the new building in the Yard – A new Bleaching Chest with Racks for braining stuff erected in the bleaching house – A Rag Cutter with Shafts and Drivers – Four shaving Boilers with Pipes and Cocks in the lower Drying House. A Pair of large Mill Board Rollers for Glazing with Shafts and Wheels erected in the Soll . A Grind Stone with Shafts and Wheels erected in the Soll . A Grind Stone with Shafts and Pinions – sixty pairs of new Trebles marked J. C.

Clark planned more and drew up an agreement on 1 June 1840 for

A New Steam Boiler of 20 Horse Power – A New High and low pressure Steam engine of 20 Horse power, with Shafts and Blocks and pinions and the apparatus therewith as going gear connected – Four new Cast Iron Rag Engines with pumps and Apparatus complete – A New Paper Machine with Drying Cylinders, Machinery, Utensils and Apparatus

and a splendid diagram and code survives which shows the position of the machinery new and old.   Unfortunately Clark went bankrupt and the plans for this second phase fell through. For a time the mill was leased to Henry Holden, a papermaker of Fulham , who perhaps ran the business from London; certainly the house in the High Street was not regularly occupied until the next manager, Henry Atkinson Wildes , took up residence in 1847. In 1854 the business passed into the hands of Charles Townsend Hook, whose name it still bears.