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Former Rag Room at Springfield Mill

A Grade II Listed Building in North, Kent

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.2816 / 51°16'53"N

Longitude: 0.5161 / 0°30'57"E

OS Eastings: 575571

OS Northings: 156615

OS Grid: TQ755566

Mapcode National: GBR PR0.R8S

Mapcode Global: VHJMD.W1PV

Entry Name: Former Rag Room at Springfield Mill

Listing Date: 2 August 1974

Last Amended: 11 September 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1086282

English Heritage Legacy ID: 173471

Location: Maidstone, Kent, ME14

County: Kent

District: Maidstone

Electoral Ward/Division: North

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Maidstone

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

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Summary

Rag Room of Springfield Mill. Built in 1806 for William Balston. Probably extended at the southern end in the late C19. The late-C19 office block adjoining the southern end of the former Rag Room is not of special interest and is not included in the listing.

Description

Rag Room. Built in 1806 by William Balston for the sorting of the rags used in making paper.

PLAN: rectangular in plan of two storeys.

MATERIALS: yellow stock brick with a half-hipped slate roof.

EXTERIOR: the 14-bay west elevation is of stock brick laid in English bond on the ground floor and Flemish bond on the upper floor except for the final five southern bays which are of Flemish bond throughout suggesting this is a later extension. Fenestration is of continuous glazing of two-over-two timber sashes on the upper floor and 14 paired two-over-two timber sashes with flat arches on the ground floor. The south elevation, which is adjoined by a late-C19 office block, is of four bays with multi-paned windows set in segmental arched openings with Gault brick surrounds.

INTERIOR: the ground floor has boxed in iron columns. This was originally used for storage. The first floor was the Rag Room. The roof is of queen post construction of adzed oak beams. There is an overhead wheel which originally lifted rags from the ground floor.

The late-C19 office block adjoining the southern end of the former Rag Room is not of special interest and is not included in the listing.

History

Paper making developed as a major industry in the Maidstone area from the late C17 due to the suitability of the River Len for water-power and its proximity to London, the major market for paper and source of rags, its raw material. There were seven functioning paper mills between 1671 and 1700 and by 1733 there were 14 mills. By 1865 this number had increased to around 40.

Springfield Mill, the first paper mill to be successfully powered solely by steam, was founded in 1805 by William Balston (1759-1849). Balston had been apprenticed in 1774 to James Whatman II (1741-1798), owner of Turkey Mill and one of the most successful paper makers of the C18. By 1794, when Whatman sold Turkey Mill, Balston was his principal subordinate and he entered into partnership with the new owners to form Hollingworths and Balston with a loan of £5,000 from Whatman. The outbreak of war with France in 1793 had cut off the import of superior French paper and the new firm prospered. By 1805 Balston had decided to open his own steam-powered mill on the banks of the Medway at a site with a spring providing the clean water necessary for the paper making process. The new mill, with its 36 horse-power Boulton & Watt beam engine powering a Hollander (the machine which broke down the rags into a pulp) opened at the end of 1807. Running for 440 ft, parallel with the River Medway, it consisted of a Drying Room at the north and Rag Room at the south with rooms for the various processes, and the engine and its boilers, set between them.

William Balston was succeeded by his two sons, William and Richard, but in November 1862 the mill was severely damaged by a fire necessitating the rebuilding the Drying Room and much of the central section of the mill. The mill continued to be enlarged, largely to the east, into the 1930s and presents a complex picture of different phases of development. During the early C20 it was the largest producer of hand-made paper in the world. The mill remained in the ownership of the Balston family until 1974 when W & R Balston merged with Angel Reeve International to form Whatman Angel Reeve, later Whatman International Ltd.

The Rag Room was where the rags, which were the raw material for paper until 1860 when Esparto grass was introduced, were sorted and cut into small pieces for the next part of the paper making process.

Reasons for Listing

The former Rag Room at Springfield Mill, Maidstone, built in 1806, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reason:
* Historic interest: it is the last surviving original building of Springfield Mill, the world's first paper mill to successfully be powered by steam;
* Architectural interest: the continuous upper floor glazing reflects its function, maximising daylight to enable to sort of rags, originally the raw material for paper making.

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