Volume 2 - Autumn 1996


A Wry Look at Papermills and their Customers - with apologies to Lewis Carroll.

By Chris Laver-Gibbs - Griffen Mill

The Griffen and Alice had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance, sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock; drawing nearer, Alice could hear him sighing as if his heart would break. As they approached, the Mock Turtle looked at Alice with large eyes full of tears, but said nothing.

"This young lady," said the Griffen, "wants to know about paper."

"I'll tell it to her." said the Mock Turtle in a deep, hollow tone. "Sit down both of you, and don't speak a word till I've finished."

So they sat down and nobody spoke for some minutes. Alice thought to herself, "I don't see how he can ever finish if he doesn't begin". But she waited patiently.

"Once," said the Mock Turtle at last, "Paper was just paper."

These words were followed by a very long silence, broken only by an occasional "Hjckrrh!" from the Griffen and the constant heavy sobbing from the Mock Turtle

"When we were little", the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then "paper was made quite simply by hand. Some papermills said their paper was good for wrapping things in, other mills said their paper was good for writing on and others said they made printing paper ...of course this wasn't always true."

"Why not?" asked Alice.

"Because it wasn't." said the Mock Turtle sadly.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself for asking such a simple question!" said the Griffen; and then they both sat silent and looked at poor Alice. At last the Griffen said to the Mock Turtle, "Drive on old Fellow! Don't be all day about it!." and he went on with these words:-

"Later, because there were so many complaints from customers, it was decided to describe how each type of paper should perform."

Alice thought the idea that a sheet of paper could PERFORM very funny and started to giggle. The Griffen glared at her so she hastily asked the Mock Turtle what he meant.

The Mock Turtle sighed heavily and looked at the Griffen and asked him whether he remembered the paper song.

"Oh, you sing." said the Griffen. "I've forgotten the words."

"Oh, a song, please if the Mock Turtle will be so kind," Alice pleaded, so eagerly that the Griffen said, in rather an offended tone, "Hm! No accounting for tastes!"

The Mock Turtle bowed his head and then stood up. Waving his fore-paws to mark the time, he began to sing slowly in a voice choked with sobs:-

"Shrewd Lawyers love within its folds
To practice night and day;
Richer Bankers change it into gold
in a financial way;

Great men of thought and letters on
The milk white surface trace.
Rich jewels and precious gems are bound
within its soft embrace."

Here, the Griffen shook itself, for it had fallen into a light doze and said "Of course, if you use the wrong paper for the wrong job, it won't work anyway".

Alice wondered why anyone would want to do a wrong job in the first place and the Mock Turtle annoyed, by the Griffen's interruption, snapped "The papermaker's chorus is still to come, if I may continue?"

"By all means old fellow." replied the Griffen, in a conciliatory tone.

The Mock Turtle blinked several times and drew the back of one flapper across his eyes. He looked at Alice and tried to speak, but for a minute or two, sobs choked his voice.

"Same as a bone in his throat," said the Griffen; and it set to work shaking and punching him in the back. At last the Mock Turtle recovered his voice and with tears running down his cheeks, he went on with the papermaker's lament:-

"Poets-princes and Conservators,
Painters and Bookish binders,
They undo what we all do
Down by the River Sheppey."

"What does it mean?" asked Alice. "How can you undo a piece of paper?"

"Easy." explained the Griffen. "First you wet it, then you attack it."

"Attack it with what?" asked Alice in a surprised voice.

"With a stiff brush or a steel nib." replied the Griffen, waving a paw.

"Don't forget the glue, the knife and the needle." sobbed the Mock Turtle.

"If I was a papermaker," said Alice rather desperately, because her thoughts were still inexplicably with the lawyers, "I wouldn't make any paper!"

"Then you wouldn't be a papermaker," said the Griffen in disgust.

"Probably best not to be!" added the Mock Turtle thoughtfully.

The End

The Poem was taken from the words of an original song by a papermaker who worked at Turkey Mill in Kent in 1891. (The last verse has been altered slightly).

Christine Laver-Gibbs founded Griffen Mill in 1987, helped by practical and technical advice from Whatmans and St. Cuthberts Mill in Somerset.

Initially, hand made stationery was made at the mill, which supplied customers such as Harrods and the National Trust. However, the closure of Barcham Green in the late eighties, production was switched to supplying repair papers for bookbinders and paper conservators. Since 1994, when Michael Gibbs joined the Mill, production has risen and Griffen Mill Papers can now be found in collections as far away as Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the Americas.


Skin Deep - Volume 2 - Autumn 1996

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