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The international papermakers of sleepy Somerset

St Cuthberts Mill, based in sleepy Wells in Somerset, has been making high-end archival paper since the 1700s, using the pure water from the River Axe.

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The pulp is made with water from the River Axe, which is naturally pure, but is filtered through sand so that all impurities are removed

The mill itself celebrates a mix of old Victorian design, with patches added through the years to build the current site. St Cuthberts takes its name from the parish of the local church. The cross, which can be seen on its high-end artist paper, is from St Cuthberts’ tomb in Durham Cathedral in the north of England.

The powerful-looking stone lions, which greet visitors at the front of the factory, were brought back from Italy in the 1800s by the mill’s owner, or so legend says. The mill’s techniques are as traditional as the site itself, and uses water from the River Axe to create the paper. This is filtered using sand, so that no silt makes it through to the paper-making process, potentially ruining the colour and quality. The production at the mill can be affected by stormy weather, as more silt and objects can be stirred up in the water.

St Cuthberts recycle and reuse products wherever possible, and the water is put back into the River Axe, with all paper-making objects removed. The purity of the river is important to the production of the water and is a key reason as to why St Cuthberts is based on the River Axe, which flows through the county.

We are the only one left in the UK that makes mould-made artist papers, and there’s only a handful left in Europe

Catherine Frood, marketing executive at St Cuthberts Mill, explains: “The mill is situated on the River Axe because of the pure water—the Mendip Hills are very valuable to us because of the limestone. The water flows down through the Mendip Hills and is naturally filtered. It then comes out at the mouth of the caves at Wookey Hole, and so when the water arrives here—we’re only a mile downstream—it is very pure already.”

Along with the traditional way of papermaking, the workforce has a similar feel, with most members of staff working at the mill for most, if not all, of their careers. There are around 40 people working at St Cuthberts, and as it can be quite tricky to come across spare papermakers, apprenticeships are offered in areas from mechanical engineering to papermaking.

Frood continues: “St Cuthberts Mill has been here a long time, it’s been here since the 1700s and is just outside Wells, in a small hamlet called Haybridge.

Many jobs are completed by hand where possible, with traditional techniques for cutting paper and wrapping batches up to be exported

“We use a mould machine from 1906 which makes artist papers. From the 1700s it was originally handmade, now we make mould-made papers which are quite different from machine-made papers, because they have a great level of surface stability which is great for the artist community.”

The traditional way of papermaking is so niche that there are only a handful of mills left across Europe, if not the world. Frood adds: “We are the only one left in the UK that makes mould-made artist papers, and there’s only a handful left in Europe.”

St Cuthberts’ range of inkjet, watercolour. and printmaking papers are history in themselves, with traditional names such as Bockingford and Saunders Waterford, which are a traditional watercolour paper. Then there is the Somerset printmaking paper range, which is made from 100 percent cotton, much like all of the other ranges.

Despite being based in Wells in Somerset, St Cuthberts Mill exports its artist papers all over the world, from Singapore to America, Chile to China.

If you have an interesting story or a view on this news, then please e-mail news@printmonthly.co.uk

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