Visit the Wookey Hole hand-made papermill
On entering the Victorian papermill there is the opportunity to pause for a few minutes to watch a fascinating film about the history of paper: “Wookey Hole – The Great Paper Trail”.
Mankind’s progress has always depended on our ability to communicate ideas. First came speech, then the ability to draw – the earliest crude drawings on sand and cave walls were a gigantic intellectual step, calling for the invention of implements and pigments to represent people and animals.
Visitors can watch the skilled Vatman and his assistant, the Coucher, making paper in the traditional way. Visitors can also have a go at making some paper themselves.
From earliest crude drawings the great civilisations of China, Egypt and Asia Minor developed writing – inscribing hieroglyphics on stone, clay, metal, bark and cloth.
Egypt developed the use of papyrus, the earliest known manuscripts of which date from 2200 BC.
It was in China that the biggest steps were taken. Calligraphy was invented there in 2700 BC, and in 250 BC the invention of the camel-hair brush revolutionised the written language.
By 105 AD the Chinese had invented true paper, a thin felted material formed on flat, porous moulds from macerated vegetable fibre. For the next 500 years the Chinese were able to retain a monopoly on papermaking, but then the skill spread westwards, and the earliest existing European manuscript on paper dates from 1109
In 1476 William Caxton established his mechanical printing office in Westminster, and this stimulated the rapid growth of paper mills in England to meet the ever increasing demand for paper. The rest, as they say, is history…!
The earliest mill at Wookey Hole (for grinding corn) was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. By 1610 it was already a paper mill, and to this day handmade paper is still made from raw cotton at Wookey Hole Mill, using original Victorian machinery.