/ About / Paper Mill

Article submitted in 2005 by the late Gwyneth Leighton

Commissioned by William Sommerville (shown below) for his sons Alexander Annandale Sommerville and Robert Grieve Sommerville, was designed by Mr Foster an architect from Bristol, and it was built by Mr Holbrow, also from Bristol.

It was built from bricks manufactured by Wm Thomas & Co of Wellington who were obviously proud of their product as they included a photograph of the building in their sales literature in 1909. The factory occupied some 75,000 square feet.. The building still exists today although the chimney stack was removed in the 1980s. The factory was opened on April 28th 1875 – or at least this is the date on the corner stone (above) – the paper says it was Tuesday, 27th April! Master Herbert Leigh Sommerville, Alexander’s eldest son, laid the foundation stone. He used a silver trowel to lay the mortar, which was a gift from his grandfather.

Opening Day Party – over 300 people invited! News had already spread that there was to be a special event in Creech and over 300 people arrived on time for the opening and the Church bells rang out some merry peals. Many local notarees were invited to the opening including members of the family and Rev J Bownes, the local vicar, the Misses Dunning, Dr and Mrs Bedall, William Jeffries and Mr A Maynard and Son from Taunton. After a thank you speech from Alexander Sommerville the crowd cheered and adjourned to a temporary building for a feast of roast and boiled beef, cakes and “the cup which cheers but not inebriates”. There was entertainment and music with Mrs A Sommerville at the piano. The event carried on into the evening and the Sommervilles were formally welcomed to the Parish of Creech St Michael with a finale of God Save the Queen!

Papermaking Partnership to Corporate Collapse
The Beginning A & R Sommerville & Co. was the first partnership formed at Creech, the partners involved being Alexander Annadale Sommerville and Robert Grieve Sommerville, together with Alexander’s son Reginald Sommerville. They employed a large workforce from Creech St Michael and it’s neighbourhood and of course brought key personnel with them from their paper mills at Bitton and Penicuick, Scotland. It is interesting to see how families moved around from one mill to another and how they married into families who also had connections with the paper industry. Henry Gardiner travelled with the Sommervilles from Scotland, to Bitton and then to Creech.

He became Mill Manager at Creech in 1875 and all his children worked in the mill from a very early age. One of his daughters was only 8 years old when she worked as a rag sorter. Some of them married into other papermaking families – mainly from Brandninch in Devon. It could be that the connection here transpired through the sale of the business at Bitton to the King Smiths from Silverton. It certainly shows that there were close links between both the owners and employees at the various mills in the late 19th century. The Sommerville’s dissolved their partnership in December 1889. Robert Grieve Sommerville under the name of R. Sommerville & Co carried on the business. Robert sought assistance from his father in law to raise the money to buy the other partners’ shares.

The War Years
The Company survived through two world wars. There was a heavy toll on both the business and the families employed by the mill. Costs of production rose and the labour force changed as men left to fight for their country. In 1914 fifteen men left on August 4th when the forces were mobilised for the European War, thirteen left to join Lord Derby’s Reserves, and a further twelve left to go to other jobs in essential industries such as gas, electricity and the railway. After the first World War was over and under the Ministry of Labour National Scheme for the Employment on a Percentage Basis of Disable Ex-Service Men the Company undertook to find employment for 4 per cent of the total number of employees, including men, women and juveniles. There are four names written on the back of the Mill’s certificate from the Ministry (No 22038).

If this is a true record the mill may have employed about 100 people at this time. During 1914 a Mr Arthur Henderson accused the Mill of paying low wages. This was actually brought to the House of Commons on June 15th. (The Company was a supplier of stationery to HMSO!) They were accused of paying about the lowest wages of any firm in the trade in the whole of the United Kingdom, and that the rate paid to general workers was 11s 6d per week whereas other firms in the South paid their general workers 25s per week. On looking through the company records for the period I found details of the costs of production for some of the paper that was supplied to HMSO, and the average pay per hour was 9½d. Even if they were working only a 60 hour week and not 72 as claimed by Mr Henderson, I calculate they were taking home considerably more than 11s 6d and this supports Robert Sommerville’s strong denial of the allegations.

The Decline
The mill was in continuous production for over one hundred years and has had several owners during this period. Since Malcolm Sommerville died without heirs the family sold the business in 1946 to Pureness. Purnells were subsequently taken over by the British Printing Corporation in 1965. BPC closed it with the loss of over 60 jobs in 1982. On 17th June, 1983 Somerset County Council (the sub purchasers being R Sommerville Ltd) bought the mill for£100,00 from the British Printing Corporation, and it was leased to Creech Paper Mill for a period of 1 year. In conjunction with a group of local businessmen and the County Council hoped to be able to recreate about 80 jobs.

The Somerset County Gazette reported on September 7th, 1984, that there was a dispute over the scheme to reopen the mill. The project was dealt a severe blow when the London based Lazard Development Capital Investment Company withdrew its proposed £600,000 backing in February of the same year despite the efforts of, the then Taunton MP, Mr Edward du Cann. A number of workers were laid off because of this decision and claimed they were owed wages totalling thousands of pounds. Mr Michael Mortimer, one of the workers, said he was one of about 12 Creech Paper Mill engineers laid off in February, whilst attempts were made to find another backer for the venture, and that he was owed about £1,400 in pay, holiday money and wages in lieu of notice. He reported that they were told that there was no money with which to pay them, but the next thing he knew was that men were being taken back on under the name of Woodland Enterprises. He expressed the view that in his opinion the management should have declared the business insolvent so that they could claim their money.

A local businessman, Mr Alan Covey instigated the rescue scheme. Mr Covey resigned as chairman of the consortium in July 1984 after a dispute with the Managing Director Mr Robin Pearmund, over the way that the company was run. The business was sold to Woodland Resources on 26th October 1984 and continued under the newly formed Company in which Mr Pearmund had the majority interest. Again the local paper reported that Somerset County Council who had purchased the land and leased it to the consortium had written off more than £15,000 of outstanding rent. The property was then sold to Mr Pearmund. Overall the rescue package was about 1.6 million pounds. They did manage to restart paper manufacture but ran into more difficulty and the mill changed hands yet again in 1989. Paper was not being made, they concentrated on converting paper for other mills and paper merchants.

The Company reintroduced papermaking in the early 1990′s for a short period. This was discontinued owing to the lack of investment in new machinery and the existing machinery’s considerable age. Competition from large modern mills both in the UK and abroad was strong and Creech was unable to manufacture profitably at market prices. Yet again, they concentrated on converting paper for other mills and merchants. Finally, the mill ceased trading in 1993.