A rag-cutting room at Caldercruix Paper Mills, around 1920. A rag-cutting room at Caldercruix Paper Mills, around 1920.

Rags to Riches: Papermaking

5 min read

RAGS make paper,

PAPER makes money,

MONEY makes banks,

BANKS make loans,

LOANS make beggars,


Unknown author, 1700s. Quoted in Dard Hunter’s ‘Papermaking: the History and Technique of an Ancient Craft’ (1943)

Papermaker Robert Craig.

Papermaker Robert Craig.

In 1848 when Robert Craig brought his papermaking business to Caldercruix, the industry was going through a transformation.

Paper had traditionally been made from pulped rags, a time-consuming and expensive process that produced relatively coarse and thick paper. However, in 1846 Fenerty and Keller found a way to make paper from wood pulp using a mechanical process. Craig jumped on this new opportunity and imported Scotland’s first wood pulp papermaking machine from America. At the same time, there was still a demand for tradionally-made rag paper for a variety of purposes. One being blotting paper.

The growth of education and literacy combined with industrial expansion was driving increasing demand for paper of all types. A government duty on imported paper gave British paper manufacturers an advantage over foreign mills. This tax was controversial because the domestic manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand so essential imports were subject to the levy.

Dry End, No.2 Machine at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

Dry End, No.2 Machine at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

A Papermaking Dynasty

James Craig, founder of the business.

James Craig, founder of the business.

The family business dated back to 1820 and was begun by Robert’s father James Craig. Despite its long association with Lanarkshire, the firm had its origins in Ayrshire. Newbattle Mills was near Dalkeith, in an area with a history of papermaking and several other mills nearby.

Newbattle Mills, from a paper ream packaging label. Newbattle Viaduct is in the background.

Newbattle Mills, from a paper ream packaging label. Newbattle Viaduct is in the background.

In 1839 James patented equipment for washing and boiling rags for paper. When he died in 1841 the business passed to Robert, who in time would bring his own sons into the firm, re-naming it Robert Craig and Sons.

The 1840s saw the firm expand into Lanarkshire, first setting-up the mill at Caldercruix and then acquiring an existing paper mill near Airdrie.

Robert himself stayed heavily involved in the running of the business perhaps for longer than he would have wanted, after the City of Glasgow Bank failed in 1878. Craig was the biggest shareholder and was faced with rebuilding his fortune.

Moffat Mills

Moffat Mills in Airdrie depicted on a paper ream label, arouind 1870.

Moffat Mills in Airdrie depicted on a paper ream label, arouind 1870.

The Moffat Mill had been built in 1822 by a consortium including a papermaker, a merchant and a printer. The mill wasn’t a great success at first and passed to a John Craig who was the brother of James Craig.

In 1832 it was recorded that the mill had three vats and was producing tea papers, grey papers, browns, pressings and mill-boards. The mill had a warehouse in the centre of Glasgow at 19 Bell Street.

In 1863 the mill shut down and was put up for sale. It was bought by John Craig of Newbattle, a cousin of John Craig of Robert Craig & Sons and re-started under the business name of the Moffat Paper Mill Company. Despite having to be rebuilt after an 1866 fire the mill made casing and wrapping papers from flax and jute fibres, waste from the textile industry.

Moffat Mills from the south, around 1920.

Moffat Mills from the south, around 1920.

Men in the Costing Department at Moffat Mills, around 1920.

Men in the Costing Department at Moffat Mills, around 1920.


Women and girls in the packing room at Moffat Mills, around 1920.

Women and girls in the packing room at Moffat Mills, around 1920.

The mill pond at Moffat Mills, around 1920. Papermaking required a lot of water.

The mill pond at Moffat Mills, around 1920. Papermaking required a lot of water.

Caldercruix Mills

Belonging to Messrs. Robert Craig & Sons, were built 40 years ago, and at first were wholly driven by the water from the Calder. The two water-wheels, said to be the second largest in Scotland, were one of the sights from the railway when it was opened. These wheels have now been removed, and the whole machinery is now driven by steam. The mill has been extended very much during the last three years, and is capable of turning out about 80 tons weekly (chiefly hosiery cartridges and manillas, blottings, and M.G. papers), and gives employment to over 200 people.

‘New Monkland Parish: It’s History, Industries, and People’ by John MacArthur, 1890

Caldercruix is unusual among North Lanarkshire villages in that it owes its existence to the presence not of coal or ironstone but of water. Hillend Loch is a reservoir that was built in the 1790s to feed the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Monkland Canal. The ample supplies of fresh water made the Loch an ideal location for the thirsty textile industry and would go on to support not just Caldercruix Paper Mills but also a printworks.

The Town & Country Ramblers’ Association made an outing to Caldercruix on the 3rd of September 1881 and were shown round the works. Their minute book is preserved in North Lanarkshire Archives (ref: U35/1) and includes an account of the visit, missing umbrella and all:

Caldercruix 3rd September 1881
On which day the Town & Country
Ramblers met at Caldercruix Railway
station – at 3.40pm – Present
Mr Robert Davidson – Hugh Johnston – Davidson
Pollock – John McPherson – John Miller
John Brown – Alexander Patrick & Thomas
Paton all from Glasgow. – Mr Peter Taylor
from Coatbridge – & Mr Alexander
Davidson Jun & Sen – Richard Smith
Thomas Cummings & James Davidson all
from Airdrie —                   After
the usual hand shacking all round &
pleasure expressed at this continued Queens
weather the Ramblers proceeded to Calder-
cruix Paper Works –  – where they were
taken in charge by their friend Mr
Peter McKinnon who very kindly
took them through the whole work

& explained to them all the different processes
of paper making – from the dirty Rag
to the highly finished Glazed paper –
Minute attention was paid to the different
treatments – for instance the large revolving
Boiler where the rags are put into in
a filthy state & the steam being turned
they are allowed to revolve for some hours –
Boiled & steamed again with vitrol –
They are then put through a revolving
machine called the Beater which breaks
up the rags into pulp – after which
they are conducted through the Bleaching
Machine & brought to a finer colour –
it is then led by Sluices to the under
part of the works where it is pressed by
Hydraulic Power till all the sap is taken
away – It is then taken up ago

p. 39
packed up & when wanted for manufacture it
is brought up through a final
stage of Beating & Bleaching &
conducted by Sluices to the Machine
House –  which is the most interesting
sight – for you can here see that
a milky looking substance coming
into the machine at the one end –
& a few feet further forward
you see it as it passes on assuming
a more solid appearance – – until
gradually it comes to be a sheet of
paper – This can all be seen
within twelve feet – from a liquid
to a sheet of paper – the other
part of this machine is composed of Heated
Cylinders – round which this the
newly formed paper winds till it comes
out at the end properly dried & well

p. 40
formed –        The Ramblers were next
shown the Glazing Machinery which puts
this Glaze on the paper by means of
Damping – Heat Pressure – There
is also a number of Paper Cutting Machines
which are very clever & worth taking
note of —–
This being the most of this works seen
through now that there was any interest
in –  The Ramblers thanked their
Guide & had a pleasant walk eastward
from the mill towards the Gruff
Inn – where they adjourned to transact
their usual business. & have a slight
refreshment – – Mr A Davidson Airdrie in
the chair – – The Secretary was
asked to read the minutes of former Rambles
which he did – those of Langloan
– Glasgow Barracks – – Dunbarton

p. 41
Castle – Dalyiell Castle – which
were adopted – he also gave a
sketch of the meeting at Hamilton
Palace with the ladies – but it
was not accepted – & was instructed
to write the minutes of said meeting
in the usual way & submit to be
approved of along with the others
–         An objection was then lodged
by one of the members that Mr against
Mr Davidson Pollock coming to the meeting
without the Ramblers Badge – namely
a walking stick – – Mr Pollock protested
& said that although he had no walking
stick, he had an umbrella – – which was
just as good – this led to a very lively
discussion in which the most of the members
took part – latterly it was agreed
to that in future an umbrella be

p. 42
acknowledged as a Badge – that is to
say if it is in good condition as the
member who objected to it in this case said
that the cue in question was only a
stick with some dirty cotton round
it – An objection was also
lodged against Mr Thomas Cummings for
having no Badge – – He at once
admitted his error & handed over the fine
for same offence to the Treasurer
Thereafter a very happy evening was
spent with song & sentiment in such a
was as Ramblers only can do – & after
our hearted thanks being awarded to Mr
Alexander McKinnon & his two sons who
by this time had joined us – The
Ramblers proceeded to the Railway Station
& got safely conveyed home by rail
to their respective homes – all in

good spirits & highly pleased with their
afternoons enjoyment

James Davidson Secy

Consolidation in Lanarkshire

The firm decided to abandon the Newbattle Mills in 1890. The mills were leased, rather than owned and the company had been unable to negotiate their purchase. Instead they made plans to upgrade the two Lanarkshire sites in readiness for closing Newbattle.

One advantage of concentrating production on the two Lanarkshire sites was that it was much easier for management to meet and co-ordinate. Each site no longer needed a separate management team.

Wet End, No.3 Machine at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

Wet End, No.3 Machine at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

Dry End, No.3 Machine at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

Dry End, No.3 Machine at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

The firm enlarged both Caldercruix and Moffat Mills, partly to accommodate the large amount of useable machinery from Newbattle. The result was that the firm’s overall production capacity was increased.

In the case of Caldercruix it was decided to design the new plant specifically to make blotting papers. One reason for this was the availability of pure, soft water from the nearby Hillend Reservoir. Soft water was needed to make blotting papers. Soon the company were able to declare themselves ‘the largest makers of blotting papers in the world’.

At both enlarged mills, new workers’ housing was built and many of the new occupants were workers who had moved from Newbattle.

By this time Robert Craig had retired from the family business and he died in 1892. Robert’s four sons who had also been his partners in the business took in a new partner, Gilbert Wildridge who became Managing Director with James Craig as Chairman.

Making Blotting Paper

Blotting paper is a type of thick paper made from rags that has not had ‘sizing’ added. The sizing is a kind of glaze or glue that is added to paper so that when it is written on, the ink does not soak straight into the paper. Paper without sizing naturally absorbs liquids by capillary action.

So, blotting paper is naturally absorbent. Although today it is best known for use with cosmetics, until the computer age it was used in every office. In those days documents had to be handwritten or typed. The blotting paper was pressed on top of a newly-written document to absorb excess ink and so avoid smudging. When you write something with ink you will often find drops of wet ink on the otherwise dry lines you have made. Blotting paper will soak up those drops so that the writing is all dry.

By 1954 the Caldercruix Paper Mills produced 8,635 tons of paper.  It became the worlds’ largest maker of rag blotting paper. The rags were disinfected and steamed, ground together into pulp and processed into paper.  The mills’ stone rag processing department dealt with 5,000 tons of rags a year and employed some 300 women out of the mills’ total labour force of between 550 and 600 workers.

The mill had a reputation as a good place to work. The staff worked relatively modest shifts of eight hours and were paid an average weekly wage. The company provided an institute which included a billiards team, a hall for functions and a library.

A festive meal at the Craig Institute, Caldercruix, around 1919.

A festive meal at the Craig Institute, Caldercruix, around 1919.

New workers were employed as breakers (that is breaking up the material used in papermaking).  Other types of jobs included boilers, bleachers, drainers and beaters before the resulting pulp made it to one of the 3 paper-making machines.  As an employee, your work was varied as you were expected to work in all of these jobs.

Women and girls were often employed in the most menial jobs. Interviewed in 1999 Jean Sherlock recalled her time working at Caldercruix Mills between 1938 and 1957:

I was 14 before the war started, I got a job in the mill. [?Dinate] Gardens is where the foreman lived, I can remember it as if it was yesterday.


My sister worked in the despatch department. I started in the cutting house, I was the girl who had to carry cuttings of paper away, on my shoulder. I had to put them on my shoulder, sometimes they were 80-90lb. It was slave labour. You started at 7.45am. You put your ticket in, if you were a minute late, you got a fine, a quarter of an hour off your wages. You got weekly paid – 10 shillings and the next week was 10/8. I couldn’t work that out. You gave the money to your mum, because it was needed – this was 1938.


You started in the cutting house but I got promoted to the finishing department. I started labelling the parcels, the next job you got – you cried it ‘The Whistlers’ . The men who were working would whistle at you, and ask for different sized labels. You sometimes got sent to the glue boiler, it was horrible. You were the labourer, you had to glue the labels, it was horrible.


The next job was the piece work. That was the ultimate in the finishing department. You worked with the blotting paper. There were two sorters and two finishers. You had to make sure that there was nothing wrong with it and then you had to sort it. You had to sheet the paper. I was about 15/16 years old.


Then the war started, we had to do the men’s jobs. There was two of us lifting the paper, it was really hard work. I never worked in the rag-hoose, the years previous to 1938 were really terrible, war brought work for everybody. It was local, no bus fares. I never had another job.

A rag-sorting house at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920

A rag-sorting house at Caldercruix Mills, around 1920: “Each woman stands in front of a bench, the upper surface of which is covered with wire netting. Taking a handful of rags from a bale, she shakes them out on the bench, examines them, removes pins, buttons, &c… According to the quality of the various portions, she deposits them in one or other of the compartments of a box which stands near. The heavier portion of the dust and dirt set loose by these operations falls through the wire top of the bench into a receptacle beneath, while the lighter particles float about, and give the atmosphere a very unhealthy appearance.” ‘The Industries of Scotland’ by David Bremner, 1869.

Rag-cutting room, Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

Rag-cutting room, Caldercruix Mills, around 1920.

Blotting paper, although already known about for centuries, didn’t come into common use until the early 1800s. It was made from linen or cotton fibres, today usually from the latter or rice. Different materials are used according to the thickness and texture of paper required.

Inevitably, demand for blotting paper fell in the late 1900s as ink technology changed so that blotting was less necessary. Caldercruix Paper Mills closed in 1970 and the site is now housing.

A Technical Description of Papermaking in 1869

For those wanting a deeper dive into the history of papermaking, this very detailed explanation of the process of making paper from rags is from David Bremner’s 1869 book, ‘The Industries of Scotland: Their Rise, Progress and Present Condition’. Bremner’s account is based on a visit he made to the Valleyfield Mills, Penicuik. The first paragraph explains how rags were sorted, cut and washed:

From the store the rags are taken to the cutting and sorting rooms, where a large number of women are employed. Each woman stands in front of a bench, the upper surface of which is covered with wire netting. Taking a handful of rags from a bale, she shakes them out on the bench, examines them, removes pins, buttons, &c., and then cuts them into small pieces by drawing them across the edge of a huge knife fixed to the bench in a perpendicular position. According to the quality of the various portions, she deposits them in one or other of the compartments of a box which stands near. The heavier portion of the dust and dirt set loose by these operations falls through the wire top of the bench into a receptacle beneath, while the lighter particles float about, and give the atmosphere a very unhealthy appearance. The rags are next put through the dusting-machine, which consists of a large cylinder covered with wire net, and having a series of pegs or spikes inside. The cylinder is fitted up in an inclined position, and as the rags pass through it they are thoroughly shaken and beaten by the spikes. In order to get rid of the remaining dirt and some of the colouring matter, the rags are boiled in an alkaline lye or solution. For that purpose they are conveyed to the boiling-house, which contains a range of large caldrons. These have double sides, and the rags are boiled by the injection of steam through the perforated lining. Cylindrical revolving boilers are now coming into use, the advantages claimed for these being that the rotary motion, by turning over the rags, facilitates the action of the steam and lye.

Bremner then describes how the washed rags are reduced to pulp:

After being boiled, the rags are ready for conversion into pulp… The first pulping machine is the washing-engine, which is simply a shallow cast-iron cistern, fitted with a cylinder having a number of steel bars 1/8th or 3/16ths of an inch in thickness firmly wedged in it, and projecting about 1 1/2 inch from the circumference of the cylinder. The cylinder extends half-way across the engine, and the inner end of it rests on a mid-feather. In the bottom of the cistern, immediately beneath the cylinder, a series of bars, corresponding with those on the cylinder, are inserted ; and when the cylinder is put in rapid motion (revolving about 120 times in a minute), the rags are drawn in by the cylinder, and rubbed or torn into what is termed “half-stuff.” The current caused by the turning of the cylinder sends the rags round the ends of the mid-feather, keeps them moving in a continuous stream up one side of the cistern and down the other, and draws them in between the cylinder and fixed bars. As the chief object in the first instance is to cleanse the rags, they are merely broken into fragments by the first engine into which they are put. During the operation, which requires two hours for its completion, a stream of pure water flows through the machine, and carries off all impurities. Though the rag-cutters exercise a degree of vigilance in looking out for and removing buttons, pins, and the like, many of these escape notice ; and it is necessary to take precautions for their removal in the washing-engine. Sloping down in front of the fixed cutters in the bottom of the engine is a cast iron grating called a “button-trap.” The ribs of the grating lie parallel to the cutters, and, as small particles of pins, needles, buttons, or other foreign bodies are separated from the rags, they drop into the grating, and there lie until the trough is emptied, when very curious collections of dress-fastening appliances are revealed. The appearance which the rags – especially the coloured ones – present at this stage is very unpromising to the eyes of casual visitors to the paper-mill. When the washing and “breaking-in” are completed, the rags are drained and deposited in the bleaching vats, where they are subjected for twenty-four hours to the action of a strong solution of chloride of lime. The colouring-matter is thus destroyed, and the fibres are left perfectly white. By pressure in a hydraulic press, the bleaching liquor is extracted, and the stuff is placed for an hour in another washing-engine, which removes the chloride of lime, and still further separates the fibres. The stuff is then placed in the beating-engine and thoroughly pulped.  The beating-engine is similar in construction to the washing-engine ; but the rubbing bars are sharper and more closely set, and the motion is much quicker. The beating-engine completes its work in about five hours, by which time the fibres are reduced to about 1/60th of an inch in length, and float free in the water. The contents of the beating-engines are drawn off into large shoots, from which the papermaking-machines are supplied.

The next stage is to turn the pulp into paper:

As the pulp is drawn off the vat, it receives the proper quantity of water, and is then sent to flow along an open wooden trough thirty or forty yards in length. The object of this journey is to ensure the deposition of impurities of a heavy kind.  The liquid then passes through a sort of sieve, technically termed a “knotter,” which retains all knotted or matted fibres. It then passes into the cistern of the machine, where it is kept constantly in motion by a revolving agitator. From the cistern it flows in a carefully regulated stream, the full width of the machine, on to an endless web or apron of wire gauze, having about 4000 holes in each square inch. Most of the water passes through the apron instantaneously, and leaves the pulp deposited in an even layer on the wire, by which it is carried forward over a pneumatic drainer, which draws off the greater part of the remaining water. The portion of the machine which pertains to the apron receives a constant vibratory motion, which assists the extraction of the water, and causes the fibres to interlace and become felted. In determining the thickness of the paper to be made, both the speed of the machine and the quantity of pulp allowed to flow upon it must be taken into account. Before the web of semi-formed paper leaves the apron, it passes under a wire roller, on which letters or devices in wire are sewed, whereby is produced what is known as the “water-mark.”… The web next passes between two felt-covered rollers, which extract some of the moisture, and give the material a degree of consistency. When the paper leaves these rollers, it is received upon an endless web of felt, which conducts it through two pairs of pressing rollers, and thus it becomes consolidated. A set of five large drying cylinders, heated by steam, stand next in order ; and over all these the paper is led by the felt. When it comes forth from that ordeal, it has sufficient consistency to travel through the other parts of the machine, without the support of a felt. From the first set of drying cylinders it passes to the smoothing rollers, and thence over a second set of steam-heated cylinders, which complete the drying.

…paper made in the machine under notice being for writing upon, is sized by being passed through a bath of animal size after leaving the first set of drying cylinders. The superfluous size is removed by pressure between rollers, and the web is led on to the drying-machine, which is a most extensive piece of mechanism. It is 200 feet in length, and consists of 200 cylinders, each about a yard in diameter. The cylinders are arranged in three double tiers, which rise to a height of twenty feet. Each cylinder consists of two parts – an outside framing covered with wire-net, inside of which is a fan, the action of which drives a current of air against the paper as it travels round the open periphery of the cylinder. In its passage through the machine the paper is brought into contact with every one of the cylinders ; and when it emerges, is found to be thoroughly dried. The object of drying the paper in this way is to render it stronger and harder than it would be if dried on cylinders heated by steam. The paper next passes through burnished rollers, which impart a glaze to the surface ; and as it leaves these it is wound in convenient lengths upon movable wooden rollers, which, as they are filled, are shifted to the cutting-machine, by which the paper of six or eight rollers is simultaneously cut into sheets of any required dimensions.

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