The value of paper



In the times of turmoil from at the end of the sixteen-hundreds, the Bible was the vital key to church, state and law, to education and to morality.  In Scotland, one man had a monopoly for its production: Andrew Anderson, the King’s Printer.   Anderson first gained this monopoly in 1671 –he was already the Printer to the Town and College of Edinburgh.  But Andrew Anderson was dead within five years.  And for the next forty years his widow Agnes Campbell held on grimly to the monopoly her husband had been granted.  She was by all accounts a capable and determined woman, with a large family to bring up.  And it was Agnes Campbell –to satisfy the insatiable demands of her presses- who came to control the making of high quality paper in Penicuik when she took up the lease of a mill on the Esk at Valleyfield from the local landowners, the Clerk family.


Paper quality in Scotland at first was poor.  Made up from rags gathered in the city which were pounded to a pulp and spread on frames, the result was often a weak dull blue or grey paper which made a passable wrapper.  And in that form it was much used to trade in small quantities of sugar, salt or gunpowder.  Penicuik paper of this sort is believed to have been among stores taken to the Caribbean for trading by the ships of the Darien Expedition in 1697.  Agnes Campbell herself –Widow Anderson- was one of the subscribers of the Darien scheme as an "Adventurer in the Joint Stock of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies" to the tune of £100.



While rough paper might do for wrappers and handbills, something whiter and more substantial was needed for publishing, especially for the heavy use of bibles up and down the land. Using the purer Penicuik water from St Mungo’s well, and with expertise largely borrowed from France and the Low Countries, the making of high quality paper began here in Penicuik thanks to Agnes Campbell, –and was to continue on the Esk for 300 years.


Agnes Campbell was always on the lookout for more space –quiet rooms for proof reading, drying rooms for fresh paper and print.  She acquired the lands of Roseburn and Tollcross in her own right and because of this was given the courtesy title of Lady Roseburn.


Her persistence was matched with good connections.  Her family relative the Earl of Argyll was an important political figure, her sister’s husband was leading Scots banker and goldsmith William Law.  And her young nephew, the brilliant risk-taking John Law went on to become France’s all-powerful Comptroller of Finance –a persuasive Scot who sunk France’s money in the Darien-like Mississippi Company and who persuaded the whole French nation that paper notes -not precious metals- were the best form of currency –a brave experiment they were soon to regret.


Lady Roseburn's nephew John Law

 became France’s Comptroller of Finance


This article first appeared in the Penicuik Arts Penicuik Looking Back exhibition in Penicuik Town Hall –RK  May 1997