Midlothian’s 100 Objects - Penicuik book with paper samples

A book containing paper samples made by A. Cowan & Sons at Valleyfield Paper Mills at Penicuik. Photo: National Museums Scotland/Scran
A book containing paper samples made by A. Cowan & Sons at Valleyfield Paper Mills at Penicuik. Photo: National Museums Scotland/Scran

As we pass the halfway stage of the Midlothian’s 100 Objects feature, we have a look at another item relating to Penicuik’s history as the ‘papermaking town’.

This leather-bound book, dated 1859, contains paper samples made by A Cowan & Sons at the Valleyfield Paper Mills.

Papermaking was started at Valleyfield in 1709 by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, Baron of the Exchequer and a negotiator of the Treaty of Union, and a formidable lady called Agnes Campbell. Her late husband was a printer to the Crown and held a printing monopoly.

In 1716, Agnes Campbell sold Valleyfield to her grandson, William Hamilton. Thereafter it passed through various hands until 1779, when it was taken over by Charles Cowan, a merchant in Leith. Cowan ran the mill with his sons, Alexander and Duncan. In 1796, the mill was making two to three tons of paper per week, with a workforce of 30. It eventually became the largest paper-mill in Scotland.

The paper-making industry was concentrated in Midlothian to meet the demands of the Edinburgh printers. Businesses, banks, law courts, the university and publishers all created a large demand for paper.

At one stage there were a number of paper mills along the River Esk. Valleyfield closed in 1975, ending 267 years of papermaking.

Photo: National Museums Scotland/Scran

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