Home Financials Bowater- A history. Chapter 1

Bowater- A history. Chapter 1


In 1981 a book ‘Bowater-A history’ by WJ Reader was published. It recounts the history of papermaking company Bowaters and the founding family behind it.

It is an excellent read telling the story of the newspaper industry from its early years in late Victorian times through to 1980.

It tells of the battles between the Press Barons, Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, and youthful Eric Bowater, who was in the author’s words, ‘awe inspiring to men and fascinating to women.’

The hardback book has been faithfully reproduced with all the original illustrations.

NB. Bowater-A history is copyright of Rexam PLC

Chapter One

The publishing revolution and the family firm 1880-1914

For the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, Lord Northcliffe, the founder of the Daily Mail, wrote a note on ‘Price of newspapers’.

Looking back over the previous half-century, he observed that the growth of the cheap newspaper-he meant newspapers priced at half a penny, or a penny at the most- had been practically simultaneous ‘throughout the civilised world’, notably France, the United States and Great Britain.

‘The general tendency in newspaper production’, he went on, ‘as in all other branches of industry, has been in recent times towards the lowering of prices while maintaining the excellence of quality, experience having proved the advantage of large sales with a small margin of profit over a limited circulation with a higher rate of profit.’

Northcliffe was writing from personal knowledge, describing a revolution in the publishing industry in which he was himself a leader and in which the development of cheap newspapers was neither the earliest nor largest feature.

During the 1880’s and 1890’s, in spite of the ‘Great Depression’ which darkened some regions of the economic landscape and in spite of the sluggishness which some historians have discerned in some branches of British industry, material welfare generated by earlier phases of the Industrial Revolution was spreading through society as real wages rose.

In these circumstances, Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe 1905), born in 1865, his three-years-younger brother, Harold (Lord Rothermere 1914), and other enterprising businessmen, mostly young, were showing that large and profitable businesses could be founded on selling periodicals designed for and advertised to them, such as Sunlight Soap, Cadbury’s Cocoa,Wills’ cigarettes, patent medicines, ready-made clothes, cheap railway tickets to the seaside- all the delights of an emerging consumer society.

This was not a highly educated public. Until 1870 there was no provision in England for universal schooling, and, in the eighties and nineties, the system was still far from complete, so that, for many moderately prosperous people on the ill-defined frontier between the upper working class and lower middle class, reading must have been almost as much a novelty as reading matter.

Nevertheless, they had an enormous appetite for information, served brightly, briefly and simply and for entertainment, and this was the essential discovery made by George Newnes (1851-1910) who launched Tit-Bits-tit-bits, that is, of information-in 1881.

Newnes had a great many imitators and competitors, amongst whom two were pre-eminent: Alfred Harmsworth, a contributor to Tit-Bits, and C.A.Pearson (1866-1921), a Wykehamist who, at the age of nineteen, became its manager.

Each decided that, what Newnes could do, he could do as well or better. Harmsworth launched Answers to Correspondents-Answers-in 1888 and Pearson launched Pearson’s Weekly in 1890.

Around his original success, each of these pioneers built a range of other periodicals. Some like Newnes’ Review of Reviews (1890) and Strand Magazine(1891), were aimed rather higher in the market; others, if anything, lower, like Harmsworth’s Comic Cuts (1890) and Pearson’s Dan Leno’s Comic Journal (1898).

There were periodicals for women-Home Chat (Harmsworth, 1895)- Sunday periodicals, periodicals for boys, and periodicals for special interest groups, and in this field W.I.Iliffe, a printer and stationer of Coventry, was turning his attention to the possibilities of cycling- Alfred Harmsworth worked for him on Bicycling News in the mid -eighties-then of motoring (The Autocar, 1895), and eventually of flying (Flight, 1909).

A variant of periodical publishing was the publication of ‘part-works’: this is, the publication at fixed intervals- a fortnight, perhaps, or a month-of parts of a self-contained work: an account of a war in progress, perhaps, or an encyclopaedia, or a ‘self-educator’-intended eventually to be bound permanently and kept.

The advantages of the plan were-and are-two-fold: the publisher sees a rapid return on his outlay and the buyer is able to buy the complete work by instalments.

Part-works were nothing new and old established publishers like Cassells had plenty of experience of them.

Harmsworth joined in with enthusiasm, starting with Sixty Years a Queen in ten sixpenny parts in 1897 and going on with Nelson and his Times, also in ten sixpenny parts.

With the Flag to Pretoria (thirty parts) followed, and when the Boers failed to surrender in a sensible manner, forty-two parts of After Pretoria.

These mirrored the imperial pride of the day: so too, in a way, did Japan’s Fight For Freedom in sixty parts.

For those seeking to improve themselves or their children he published the Harmsworth Encyclopaedia in forty parts, starting in March 1905; the Harmsworth Self-Educator in forty-eight parts, starting in October of the same year; the Children’s Encyclopaedia ( Spring 1908) and many more.

For children there was a string of ‘annuals’ in the early 1900s-Playbox,Puck, Schoolgirls’ Own, Tiger Tim’s and others- and, in November 1910, women were favoured with the first of forty-eight parts of Everywoman’s Encyclopaedia.

The sheer volume of this form of publishing-periodicals and part-works-must have been immense, though precisely how immense is impossible to say because sales or circulation figures are hard to come by.

There are, however, one or two indicators.

Newnes, in 1891, was claiming sales of 500,000 copies a week for Tit-Bits and, at about the same time, a chartered accountant certified net sales of 1,000,000 a week for all Harmsworth publications.

Periodicals had never been sold in anything like these numbers before, just as soap had never been sold in the quantities in which Lever Brothers were selling it.

In 1896, Alfred Harmsworth, still aiming at the mass market, launched the Daily Mail, a daily paper designed not for the highly educated, leisured gentlemen interested in public affairs and with hours to spare for reading about them, but for clerks and workmen on their way to work and for women.

In so far as any newspapers had reached this kind of readership before, they had generally been Sunday papers, sensational then as now in the selection and treatment of news and radical in politics, if they had any, and when the Daily Mail was launched there were two, perhaps three, mass circulation Sunday papers-News of the World, Lloyd’s Weekly News, Reynolds’ News- which had been founded as far back as the mid-century.

As a daily, however, and in its price-a ha’penny-the Daily Mail was the leader, by a long way, in the development of a new kind of journalism.

It soon had competitors. in 1900 Pearson launched the Daily Express and Edward Hulton the Daily Dispatch. 

Then in 1904 Harmsworth converted the Daily Mirror launched for ‘gentle-women’ in the previous year, and a failure, into the first illustrated daily, and a success.

The circulation figures for the London halfpenny dailies, so far as they are known or can be guessed, rose in the early 1900s far above any figure previously attained.

The Daily Express, after an initial print of 800,000, fell back to about 250,000: still, for its time, a high figure, and the circulation of the Daily News, driven down to a halfpenny in 1904, seems to have risen well over 500,000 before 1914.

The Mail, at the head of them all, built up a daily circulation of 750,000 (after one million, briefly, during the Boer War) and the Mirror, by 1912, seems to have gone higher, though not lastingly. the Mail’s success was phenomenal, and until the late 1920’s had no serious rival. Between 1881 and 1911 the number of authors, editors and journalists recorded in the Census of England and Wales rose by more than 300 per cent.

Here is another indication, wider in its scope and probably more reliable than circulation figures, of the success of popular periodicals, halfpenny papers, and mass-market publishing generally.

This publishing revolution set in motion processes by which information and ideas could penetrate more rapidly, widely and more deeply than ever before.

There was simplification, distortion,triviality, but a mind-broadening engine of great power had come into action, unparalleled until the development of broadcasting and television.

The modern mass-media had been born, and despite sneers from on high-later directed also at television-there can be no reasonable doubt that the widening diffusion of the printed word enormously expanded the general knowledge and awareness of the mass of the population, just as the contemporary development of other consumer goods raised their general standard of living.

To reach their market, Northcliffe and publishers like him relied on cheap, abundant supplies of paper making material; on machinery into converting it into paper cheaply and quickly; and on printing machinery to match the papermakers’ output.

Mass-market publishers have the same requirements today, and so far as paper-making is concerned they are met in very similar ways.

Developments in the underlying technology of papermaking, during the period of this book, have been in matters of speed, size and quantity, not in the engineering principles of the machinery or in the general nature of papermaking material.

Broadly speaking, the new publishers of the 1880s and 1890s found papermaking machinery waiting for them which was adequate for their purpose or could readily be made so.

Paper was already being made in large quantities on plant of a kind first developed, very early in the nineteenth century, by John Gamble, the stationer brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier and the versalite engineer Bryan Donkin who had a hand in many other things as well, including an early process for canning food, and who became FRS.

The Fourdrinier machine took in at one end a wet pulp-99 per cent water- of cellulosic material and passed it in a thin layer first over wire mesh, then on to endless travelling felts which carried it between pressure rolls, and then to a final drying between heated rollers, the object of these successive processes being to expel nearly all the water from the pulp and convert it into a continuous sheet of paper which could be wound on to a reel.

The process is much the same, in essentials, today as it was in the nineteenth century, but whereas a machine of 1890 would produce paper 100 inches wide at between 100 and 200 feet a minute, a machine in 1980, 380 feet long, was capable of producing paper 364 inches wide at 3,000 to 3,250 feet a minute.

Fourdrinier machines and rotary presses guaranteed that paper could be produced and printed rapidly and in large quantities.

Cheapness they did not by themselves guarantee. The papermakers’ product could only be cheap if they could find a cheap and abundant source of cellulose fibre.

Rag had been used for centuries but, by the 1860’s, it was too scarce and expensive for newsprint.

The papermakers turned first to esparto grass and straw, then to wood pulp, especially in the eighties after chemical methods of treating the raw wood produced a better quality cellulose.

In a combination of ‘mechanical’ pulp and ‘sulphite’ pulp-that is, pulp produced purely by grinding and pulp produced by chemical ‘cooking’- the papermakers found what they needed for the newsprint end of their trade, where the mass production and the mass sales lay.

They also found themselves dependent on imports of pulp, because there was no adequate timber in the United Kingdom.

Pulp at first came chiefly from Scandinavia and other parts of Northern Europe, then additionally and increasingly from  Canada and, in time, paper, especially newsprint, began to come also.

In 1900, 487,742 tons of wood pulp were imported, a figure six times as great as in 1887.

Reliance on imported raw material and competition in their finished product became facts of permanent and growing significance to the British papermakers, particular the makers of newsprint.

The use of wood pulp for papermaking was the key development which enabled publishers to realise the full potential of their suppliers’ and printers’ machinery. Northcliffe had no doubt of its importance.

‘From 1875 to 1885’, he wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica,’ paper cheapened rapidly and it has been estimated that the introduction of wood pulp trebled the circulation of newspapers in England.’

Harold Harmsworth, even more than his brother, was impressed by the importance of cheap paper for their joint enterprises, and, as Alfred’s business manager, he was able to put his ideas into practice.

He ‘saw that the clue to their success was in buying raw material’-that is, paper-‘at the lowest possible price and selling it at a profit in processed form’, and he had the early periodicals printed as cheaply as possible on the cheapest possible paper, coloured, if necessary, to hide its badness.

In dealing with his brother, Harold was quite open. ‘Our bad paper and cheap printing’, he wrote to Alfred in 1892, ‘will not stand much in the way of small type.’

Four years later, accordingly, he proposed to have the Daily Mail printed on cheap, tinted, paper. This was too much for Alfred.

He had a large investment in the paper emotionally, as well as financially, and no doubt felt that he was solidly enough established to permit his greatest venture a measure of luxury.

Moreover, he wanted to flatter his readers and, at some time, he might want to publish illustrations. The Daily Mail was printed on good, white, paper.

The Harmsworth enterprises, taken all in all, were by this time among the largest British businesses.

There were two other newspapers besides the Mail-the Evening News, bought in 1894, and the Daily Record of Glasgow, bought the following year- and fourteen periodicals.

Harmsworth Brothers Ltd, formed in 1896 to rake over everything except the newspapers,claimed to be the biggest periodical publishing house in the world.

The owners of this imposing assembly bought some or all of their most important raw material-paper-through an agent, and it was said in the office ‘that when Harold had a couple of minutes to spare he would send for the paper agent and knock off another two-and-a-half per cent discount’.

The agent who suffered that disconcerting treatment probably belonged to a small firm in the City of London, appointed to the agency about 1890.

The name of the firm was W.V.Bowater & Sons. Of Bowaters’ earliest days little is known and that little is founded chiefly on oral traditions, sometimes conflicting.

William Vansittart Bowater (1838-1907) was born into a Midland family of good social standing and with numerous branches.

Several of his relations of various generations were officers in the army, including two who became generals-John Bowater (1741-1813), a great-uncle, and Sir Edward Bowater (1787-1861), a distant cousin who was equerry to the Prince Consort.

William himself went into trade, which suggests strongly that his father could not finance any more genteel career.

He joined James Wrigley & Sons of Manchester and Bury, papermakers.

W.V.Bowater’s reputation is thoroughly unpleasant. he seems to have been hard-drinking, bad-tempered, and tyrannical.

All three characteristics are suggested by the story which is told of his downfall at Wrigleys.

He came back from lunch drunk one afternoon in the seventies and went to sleep in his office. A policeman entered to warn him, apparently quite politely, that the street door was open.

‘Don’t you know better than to wake an Englishman when he’s asleep?’ shouted Bowater, and he hustled the constable downstairs into the street.


image of W.V.Bowater
William Vansittart Bowater in the 1890s



Wrigleys sacked him and he moved to London. In February 1881 he was in business at 31 London Wall.

During the same year he moved to 91 Queen Street and in 1883 to 28 Queen Street, a handsome Georgian house where the firm remained until 1899.

In 1885 he was listed in the first annual issue of the Directory of Papermakers as one of forty-four ‘Paper Makers’ London Representatives’ and, on another page, he advertised ‘Fine and Common Printings, News, Long Elephants, Cartridges, Engine Sized Writings, Fine Glazed and Unglazed Browns, Caps, and Mill Wrappers’.

In 1886, in case anyone had missed the point, he described himself as ‘Paper Makers’ Agent and Wholesale Stationer’ and, a couple of years later, he announced a line of business which was to become important: ‘Waste Papers Bought and Sold’.

Bowater 8

The business, at a comparatively modest level, must have been prosperous for, at the end of 1889, perhaps with the Harmsworth agency in view, W.V.Bowater took three of his five sons into partnership.

The eldest, Thomas Vansittart, was twenty-seven; Frank was twenty-three; Frederick, twenty-two.

The family firm, typical of English business practice of the day, was complete. There was no suggestion of incorporation or limited liability.

This was not yet a business fitted for large-scale dealings in newsprint, which figures only incidentally in its list of wares alongside the Long Elephants, Cartridges, Engine Sized Writings.

It was not, indeed, fitted for large scale dealings in anything, rather the reverse.

Bowater 9

‘Can the Manufacturer do without the Agent?’ enquired the Paper Trade Review in 1889 and, in discussing the question, gave an account of the paper agent’s functions, which no doubt suited W.V.Bowater’s business as well as that of any of his forty-odd competitors.

Why, it was being asked, have paper agents at all? Why shouldn’t manufacturers deal direct with buyers of their products?

The Review’s answer, first, was that the manufacturer should not attempt to be a dealer as well.

‘The proper manufacture of paper…fully absorbs the whole intelligence and attention of the maker, and to attempt both’ – that is, both manufacture and dealing – ‘often means doing so at the expense of one or the other of the branches, each of which requires a peculiar knowledge and handling.’

Let us see‘, the Review went on,

Why the dealer is necessary as between maker and consumer(wholesale or retail).

The consumer cannot possibly supply all his wants from one maker and ,consequently, would have to visit several before getting all he wants.

Again, should only a small quantity be needed, the dealer must of necessity be resorted to, who, by having several such demands, is able to take from the maker an amount that it pays to produce and , on the other hand, can obviate the necessity of the customer having to go to half- a- dozen places to fill up what he wants, not to mention the saving of time by all being to hand when wanted.

This last-named fact often gives the dealer an advantage over the maker, especially where time is an object.

The maker cannot (with a view to loss of interest, wharehouse room, &c.) keep an assorted stock, and so is liable to be without the very thing wanted, and recourse must be had at once to the dealer to save time and money.

The price quoted by the dealer is not higher than at the makers, and indeed often less, a s having large parcels on hand…he is able to dispose of them, if need be, in small quantities at a much lower rate than the maker would supply…

In short, the dealer, by having a quantity of relatively small orders, can send a large one to the maker, who is enabled to execute it at a low rate, and yet with profit, owing to the quantity.

Whoever wrote this passage cannot have been thinking of the Harmsworths, needing paper for a million copies of periodicals a week, or of Edward Lloyd, whose Lloyd’s Weekly News was probably already selling nearly 900,000 copies every Sunday and who also owned the Daily Chronicle.

Mass-market publishers and owners of mass-circulation papers, like the Harmsworths and Edward lloyd, had to find far more paper than any previous paper user had ever needed and the terms on which they found it were crucial to the health of their enterprises.

Broadly speaking, the users had two options open to them, not necessarily mutually exclusive, and they will be seen exercising them again and again throughout the period we are dealing with.

On one hand, they could attempt to play suppliers off against each other in the market.

As demand grew, they were relatively few suppliers who could meet it and the users always feared monopoly- newspaper owners seem to have been nervous of it as early as 1889- which might lead them to consider the other alternative, building their own paper mills.

Harold Harmsworth’s early activities seem to represent a fairly crude version of the first course of action, aimed solely at cheapness.

It suited him, evidently, to employ W.V.Bowater and perhaps other agents in much the manner described in the Paper Trade Review. 

Bowater would know the market and would find Harmsworth the supplies he wanted at a price he was prepared to pay; hence the rather vinegary joke about sending for the paper agent and knocking off another two and a half per cent discount.

If there were long-term contracts, it does not look as if Bowater negotiated them. Edward Lloyd, in business long before the Harmsworths were born, took the other line, building his own mill.

In his early days-the 1830s-he was a very sharp operator indeed, making his way by means of ‘penny bloods’, a shorthand textbook, ‘imitations’-plagiarism – of Dickens and other authors, and evasion of the Newspaper  Stamp Act, towards comparative respectability and a slightly spurious reputation for virtue as the highly successful owner of Lloyd’s Weekly News and the worthily Liberal Daily Chronicle. 

With these two to provide for, ‘Mr Lloyd came to the conclusion that he would find it of the vagaries of the paper market by making his own paper.’

The first site he chose, in 1861, was on the River Lea at Bow, in the East End of London, where he set a mill with two machines of the conventional width of the day, about 90 inches or rather less.


Bowater 11


After he had taken over the Daily Chronicle, that mill was too small and he moved to Sittingbourne in Kent, a place with a long tradition of papermaking, where ships could get access to the mill and the mill itself was about forty miles by rail from London for the delivery of finished products.

There was also an excellent water supply and plenty of room. on his site, he and his sons – Edward Lloyd died in 1890 soon after forming a limited liability company to take over his business – built up the Daily Chronicle Mills, where, by 1902, eleven machines were running.

The first really wide paper machine – 123 inches – was put up at Sittingbourne, at one time the largest paper works in the world, and No.11 machine worked a wire 126 inches wide and 50 feet long at 550 feet per minute.

The total output of the Old and New Mills, in 1902, was about 1,000 tons a week of newsprint and other grades of paper.

Lloyd was determined not only to make paper but to control raw material supplies.

He experimented with many fibres and having settled, as he thought, on esparto he leased land or grass-cutting rights (it is not clear which) covering 100,000 acres in Algeria and in Southern Spain.

After Edward Lloyd’s death, Edward Lloyd Ltd bought a site at Honefos in Norway and put up pulp mills and, a little later, bought mills already built in Vittingfos.

Lloyds’ exuberant growth, sustained over many years, produced by the turn of the century the first British enterprise to have a stake in every stage of papermaking, printing and publishing, from making wood pulp to advertising and selling the finished newspaper.

The mills at Sittingbourne, capable of producing a wide range of paper. supplied by 1902 ‘an appreciable slice’ of the world’s newsprint and they handled 100,000 tons a year of other firms’ products ass well as their own, besides supplying ‘every item…which is wanted in a printing works’ from a rotary machine to cotton waste.

‘I buy my paper from Mr Frank Lloyd’, said his newspaper-owning competitor, C.A. Pearson, just after he had launched the Daily Express.

‘[He is] the only paper-maker in the whole world who would enter into a contract to supply me with the quantity that I wanted at any price.’ that Lloyds very large business should ever come into Bowaters’ ownership would in 1900 have been inconceivable, yet it 1936 – still the larger business of the two – it did (Chapter 6.2).

Bowaters’ ‘first great agency’, according to family tradition, was for Lloyds, though when and for what quantity or type of business is unknown.Presumably, such contracts as Pearson’s would have been negotiated by Frank Lloyd, who followed his father as head of the firm.

W.V. Bowater’s method of working, as it has been described  by one of his grandsons, hardly seems consistent with the largest or highest class of business. He was a heavy drinker,

and if you wanted to do business in those days you had to agree to meet him at one of several inns in the City, ranging from Fleet Street to the other side of Lombard Street, and you sat at a table which he had reserved for him always and on it would be a decanter of port and you were expected to drink your share of that port if you wanted to do business with him.

The effect of this was that he occasionally returned to his office the worse for wear.

He would expect his sons to wait for him and, when he got back, he would dictate letters to them which Frank Bowater, much later, recalled taking to Euston to catch the night mail.

Stories are also told of whist and drinking late at night at W.V. Bowater’s house Bury Hall, at Edmonton, however tired or unwilling the sons might be.

On top of it all, the old man took a large share of the profits. Frank later claimed to have been paid only £200 a year. Vansittart, the eldest son, was becoming a city figure in his own right, being elected a representative on the Court of Common Council in 1899.

Whether for this reason or some other, he and his brothers decided, about 1900, that their father’s behaviour was intolerable.

They obliged him to sell out and took control of the business themselves, no doubt greatly to its benefit and their own.

In 1899 the firm had moved to larger offices at 159 Queen Victoria Street, but the space needed cannot have been very great for in 1905 the brothers were only employing, besides themselves, six clerks,two ‘lady typewriters’ and a fifteen-years-old office boy.

Bowater 13


For transport they hired four horse-drawn vans. They must have been heavily dependent on the Harmsworth connection.

They supplied paper for the first issue of the Daily Mail and, no doubt, for numerous other publications. When the Daily Mirror was launched in 1903, or perhaps when it was reorganised in 1904, the two younger brothers, Vansittart being much preoccupied in the City, scored a coup. 

Being agent s to Peter Dixon & Co., papermakers of Grimsby, they persuaded the firm to put in a new machine – a serious capital investment – to supply the Mirror’s needs and, to the Harmsworths, they guaranteed Dixon’s output.

Bowater 14


Bowaters’ agreement with Dixon ran until 1915 when Dixons, feeling no need for agents in the sellers’ marker of that day, declined to renew it.

Bowaters were supplying paper also for The Observer, taken over in a low point in its fortunes by Harmsworth in 1905, for, at the end of 1908, Cornford, of The Observer, called for help help from G.A.Sutton, one of Northcliffe’s most trusted subordinates, saying ‘Bowater are pressing me for three months’ on account.’

He got the money he sought, so presumably Bowaters got theirs. W.V.Bowater died in 1907 and in 1910 his sons formed a private company to replace the partnership.

At last Bowaters’ business begins to emerge from the colourful but imprecise half-light of reminiscence and anecdote into the colder but clearer illumination of accountants’ figures, and for the first time it is possible to give something like an accurate impression of size and shape.

The nominal capital of the new company, at £125,000, suggests an enterprise still small by comparison with those of the large publishers or large papermakers – Edward Lloyd Ltd went to the public in 1911 for £550,000 in Preference capital alone – but fairly large, by the standards of the day, to be in the hands of three individuals, though in 1911 it was still only employing fifteen people.

Ownership and control, naturally, remained with the former partners, who were allotted 20,000 Ordinary shares of £1 each as payment for the assets transferred. there were no other Ordinary shareholders, although 15,000 shares remained unissued.

Mrs. Eliza Bowater, W.V.Bowater’s widow, was provided for by the issue of 6,000 6 per cent Cumulative Preference shares and the brothers subscribed for 4,000 each.

Of the remaining Preference shares issued, 500 were taken up by each of two women, probably relations, and 1,000 by each of two limited companies – James Killing Jr Ltd, of which nothing is known, Peter Dixon & Son Ltd, papermakers – giving a capital structure as follows:

Authorised capital                                          £125,000

Divided into:

£1 Ordinary shares    75,000                  issued £60,000

£1 6 per cent Cumulative Preference shares

                                  50,000                  issued £21,000

The new company, in its first year, made a profit of £9,402 before directors’ fees and tax.

The profit did not come entirely from the agency business. There were activities also in export packing, in lighterage and towing, in wharfing, and in trade in printers’ waste, off-cuts and end of reels, all sold as wrapping paper to shop-keepers.

The goods for export, tightly packed in bales, were surplus newspapers which found a ready market in the East both for wrapping and for other purposes such as wall-covering and the protection of young tea plants.

The company had probably been formed with an eye to the future, for the third generation, sons of the three brothers, were at or just over the threshold of the business.

The Board gave the export trade a lot of attention: in 1911-12 Frank Bowater made a long tour in India and the Far East, and in 1913 the Board were considering laying down plant in New York ‘for the Press Packing of News, etc., similar to the businesses in London and Glasgow’.

Plant was duly laid down and an American connection thereby established which was to have far-reaching consequences.

In November 1913 Sir Thomas Vansittart Bowater (he had been knighted in 1906) became Lord Mayor of London, leaving the running of the business even more decisively with his two younger brothers.

Their minds were beginning to look a long way beyond the established form of the business. Prosperous and varied though no doubt it was, it offered no very great scope for expansion and as a medium-sized  firm in an industry populated by giants its future might not be promising.

On 2 January 1914, after a couple of months’ negotiations by Fred, the Board decided to buy freehold land and buildings on the Thames at Northfleet near Gravesend, and the purchase was completed in May.

The price was £18,500. The brothers were preparing to switch Bowaters from dealing in paper to manufacturing it.


Please click the link below to go to chapter 2

Bowater-A history Chapter 2










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