A look back at Basildon Bond writing paper.

As a child at a boarding school in Reading in the 1970’s, our Sunday morning routine included an hour of letter writing. Every boy was expected to write a letter home.

Throughout my seven years there, I used Basildon Bond writing paper and envelopes. I have done so ever since. That means I have been a customer for over 50 years.

Today in the UK, Basildon Bond pads of letter writing paper and matching envelopes are still readily available, in stationers and book shops such as Rymans and WH Smiths. Basildon Bond is a now part of Hamelin Brands Limited, a French, family-owned business. However, many will remember Basildon Bond as a John Dickinson & Co Ltd product, along with Lion Brand exercise books.

Basildon Bond writing paper and envelopes at WH Smiths.

John Dickinson & Co Ltd.

I have just finished reading an excellent book called “The Endless Web” by Joan Evans, published by Jonathan Cape, which tells the story of John Dickinson & Co Ltd from 1804 – 1954. The book was first published in 1955. I think my new copy of the book is a facsimile of the first edition, as the blue dust jacket still bears the price in our old, pre-decimal currency, as 32s. 6d. net.

It is quite a heavy book, in both senses. First, as befits a book about a successful manufacturer of paper, it is beautifully bound and printed on Croxley Antique Wove paper, with text set in Monotype Caslon Old Face. Secondly, it is a detailed work packed with facts and figures, names and dates, and inside stories only available from family letters and diaries and the paper mills’ records. It provides a chronological account of the rise of this company and the characters who built and ran it. The inside front cover contains a vast family tree of the John Dickinson dynasty. The author Joan Evans was John Dickinson’s great-niece and wrote the book to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary.

I bought my copy of the book at the Frogmore Paper Mill gift shop, while away for a weekend last month, staying at Shendish Manor Hotel, in Apsley, near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. Apsley had been the site of one of John Dickinson’s vast paper mills. It turns out that the nearby Shendish Manor had belonged to John Dickinson’s business partner Charles Longman, who in 1853 bought the Shendish estate on the western side of the valley in Apsley and built the house there in 1854-56.

Later, in 1936, the house and grounds were bought by the firm and opened in 1937 as the Dickinson Guild of Sport. This was a club-house for the workers and their families, with facilities for football, cricket, tennis, hockey, bowls and swimming with parks and gardens. In 1948 a new Sports Pavilion was opened.

Shendish Manor Hotel

Basildon Bond

I was keen to find some background in the book, to my favourite letter writing paper. There are a handful of references, towards the end of the period covered. In brief, in 1911 a rival company, Millingtons (founded in 1824) introduced under the name “Basildon Bond”, the first “bond” notepaper to be marketed at 1 shilling a unit. It comprised about 30% fine quality rag content. According to Joan Evans’ book, the notepaper was remarkably good value and was an immediate success. Another of Millingtons’ achievements was that in 1905 they acquired the UK rights in “window envelopes” and were their only manufacturers. I had no idea that these had been around for so long.

In 1918, Dickinsons agreed to buy Millington’s shares, in return for debenture stock and shares in Dickinsons allotted to the Millington shareholders and directors. Joan Evans writes that the Millington business “remained practically autonomous” and that Basildon Bond steadily increased in popularity, stimulated by an advertising campaign authorized in 1924. Later, she writes, in 1932 Basildon Bond was the best-selling notepaper in the UK. There was another advertising campaign in 1934.

Today, the website of hamelinbrands.com states simply that Basildon Bond is the leading brand in personal stationery in the UK, was established in 1911 by Millington & Sons, then acquired by John Dickinson’s in 1918.

The paper, 90gsm and featuring the Basildon Bond (BB) watermark is said to be of the highest quality, and the web site states that “our smooth paper allows the pen to glide effortlessly across the page, creating a more enjoyable writing experience.”

For my part, as a consumer, I can vouch that the paper is indeed smooth and pleasant to write on with fountain pens without feathering or bleedthrough. I learned that the size I now buy, is called “post quarto”, (abbreviated to “P4TO”) and is an old imperial size, (178mm, x 229mm). The pad contains 40 sheets of paper, plus a guide sheet. I tend to save the guide sheets, after the pad is finished. The current ones give an 8mm row height. I sometimes use 9mm. They used to include a sheet of blotting paper too but this seems to have been dropped. I also buy the packs of 20 matching envelopes.

The familiar branding of Basildon Bond, established in 1911.

I have had very little trouble using Basildon Bond paper, with a variety of pens and inks, over the years. I recall that my Waterman Carene skipped badly on the paper, as its very smooth nib could not get a grip on the equally smooth paper. But generally, the paper has served me well.

It is good to know that Basildon Bond notepaper is still available and still thriving, over 110 years since it began, albeit under different ownership now.

Visitors to Apsley can visit Frogmore Paper Mill, which claims to be “Birthplace of paper’s industrial revolution” and tours are available on certain days. Or, for some rest and relaxation and to feel closer to the John Dickinson history, you may book a stay at the Shendish Manor Hotel.

Early thoughts on the Online Campus Fluffy Cats fountain pen.

Well, I made it to 7 January 2022 before buying any pens this year. So much for resolve. To be fair, I did say in my last post “I always start the year with good intentions to buy less pens…”, not no pens.

So, what made me cave in so easily? Allow me to introduce the Online Campus, a school pen from Germany, in the “Fluffy Cat” design.

Online Campus Fluffy Cats fountain pen.

I was first aware of these a couple of years ago. A visiting pen friend showed me his Online College that he was carrying and, when I commented on how nice it was to write with, and how flattering it was to my rather awkward lefty-overwriter hand writing, he said I could keep it and gave it to me on the spot. It had an 0.8mm stub nib and a pink design featuring melons and pineapples. He told me of his other Online “Fluffy Cats” pen, which he claimed to be one of his favourite pens. Coming from someone who had spent years acquiring pens such as Pelikans, Pilots, Lamys and Montblancs of much greater cost, this carried some weight.

I had not seen a Fluffy Cats version for sale, until idly scrolling through Amazon’s offerings last weekend when, to my surprise, I found an Online Campus in a Fluffy Cats version, with a Medium nib, for £14.99. Also I had not tried an Online Campus, but enjoyed the College and the Bachelor, both of which were fitted with the 0.8mm stub nib. I was keen to try the standard Medium nib which I had heard is also very good.

I ordered two, to make the delivery more worthwhile and for the option of having a second one to use in a different location, or with a different ink, or to give away.


They arrived within 24 hours, in a brown cardboard envelope, with the two pens loose inside. There was no other packaging at all. There was no paperwork but the pens each had a sticker on the cap, with the address of Online Schreibgerate, a bar code and a symbol to indicate that the nib was a Medium. They each came with one Online long blue cartridge, (with a standard international cartridge fitting at one end and a cheeky Lamy fit at the other!) but no converter this time.

Fluffy Cats

First impressions were favourable. The body of the pen features ten rows of cute, cartoon cats, with various colours and expressions which remind me of the extended family of five feral cats that inhabit our garden, and which we feed every day.

I also noticed that the Campus pen feels slightly bigger and heavier than the College, that the pocket clip is stainless steel instead of plastic and that the body of the pen has a “soft touch”, slightly rubbery feel.

The two ends of the pen are plastic but painted silver to look like metal.

The flush cap snaps on and off firmly with a pop and a click. It is very light and is designed to post where it remains completely flush with the barrel. This makes for a very ample length without upsetting balance.

With cap posted

As most of my currently inked pens are filled with blue or blue black inks, I decided to try the Campus with a cartridge of Kaweco ruby red. It pops in to the section nicely with room for a second cartridge in the barrel, if you use the short variety. The section also features the clear plastic ink window which lets you see the cartridge and ink inside.

Inked with Kaweco ruby red plus a spare.

Size and weight.

Closed, the Campus measures 141mm; uncapped it is 123mm and posted it is a very lengthy 173mm. The barrel is about 13mm at its widest, and the grip section tapers from 11mm down to 9mm nearest the nib.

The complete pen, uninked, weighs 13g or just 8g uncapped and about 5g for the cap alone. This total weight compares with the Online College at 10g.

Nib and writing performance.

The stainless steel nib, with iridium tip, is a Medium. The selling description stated it to be “right handed” although the tipping looks symmetrical to me, as far as I can tell. I do not know if there is a left handed version or how it would differ. The nib has a slight springiness to it and is not a nail. You can get a little line variation from it if you push it a bit. But the main message is that it writes perfectly. Straight out of the box (except that there was no box). There is no nib work required and the pen is ready for use right away, (which may come as a surprise to people used to buying faulty pens at forty times this price!). I was delighted with the smoothness and the degree of ink flow, even for this lefty-overwriter who needs nibs a little wetter sometimes.

Stainless steel medium nib, iridium tip.

I do not yet know whether this Fluffy Cat version is a reissue of a previously popular design. I thought that they had been discontinued. I could not find a Fluffy Cat version in a brief check of the company’s web site today (Online-pen.com). It may be that they are still made after all, or have been reintroduced or it may be that Amazon had some new old stock. Whichever it is, I am glad to have it and now find myself looking forward to getting home to write with my Fluffy Cats.

The real thing. (Photo: Ling Arzeian)


Here is a size comparison photo, of the Online Bachelor, College and Campus pens:

Online Bachelor (top), Online College (middle) and Online Campus (bottom).

The new year diary, 2022.

For me and many others, today has been the last day of the Christmas and New Year holidays and I return to my work routine tomorrow.

As readers of this blog may recall, I like to keep a diary, or journal, and to have about ten minutes each morning to sit with a fountain pen, to reflect upon and write up (and increasingly these days, try to remember!) the events of the day before. I prefer to do it when the day is past, when I have slept on it. My brain is then fresh and has had a chance to find some order in the previous day’s events. The diary is my record of what I did, not what I am going to do. It is a handy repository for films watched, books read, excursions enjoyed and so on.

An A5 page a day works well for me.

For working days, I have found that a balloon diagram is often best. A central balloon labelled “WORK” leads out to balloons each representing a different matter that I worked on. I can then easily insert bullet points next to each balloon, for lists of tasks or occurrences on each client (or “account” in the States). This is a process which my wife describes as “doing your bubbles.” It helps me to prioritise for the day ahead.

For the past few years I have used an A5 Page-a-day format. This year, I bought a Ryman Soft Cover Diary, page a day, which is a chunky and pleasing book, with a hardback cover that has the feel of leather. According to the paper insert, it features 80 gsm cream paper, a ribbon page marker, and expandable pocket, a pen loop and an elasticated closure. I have found this to be fountain pen friendly. This means not only that most inks do not bleed or feather, but also that the paper surface is nice to write on, not glossy and draggy and also that the colours show quite well. I have noticed that with some other papers, some ink colours loose their vibrancy, as though the paper has sucked all the joy out of them.

Equally important to me, is the fact that the lined pages feature a reasonably generous row height of 7.9mm, giving 23 rows per A5 page. And you still get a full page each day on Saturdays and Sundays.

My 2022 diary – a Ryman A5 page a day.

I used the same format diary last year and so much of my post The new year diary, 2021 still applies, except that this year I chose a navy blue one and the price has risen a bit, to about £12.00 I think.

In 2021 I decided to use a different pen after each month. I enjoyed that, and thought to do the same again in 2022. But then I used the same pen for January 2022 that I used for December 2021, for “continuity”. And then by the 2 January 2022, I had a new idea of picking a single pen to use for all my writing needs for a day, or even a week to see how that goes and that meant I already changed pens on 2 January. Another possibility is to change after each two page spread, as I did for the Marcus Aurelius project. In short, I have not yet decided.

I am not very good at sticking to resolutions, such as giving up chocolate. I have not set myself any particular goals or challenges for 2022 as far as the fountain pen hobby goes. I always start the year with good intentions to buy less fountain pens and to make more use of those I have. This applies now more than ever and I feel very fortunate to have accumulated a vast array of good pens, of which I can see 13 are currently inked, as I sit here. I have the urge after Christmas to simplify life and there is a certain satisfaction to be had from using the least expensive tool for the job. For example, over the holidays the pen I have reached for most, has been an Online Bachelor, a cheap plastic clear demonstrator but with a joyous 0.8mm stub nib which I like very much, currently filled with Rohrer and Klingner Salix, a blue-black iron gall ink. Another resolution is to write more and to empty some bottles of ink, such as the aforementioned Salix. I was inspired recently by Margana at Inkophile who kept a record of repeat fills of her pens and was able to tell me that one was on its 18th consecutive fill of Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. The lesson was that once you find an ink you like, use it!

I realise that it is more effective to have goals that are achievable and measurable. This year, rather than say “I plan to do more walking”, I set myself a challenge to walk 1,500 miles in 2022. I have been using a pedometer app to count steps since August and found that I had 500 miles on the clock after 4 months. I would like to keep that up if I can, as I felt the benefits particularly when walking uphill. My job is a sedentary one and fitting in about 4 miles walking a day, is quite a challenge. But having a target now feels purposeful and every time I venture out on foot I can bank some miles and feed my ever-hungry app.

In my last year’s new diary post, I ended with the following words: “Flicking through the blank pages of my next year’s diary it is hard to imagine what I might be doing in the months to come. Let’s all hope for better times ahead.” I think that still applies. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year 2022.