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.

20 thoughts on “A look back at Basildon Bond writing paper.

  1. Fabulous! I still use Basildon Bond for the occasional letter. I used to be a prolific letter-writer, particularly in the school holidays and in the few years after I left school. I was a day pupil at a school which had a mix of boarders and day pupils; this meant that my school friends didn’t always live locally to me. It’s strange to think in these days of instant messaging that the main way to communicate with my friends during the school holidays was to send letters. I remember writing an awful lot about Starsky and Hutch to a friend who, like me, was a fan!
    Funnily enough, I’m just listening to my 1972 mix-tape and it’s like a school social in here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you have found notebooks that you like, then stick with them. Personally however, I find Moleskine paper to suffer badly from ink bleedthrough, unless you are very careful with your pen and ink combinations. This may not be a problem for people who use ball pens or who use only one side of the paper.
      I prefer to use Leuchtturm journals as the paper quality seems much nicer, plus the pages are numbered for you. Unfortunately however, their A5 size journals do not have a version with wide line spacing (only dots, squares, narrow lines or plain) but I still prefer them.

      Like

  2. What a great post, thank you Rupert! And a nostalgic stroll down that lane of memories. I think I found an example or two of every product you mentioned in my parents’ old writing desk, when I was clearing out their bungalow some months back. Sadly, I couldn’t bring it all back to Canada, and much of it went to landfill… such an egregious waste on so many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Paul! I expect there are some Basildon Bond supplies to be found in many a home in the UK, at least for the generation that write letters.
      It was enjoyable to search on Google for Basildon Bond vintage adverts. I found a few that looked like they could date back to the 1920’s or 30’s, as mentioned in the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rupert, A very interesting history. I, like you, grew up on Basildon Bond and still use it.
    In relation to Bill Young’s comment about Moleskine their shop in Covent Garden does not recommend using a fountain pen or ink in their notebooks as they say the paper has not been designed for ink but primarily the biro.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Charles. It has been interesting to read up on John Dickinson & Co Ltd.
      Yes Moleskine paper is not ideal for fountain pens, to say the least and there are better alternatives.

      Like

  4. I was reminded of a similar “insider” company history I read about Cadbury. If you enjoy a product, it can be really illuminating to understand the backstory of the people that caused it to come about. Having lived for many years in nearby Milton Keynes before emigrating to the colonies, I regret never having visited Frogmore Paper Mill… I shall rectify that as soon as the opportunity arises. Thanks for another entertaining read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou for your comments. Yes, the story of Cadbury is interesting too. It had occurred to me that perhaps John Dickinson was to paper making, what Cadbury was to chocolate. There are similarities, such as in the social reforms introduced for the employees. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Although I grew up in the United States and did not write letters on Basildon Bond, I very much enjoyed reading this blog entry. It brought back memories of an earlier, pre-digital and for that matter pre-biro time. When I began writing by hand, the ballpoint pen had not yet arrived.

    I was particularly arrested by reading that the history of Dickinson was written by Joan Evans. “Surely not that Joan Evans,” I told myself. But it was. Dame Joan Evans was one of the most distinguished of English art historians and was also, being in comfortable circumstances, an outstanding philanthropist. What is more, it would appear that she came to this particular book project through family connection: her mother’s maiden name was Maria Millington Lathbury, and one gathers that Dame Joan was related to the family that first launched Basildon Bond in 1911.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much for this, Jerome. Yes, this was the same Dame Joan Evans, who also wrote on art history. I had not noticed the possible link on her mother’s side, to the Millington family. Other than being included in the family tree inside the front cover of the book, I could not see that Maria Millington Lathbury (1856 – 1944) was mentioned in the book and we get only a few pages about the Millington family. I cannot confirm the connection but it seems very plausible. I think this book certainly warrants a second reading: there is so much detail on the people involved in this history and I would like to get a clearer view of each of the main players individually. It is an intriguing story. Thanks as always for reading and commenting!

      Like

  6. Lovely post and such lovely comments. Late to the party but now an avid reader. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I fondly remember Basildon Bond too and it’s one of a small set of products that you can truly say was loved by many generations of people in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.