In 1782 at the age of 15 John Dickinson began his career in the paper making industry. At this time, the process was limited to making single sheets of paper.
Despite finishing his apprenticeship and being admitted to the Livery of Stationers’ company, he had in fact already started his own business of making and selling paper in Ludgate Hill. He was acutely aware that new techniques were being introduced and in particular how a Frenchman, Saint-Leger Didot had had a machine designed which could make paper on a larger scale. In time, John Gamble, Didot’s brother in law brought the technology to London.
Around this time, Dickinson himself designed an even better machine and having purchased a paper mill at Apsley from George Stafford in 1809 and Nash Mills in 1810, his drive and ambition began to flourish and in 1829, Croxley Green Mill on the outskirts of Watford was opened and by 1887 had increased to some 16 acres.
John Dickinson and Company was a caring organisation and treated its employees well. Educating the young, leisure and sports social life, unique for its time, was offered to its employees. So it is no surprise that when in October 1899, army reservists from the Mill were called up. They were promised their places would be kept open for them and they were given a week’s wages. The company also began donations to war charities by giving 100 guineas to Mansion House Fund and 50 guineas to the Herts County Fund.
More and more men were sent to South Africa. Locally a response to an appeal resulted in 1 officer and 28 men from the 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment assembling on Wednesday 24th January 1900 in the town of Berkhamsted.
Following an address by Lord Brownlow and having changed from their grey uniforms into khaki with puttees and “sun” helmets, they attended a church parade and sat down to dinner at the Kings Arms. They then marched to Berkhamsted station to take a train for Bedford.
These were Privates Fells. Gill and Keen from “D” Company, Hemel Hempstead, Privates Kirkland, Meecham and Ginger from “F” Company Tring. Bugler Foskett, Privates Davis, Horne, C. Harrowell and G. Harrowell from “E” Company Berkhamsted.
Seven men from Watford, an Officer, Lieutenant Braithwaite and ten men from St. Albans.
Bugler Foskett was 15 at the time of his departure to South Africa. He was born Charles Henry in 1883 and lived in Castle Street, Berkhamsted with his parents, William who was a bricklayer and Elizabeth (nee Rance). Bugler Foskett served for just less than 2 years in South Africa, as the 1901 Census shows him back in Castle Street living with his parents and following his father’s occupation, as a bricklayer.
Soon, though the men from John Dickinson would show their own enthusiasm for War.
As more and more men were needed, a newspaper headline from 24th February 1900 confirmed that a Volunteer Company from Apsley appeared in the Hemel Hempstead Gazette. Here it was written that a formal application had been made to Lord Brownlow, who was the Lieutenant Commander of the 2nd (Herts) Volunteer Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, asking to form a new company to the manned exclusively by members of the John Dickson firm.
On the 22nd February, Brownlow replied saying “It has afforded me much pleasure and satisfaction to receive your offer…. I have made application to the War Office for the necessary permission.” The War Office acted quickly for on the 2nd April 1990, in the presence of Mr R H Ling, who was General Manager of the Apsley Mill, over 70 employees were enrolled. Medical checks were made and arrangements for the first drill were put in place, which Dickinson provided a drill hall for. The Picots End Rifle Range also shows good usage.
The company was commanded by Mr F G Hawdon, who was Manager of the Home Park Mills and he became a Lieutenant. They were given the designation of “H” Company. The following are names of the employees who were “H” Company.
|Dearmun J||Doult ( Corporal)||Edmunds|
|Ellinger (Sergeant)||England||Findlay J|
|Findlay S||Fortunati (Colour Sergeant)||Gibbs|
|Goodman (Bugler)||Harbourne||Hawdon (Lieutenant)|
|Herbert (Sergeant instructor)||Holiday||Hudson|
|Mason A||Mason W||Mayo|
|Merry (Lance Corporal)||Middleditch||Palmer|
|Picton W T||Porteous (Sergeant)||Poulter S|
|Welch||Willison (Lance Corporal)||Woods|
Unless stated, all the above were Privates.
Private Henry Humphrey who was a locomotive shunter at the Mill and been called up earlier, found himself as a reservist in the Scottish Rifles. He was part of the attempt to relieve Ladysmith, one of the early battles of the War. The men were sent to stop the Boer’s surrounding the town but the British were no match for 75,000 contingent of men who were crack shots and excellent at concealing themselves. Private Humphrey was there on the 10th December and spoke of casualties reaching 1,147 killed and wounded. He was pleased to report that none of his regiment were wounded. That week in December was one of the blackest in the war. Sadly, Private Henry Humphrey died of enteric fever in June 1900.
The siege of Mafeking, which lasted some seven months, where over 2,000 British troops and 7,500 Africans were surrounded by 5,000 Boers under the leadership of Piet Cronje, was made famous because several journalists from London papers such as The Times, Morning Post, Daily Chronicle and Pall Mall Gazette were amongst the detainees. Their dispatches were slipped out to a telegraph office some 50 miles away. Once the currency notes and stamps ran out, makeshift supplies were printed on Croxley Manifest Bank paper and Oceana fire. The Mafeking Mail, which, when shelling permitted, put out a single sheet newspaper and on one occasion was itself hit by a shell. A photograph records that one piece of shelling went into a box of Croxley Cartridge envelopes, but found resistance and stopped at the first 25 envelopes!
In 1901, more volunteers from the Dickinson company had volunteered and been accepted for service in South Africa. Their names were: Corporal G Latchford, Privates P Fountain, F Lane, A Mason, W Mason and C Puddifoot. On March 4 1901, Apsley sent off these men, some with farewell gifts such as cigarettes, cigars and stamps. Again a luncheon was provided before the men set off. They landed in South Africa on Easter Day 1901 and were soon engaged in escorting wagons.
In the autumn of that year, news came of the wounding of Lance Corporal George Sells of Apsley. Later it transpired that he had been mentioned in despatches for gallantry. Many who died, either from H Company or E Company, which was made up of men from Berkhamsted, died from disease rather than through fighting? Hygiene and bad water led to the death of many of the men out there.
The return home of H Company occurred around the end of April 1902. Private Mason had been invalided home earlier and Puddifoot was kept temporarily at Southampton, due to illness. There was no big reception for the men, but Dickinson fire Brigade and band turned out to greet them. The Apsley volunteers were greeted at the village Club, along with members of D Company. On May 31st 1902, peace terms were agreed and a service of thanks giving took place at St Mary’s church, Apsley End. In the September, both Privates Latchford and Sells were awarded medals by the Apsley End Oddfellows. Campaign medals were also presented to Lance Sergeant Latchford, Lance Corporals Mason A and Fountain, Privates Lane, Mason W and Puddifoot.
The reasons behind the demise of H Company was not clear but in December 1903 H Company “was no more.” Many of the men who had achieved higher ranks were transferred to D Company. Perhaps as patriotic fervour lessened, there were less men willing to sign up. In 1904 around 30 of the original H Company were transferred to D Company. In the year in which John Dickinson & Co Ltd celebrated its centenary, the Volunteers came to an end.