Papermaking at Tuckenhay Mill

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Phillpotts - The Book

Storm in a Teacup by Eden Phillpotts (1919)

Eden Phillpotts (1862 - 1960) was born in India but educated in Plymouth. He worked in the insurance industry for a number of years before becoming a novelist. Many of his books are based in the Devon and Cornwall, notably the Dartmoor series of 18 novels. He also wrote a number that are set against the background of different trades and industries. Storm in a Teacup, which was published in 1919, brings together Phillpotts' interests in local industry and in the south west. It is, for the most part, set in and around Tuckenhay Paper Mill. This is referred to throughout as Dene Mill, but there can be no doubt about the location. Tuckenhay, Cornworthy, Ashprington, Totnes, Bow, Corkscrew Hill, Greenway, Stoke Gabriel and Dittisham, Sharpham and Duncannon are all identified. Although it does deal with some then-current political issues, such as the organisation of labour, Storm in a Teacup makes no mention at all of the Great War. In reality, it is primarily an escapist romance. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy ... ... ... well that would be telling.

Our main interest is that the book contains a number of good descriptions of the mill and the papermaking process, and these are reproduced here. Eden Phillpotts must have spent some time watching the various processes, and the mill must have been very accommodating in allowing him access. So not surprisingly, the owner is depicted favourably in Chapter II:

He was clean shaven with iron-grey hair and a searching but genial expression. His face shone with intelligence and humour. It was strong and accurately reflected the man, for indomitable perseverance and courage belonged to Matthew Trenchard. His success he attributed to love of sport and love of fun. These pursuits made him sympathetic and understanding.

One supposes that the major characters in the book are entirely fictional, and that the paper mill setting was used only to add colour. But it is intriguing to speculate that some of the minor figures described working in the paper mill were based on their real life equivalents - perhaps some of the people listed in the payroll of 1910 or the OSP subscription list of 1921 that both feature on this site. Here is a list of some of the fictional characters appearing in the book, and their rôles in the paper mill:

Medora Dingle Glazier. Beautiful but capricious ...
Ned Dingle Beaterman. Medora's husband ...
Jordan Kellock Vatman. The best at the mill ...
Philander Knox Vatman. An experienced newcomer
Lydia Trivett Rag House Supervisor. Medora's mother
Matthew Trenchard Mill owner
Ernest Trood Foreman of works
Alice Barefoot Rag House worker
Daisy Finch Rag House worker
Henry Barefoot Boilerman
Robert Life Vatman
Amos Toft Sizerman
Nicholas Pinhey Finishing Supervisor