Saturday 22nd January 2022, a day we will always remember, the day fire ripped through the visitor centre and staff could only stand and watch.
It has been a challenging week for everyone at Frogmore Paper Mill following the fire on our site last weekend. Our staff and volunteers have been hard at work assessing the damage and working to salvage our collection. Unfortunately, the area most affected was our gallery and exhibition area, meaning a significant amount of irreplaceable historical artefacts have been lost.
Our efforts began on the night of the fire when fire crews guided staff in the removal of the most significant objects firefighters could safely reach, including the original 1624 bill of sale from Nash Mills. This has now been sent to be professionally assessed and restored, if possible.
We’re continuing to salvage items from the building, where it is safe to do so. Unfortunately, it is likely that our visitor centre is damaged beyond repair.
We’d like to thank Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue for their extraordinary efforts in bringing the fire under control. Thirteen fire appliances and teams from Hemel Hempstead, Watford, St Albans and Welwyn Garden City were in attendance. Both the fire service and police did a wonderful job. Without their quick response, the fire could have spread further through the site. We’d also like to thank Hertfordshire Constabulary for their support and work to investigate the cause of the fire.
Please note that the site is closed to visitors, only staff and officials may have access. But over the coming weeks and months we’ll be providing further updates on the work we’ll be carrying out, for we remain committed to preserving the history of paper making in Apsley and the Gade Valley.
All staff and volunteers have been through a process of shock and grief, for a place many have put heart and soul into. We also acknowledge the massive support and outpouring of condolences from our local community and the paper and heritage sectors. We are resilient and by Monday morning decisions were being made and a temporary office set up. By 8 a.m. on Tuesday Saints Restoration and Salvage were at our gates to gather the most vulnerable items for specialist cleaning. These included the fire brigade trophies, paintings of John Dickinson and Lewis Evans and the 1624 Indenture of Nash Mill. Huge thanks go to Saints for their swift response in rescuing these treasures.
The visitor centre has suffered a combination of fire, smoke and water damage. Sadly, nothing was left unscathed. The resultant ash is both toxic and corrosive and access requires full PPE.
The team spent a day outside on a thankfully sunny but cold day. Five minutes inside, then 15 out was the order of the day for those retrieving artefacts. All items required assessment, and classification for appropriate treatment. Archive records were updated as the objects were extracted. Artefacts have been given the best possible care. It is too early to say how much is lost. We will only know after specialist conservators have spent many months on restoration work. We are thankful that while there will be losses, the majority of our collection was in our archive located at the other end of the building and safe from fire. Thankfully, the museum’s archive, paper machines and stores were in a separate building which escaped the blaze, thanks to the work of fire crews. The Bryan Donkin boat was safely out of reach.
It has been heartening to be in receipt of so many good wishes and words of appreciation from our local residents and supporters. We have had many, many offers of help. Currently we cannot take up these offers, nor the offers of help from our existing volunteers, due to safety protocols on site. But! There will come a time when we can and will do so!
We hope to reopen to visitors and our local community in a temporary facility as soon as we can. However, long term the focus will be a complete redevelopment. We remain committed to preserving the history of paper making in Apsley and the Gade Valley.
We aim to offer school assemblies and Storyboats by Easter. We can still deliver our outreach talks if groups would like a guest speaker.
Frogmore Paper Mill is a registered charity and in order to move forward; we need funds. We aim to offer an exciting experience for all who visit, whatever their interest or knowledge of paper; the interested general public, industry specialists and education groups. If you are willing to donate for a specific or general cause, or donate some time to fix something or a company willing to spare some staff for the day, we will be happy to receive it all.
We have grand ambitions for the centre as a national if not international centre for paper history, experience and production. In addition our buildings and machinery are old, requiring investment in replacement parts and structural work to preserve this wonderful site. If you can help please do, we will always try to give you a credit.
More information about donating HERE.