St Anne's Board Mill Co Ltd was located on the south bank of the river Avon in a small valley in the district of St Anne's in south east Bristol.
The mill was established in 1912 and by the early 1930's it was running four machines. By the 1970's the annual output had reached 160,000 to 170,000 tons, yet due to economical and political conditions it was fated to close in 1980. (A modern housing development now stands on this site).
St Anne's Board Mill supplied Mardon's with the carton board used for cigarette and tobacco packings. Up until 1913 almost all the supplies of carton board came from abroad, and in view of the increasing demand it was considered desirable that they should have our own board mill in England which would make the company independent of foreign sources of supply.
The first board machines started up in 1915. The mill expanded to keep pace with the increasing demand. The coating mill, where the board was provided with a special surface for high quality colour printing, formed a large separate block of buildings.
In addition to supplying the tobacco trade, St Anne's Board Mill was one of the principal suppliers of carton and other board for packing purposes for home and export use, and was making a valuable contribution to the export drive.
The giant Imperial Tobacco Company – formed a decade earlier by an amalgamation of many smaller firms – was moving from soft to carton packaging for its cigarettes and searching for a suitable factory location. The chosen site – nine acres on the south bank of the river at St Anne's – was close to the vast quantities of water needed to manufacture the board. People became used to seeing boats from Norway, Sweden and Finland unloading their cargoes in the Floating Harbour and then the wood-pulp being run up the Feeder to the mills.
Expansion continued throughout the Twenties and Thirties with production reaching 70,365 tonnes by the time war broke out in 1939. With Scandinavian pulp unavailable during this time the company turned to re-pulped wastepaper and home-grown straw to make board for ammunition boxes. With the numbers of employees drastically reduced, those remaining had to work gruelling 12-hour shifts.
One wartime innovation was container board incorporating pitch which remained watertight in tropical conditions. An extra bonus was that it repelled termites. By 1958, production on a vastly expanded site was in full swing with output running at 100,000 tonnes per annum (14 tonnes an hour). Most of the packaging was tied up with the booming tobacco industry. In 1966, more innovations helped the mills win a Queen's Award for Industry, but despite new markets in cereals, pharmaceuticals and chocolate, there was chronic overproduction. In the late Seventies, heavily subsidised foreign competition plus high energy costs led to half of the 1,800-strong workforce being made redundant.
In 1980, with losses running at £200,000 a week, the company – once one of the country's top three board makers – decided to shut up shop for good.
Despite all the warning signs, the closure came as a great shock, both to the workers and to the city as a whole.
Within a few weeks the Tranters, the Haberfields, the Brookes and generations of other families said goodbye to what had been not just a job, but a way of life.
The End of the Board Mills
The end of the Board Mills came one sunny morning in 1984. A monolith which had dominated the Avon valley since World War I came crashing down. As the 100ft-high chimney crashed to the ground, so the last remnants of the mighty St Anne's Board Mills disappeared forever. Many people, some in tears, took home bricks as souvenirs. In 1911, it had all been so very different.
Contribute to our history content
We are not responsible for the history content displayed on this website although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of each section. If you have your own piece of history from around Bristol and would like to contribute and share on our website we would love to hear from you. We welcome your stories, memories and historical photos of our city to help us build an ever-fuller picture of the birth and creation of the vibrant city we live in today. Please drop us a line through our contact us page. All we ask is that you keep contributions to the size of the current articles and include up to two photos of your choice.