In 2008, a visitor centre opened in Hemel Hempstead, celebrating a vital part of our town’s history. The Paper Trail in Apsley - backed by funding from Dacorum Council, a £1m Heritage Lottery grant and additional funding from various sources - had arrived, preserving part of our local and national heritage that could easily have been lost.
Hemel's paper-making history
From the early 1800s, Hemel Hempstead was at the centre of the world’s paper industry. In 1803, at Frogmore Mill in Apsley (above), the Fourdrinier brothers sited what was to become the world’s first mechanised paper machine. To this day the ‘Fourdrinier’ paper machine is still installed in the majority of paper mills throughout the world.
But Frogmore was an industrial minnow in comparison to the John Dickinson mills of Nash, Apsley and Home Park, which neighbour Frogmore Mill. At the same time that the Fourdrinier engineers were building their machine, John Dickinson was perfecting his own continuous cylinder mould paper-making machine, which operated on an entirely different principle.
Such machines work to this day producing products as diverse as cornflake packets and £20 notes. Until very recently up to 6,000 people were employed at Apsley Mills alone. But all of that has now gone. However, the John Dickinson archive is now housed at the Frogmore Paper Mill and Visitor Centre.
Recycling and Frogmore Mill
Frogmore Mill itself has been manufacturing 100% recycled paper from waste paper for over 100 years. Today, a lot of the waste paper that is used by the mill is collected from local schools. This is made into a variety of new papers including sugar papers (used in the educational sector), blotting paper, manillas, and other uncoated papers (used by designers). The mill also makes luxury papers with rather unusual inclusions, like grass cuttings, bank notes... even elephant dung fibres!
The Paper Trail today
The Frogmore Paper Mill and Visitor Centre contains a large exhibition area, with displays examining the history and future of paper. There is an Activity Zone where you can try your hand at paper-making and letterpress printing, and also a guided tour of the working historic paper mill. After the exhibition, you can visit the Cafe on the Water and gift shop, which sells paper items produced at the mill as well as eco gifts and craft items.
The Paper Trail hosts regular events such as antique and craft fayres and paper-crafting days. In addition, there are leisure and adult courses at the Paper Trail, and family fun courses during the school holidays (these are free). To find out more about courses at the Paper Trail, click here. The Paper Trail also offers conferencing facilities and offices to let.
Support the Paper Trail
Why not become a Friend of the Paper Trail, as a family (£30), a couple (£18) or individual (£12). Concessions available. In return you receive free entry to the Frogmore Paper Mill &Visitor Centre and 10% discount on Paper Trail courses and activities for one year.
The Paper Trail in Apsley: Frogmore Mill, Fourdrinier Way, Apsley, Hemel Hempstead Herts HP3 9RY. Tel: 01442 234600. www.thepapertrail.org.uk
Copyright © Boho Boxmoor 2009
Aimed mainly at children aged six to 12, it has two fun and fact-packed biographical galleries devoted to Roald Dahl's life and works. The other half of the museum celebrates creative writing, with a 'hands-on' interactive Story Centre and live storytelling at intervals during the day.
Average visits last between one hour and 90 minutes, but this will stretch out if you bask in the museum’s sunny courtyard, visit the scrumptious Cafe Twit, or browse the Museum Shop. There's also a Village Trail visitors can follow around Great Missenden, where Roald Dahl lived and wrote for 36 years.
Great Missenden is about 30 mins drive from Boxmoor: The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, 81-83 High Street, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, HP16 0AL. Tel: 01494 892192. www.roalddahlmuseum.org
Another local institution that's a childhood memory for more than one generation of children. Describe this museum to outsiders and watch their strange expressions. Stuffed animals? No, that can't be right. But it's a delightful and curious place that allows children to get up close to creatures they've only glimpsed in films. Even more endearingly, it's free. Essential for rainy winter Sunday afternoons. Opening times: Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm. Sundays 2pm-5pm. Museum closed 24-26 December. Entry: Free. A small charge is made for some events and activities. The Natural History Museum at Tring: The Walter Rothschild Building, Akeman Street, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP. Tel 020 7942 6171 www.nhm.ac.uk/tring
Ashridge Forest is one of our local natural treasures, and the National Trust administers Ashridge Estate. The Visitors Centre is open seven days a week, 12pm-5pm from 15 March to 21 December. It hosts children's activites during the holidays and there are regular nature walks and events throughout the year. There is a shop and outdoor cafe. The Bridgewater Monument, one of the focal points of the Estate, is nearby - £1.50 adults, children 70p. Ashridge Estate: Ringshall, Berkhamsted Herts HP4 1LT. Tel: 01442 851227. Ashridge Estate website. The Friends of Ashridge website also has useful information about the Estate and upcoming events: www.friendsofashridge.org.uk
A purpose-built farm village that lacks some of the charm of a real farm for this adult, but which kids just bloomin' love. There's a guinea pig village, rides on Tristan the tractor, the Maize Maze (in the summer), children's shows and all the usual farmyard favourites. Well run and constantly expanding. Good parties. You can frequently find 'one child goes free' vouchers in the local free paper. Willows Farm Village: Coursers Road, London Colney, St Albans, Herts AL4 0PF (just 300 metres from Junction 22 on the M25). Tel: 0870 129 9718 www.willowsfarmvillage.com
A fabulous day out for the family, just 20 mins drive away from our doorsteps. Admission prices are steep, so consider buying a yearly pass and zipping along to pet the animals in the children's farm, use the playground, or see just a few animals with your kids for half a day, several times a year. Special activities are put on for children in the Discovery Centre. The newest addition to Whipsnade is a male baby giraffe, born in July. And don't miss the chance to go In With The Lemurs, as they sunbathe languorously in their new enclosure. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, Bedfordshire LU6 2LF. Tel: 01582 872171. www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo/
A bit of a drive across the border to Bedfordshire, but well worth it (it's still less than 40 mins from Boxmoor). This is a well-run and pleasant establishment that seems to add something new each time I visit. Shaggy's Play World, an indoor soft-play area, is especially popular with my kids, despite the lure of lamb feeding, bunny petting and sheep racing going on outdoors on the farm. Go karts and mini golf are two of the most recent additions. There's also a large sandpit and playground, in addition to the animals and the attractions already mentioned. Their parties are excellent. Open 10am-6.30pm daily (last entry 5.30pm). Closed 24 Dec- 1 Jan. Entry: Adults - £6.95, children - £5.95, under 2s free. Mead Open Farm: Stanbridge Road, Billington, Bedfordshire, LU7 9JH. Tel: 01525 852 954. www.meadopenfarm.co.uk
If you haven't been to Waddesdon Manor, as I hadn't for the first six years I lived in Hemel Hempstead, get someone to give you a good shake. And start making plans for your first visit, now. Waddesdon Manor is a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire built in 1889 in the style of a Renaissance-era French chateau. Crazy. It was donated to the National Trust by the Rothschild family in 1957, but at first the Trust thought it was so naff that they didn't want it.
In fact, it is stunning. You can tour the interior of the house (breathtaking when decorated for Christmas) with kids, who will love to listen to the commentary on personal audio sets they hold to their ear. These are free when you hire an adult audio set, which only costs about £2. The grounds are great for roaming, particularly in warmer weather, and there's a relatively new children's woodland playground that spills down a hillside, which will keep the kids well and truly entertained. Other points of interest outdoors are the aivary and the plant centre.
I love the Stables (pictured) which houses the Stables Restaurant - the more casual of the two restaurants at Waddesdon (the other is the Manor Restaurant, inside the house), and so better suited for families. There's also an outdoor coffee bar here, with take-away ice creams. Also in the Stables is a gift shop (again, the main shop is inside the house) and wine and food shop. The picnic tables within the Stables courtyard have different children's games printed onto their surfaces. Seasonal shopping fairs are held in the Stables during the year.
See Waddesdon Manor's site for more details, prices and opening times. And, if you're a first-time visitor, let me know how you got on. WADDESDON MANOR: 01296 653226. www.waddesdon.org.uk