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Encyclopedia > Apsley

Apsley is a town in the county of Hertfordshire, England. It is an historic industrial site situated in a valley of the Chiltern Hills. It is positioned below the confluence of two permanent rivers, the Gade and Bulbourne. In an area of little surface water this was an obvious site for the location of water mills serving local agriculture. Today it has merged into the larger town of Hemel Hempstead.


Brief history

It was the construction of the trunk canal (later to be called the Grand Union Canal) between London and the Midlands through the valley at the start of the 19th century that began its industrial rise. The canal gave an easy way of transporting the raw and manufactured products to and from the mills.

John Dickinson, the inventor of a new method of continuous paper making, purchased an existing mill in the area in 1809. There is record of paper making already taking place nearby at this time. His business expanded throughout the Victorian age coming to occupy large parts of the flat land in the valley bottom. Streets of mill workers' terraced houses grew up adjacent to the mills. Production peaked during the Second World War. The site was however not ideal for large scale paper making in the 20th century and later became a warehouse and distribution centre for products made elsewhere. The last John Dickinson warehouse closed in 1999. In 2003 there is a project to build a National Paper Museum in some remaining mill buildings. Paper is still made a short distance away at Nash Mills by the global Sappi group at a former John Dickinson mill.

In the 1950s the adjacent town of Hemel Hempstead was designated a New Town as part of the provision of new residential areas surrounding London and Apsley became a part of the development, also giving its name to the new school of Apsley Grammar School nearby.

Apsley today

Today Apsley is an outer district of Hemel Hempstead and is still a busy commercial centre. The Victorian shops that grew up when it was a mill town now house newsagents, restaurants, and a healthy range of small businesses. The former mill sites are taken up with supermarkets, retail parks and offices. Housing developments combining the canal side location with the ease of access to Apsley station have been very successful.

An important local issue in the summer of 2003 is the proposal to build on green field land on the Shendish manor estate.

Origin of name

The name Apsley dates from the Anglo-Saxon period and means aspen wood.

Apsley timeline

  • 13th century - Ralf de Chenduit was granted land in the area. The local manor is still called Shendish manor today.
  • 1803 - First record of paper making in the area at nearby Frogmore.
  • 1809 - John Dickinson, the inventor of a continuous mechanised paper making process, purchased a corn mill in the valley and started making paper.
  • 1811 - The Grand Junction Canal, later to be called the Grand Union Canal, opened to through traffic. The original route of part of the canal was higher up the side of the valley passing north of the George and the Three Tuns pubs on Belswains Lane. It put Apsley on the principal trade route from London to the north.
  • 1836 - John Dickinson built his country house in nearby Nash Mills and called it Abbot's Hill. It is now a private school.
  • 1838 - The London and Birmingham Railway passed through the valley adjacent to the site but no station was built. Canals continued to be the primary commercial means of transport for Apsley's mills.
  • 1853 - Charles Longman, heir to the publisher Longman's and partner to John Dickinson, bought the Shendish estate and built an impressive manor house.
  • 1871 - The Church of St. Mary at Apsley End was opened for public worship; its construction was funded by Charles Longman.
  • 1938 - Apsley station was built with backing from John Dickinson Ltd as a way to bring more people to work at the mills.
  • 1939-1945 - John Dickinson's was at its peak, and employed more than 7,000 workers. It made munitions as well as paper and paper products.
  • 1999 - The last paper mills owned by John Dickinson were finally shut.
  • 2003 - A National Paper Museum is being built to celebrate the links between the industry and the town.


A Hertfordshire Valley by Scott Hastie photographs by David Spain, Alpine Press Ltd, Kings Langley, 1996, ISBN 0952863103

External links

  • History of St Mary's Apsley End (http://www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk/data/places/apsley.htm)
  • Information on The National Paper Museum Project (http://www.bbc.co.uk/threecounties/senseofplace/paper_trail.shtml)
  • Apsley Local History and pictures from Hemelonline (http://www.hemelhempsteadtoday.co.uk/mk4custompages/CustomPage.aspx?PageID=4469)
  • Shendish Manor today with its history (http://www.shendish-manor.com/)

Apsley House

Apsley House is located at Hyde Park Corner, London and was the home of the Duke of Wellington. It has no connection with Apsley the town.

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