Back in September 2015 we announced on Echoes the acquisition of the Tullis Russell business papers which complement the extensive archive collection of Sir David Russell, already held by Special Collections. In recent months, we have begun to arrange and catalogue this important collection. The project is ongoing but we thought at the beginning of the year we would take a moment to share some highlights from the collection discovered so far.
The Tullis Russell family business started with Robert Tullis (1775-1831), of the Tullis Press in Cupar, who bought the lease of the Auchmuty Meal mill in 1809 and created the paper making company R. Tullis & Co. The management of the business changed many times in the following century, most notably in 1874 when the brothers David (1831-1906) and Arthur Russell became managing partners in the company.
The Russell and Tullis families were connected through the marriage of Robert’s son William to Agnes Russell, David and Arthur’s sister, in 1846. With the Russell family taking a more prominent role in the company, the name of the business was changed to Tullis Russell and Company Ltd in 1906. Eeventually the Tullis family shares were bought out in 1925 by the then managing director Sir David Russell (1872-1956). The Tullis Russell Papermakers Company remained under the direction of the Russell family until it was sold to all its employees in 1994. Although a difficult competitive environment led to many other UK paper mills closing, the employee-owners made a great success of the Markinch mill until 2015 when it was forced to close, over 200 years after its founding in 1809. However the Tullis Russell Group’s Cheshire-based coating business and international concerns are still in operation.
The collection spans the history of the company from its beginnings in the 19th century to the modern day. The collection is primarily concerned with operational aspects of the company and its numerous partnerships with other companies and subsidiaries. The collection also contains some of the personal papers of the Tullis and Russell families dating back to 1695, including a delightful travel journal from 1824 found within the papers of Robert and William Tullis, which records a journey from Cupar to Aberdeen.
The success of the 200 year old company can be attributed to its ability to adapt as the scale of production shifted from handcraft to machinery. William Tullis (1807-1883) was crucial in the early expansion of the company. He and his brother Robert bought a second mill, Rothes Mill in 1836 and Rothes Bleachfield in 1846. To meet the demands of a growing business they also oversaw the successful addition of a railway siding at Auchmuty by an Act of 1857. William’s enterprise also secured a warehouse and export business in Edinburgh which would later become Tullis & Co. Ltd. in 1892 and Tullis, Hunter and Co. Limited in 1922.
One radical innovation that perhaps saved the company from the depression in the paper trade in the late 19th century was the introduction of Esparto grass. With the decline in the textile industries there was a shortage of the waste rags required in paper making. R. Tullis & Co. was one of the first businesses to import and use Esparto grass from Africa as an alternative to waste rags.
The Russell family were also keen innovators. Arthur Russell was one of the first to have electric light in his home in Cupar – in the collection there is a note dated 1885 offering an estimate for having light installed in the works. The collection also contains an 1895 estimate for a telephone exchange line to connect the various sites.
With over forty water wheel based industries on the banks of the River Leven the problems of water supply were a concern right from the early days of the company. The riparian proprietors joined together to secure the River Leven Improvement Act in 1827. Careful attention was paid to the water levels. River pollution was also a concern particularly in respect of the bleachers and the use of chemicals and caustic soda in the new esparto production, an issue addressed in part by the soda recovery scheme set up in the late 1890s. The concerns of water supply continued and the collection contains numerous reports and correspondence from the managing directors of the 20th century who took an active role as Chairmen and Directors of the River Leven Trust.
The company was known for being an enlightened employer. It founded the Markinch Institute for the leisure and enjoyment of staff. It also took part in an employee attitude survey carried out by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology in 1950. Additionally in the collection there is a sequence of the The Rothmill Quarterly, an employee magazine founded in 1929 by Sir David Russell.
As the cataloguing project continues we hope to highlight further aspects of the collection, in particular the extensive photographic sequence documenting the mill, and in due course announce the completion of the catalogue and the availability of the collection to the research community.