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Volunteer Spotlight: Albury Park Paper Mill and its Forged Assignats

When I’m looking through articles in the Archive, I’m always fascinated in discovering how mills played a part in a wider, often unrelated area of history and their potential political impacts worldwide.

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One example can be seen in the records of Albury Park Paper Mill, in Surrey. In 1790, Charles Ball, a papermaker from Guildford took out a lease on a former corn mill in Albury Park and built a bank note paper mill. Mysteriously, he received many orders from an unknown client, who requested the watermarks to be modified on several occasions. Eventually Charles Ball discovered that his mysterious patron was in fact the Count of Artois, who became Charles X, the King of France and Navarre in 1824!

Charles X struggled greatly with crises in the monarchy. He fully realised the kingdom was bankrupt from previous military events, particularly the Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence. He supported the removal of the aristocracy’s financial privileges, but not social privileges, which were enjoyed by the Church and nobility. He believed that it was “a time for repair, not demolition” of the monarchy, so focused efforts on creating more money for France.

It turns out that the paper manufactured at Albury Park Paper Mill, with the special and often-changing watermarks, was for false assignats: a form of paper currency issued by the French Republic from 1789-1797. Assignants were abandoned when the public eventually refused to accept them, and inflation was beginning to run high.

Frequent changes to the watermarks were necessary because when officers of the Republic discovered the forgeries, they then altered the form of the assignats to continue circulation and production. Charles Ball therefore played a role in the attempt of the French royal family to undermine the Revolution by forgery. It is not known who engraved and printed the assignats on the paper, but Charles Ball accepted and processed the orders, unknowingly making a big impact on an important aspect of European history.

Unfortunately for Charles X, strained political allegiances meant he was forced into exile following the storm of the Bastille prison on 14th July 1789, one of the significant turning points of the French Revolution.

Charles Ball and his sons, Charles and Edmund Richard continued to work at the mill until 1809, when a lease of 61 years was taken out on two newly-built paper mills at Postford (2.5km from Albury Park mill.) By 1810 Albury Park mill was closed, though was later used as a laundry for a few years.