Textiles and Paper
Under Elizabeth I, French and Flemish refugees settled in Maidstone (and other places in Kent) and established a textile industry, specialising in 'wotsteds' a firm textile made from yarn.
Loosely-woven fabric was turned into a close-knit fabric by being soaked in fresh clean water and fuller’s earth, and then pounded by foot, this process is known as Fulling. Fulling became a common industry and was made much less arduous by the development of water powered Fulling Mills. Fullers Earth, a clay-like soil, was sourced at Boxley near Maidstone and there were eventually thirteen fulling mills near Maidstone and another corn mill.
Due to the competition from Scottish and Yorkshire cloth manufacturers the fulling mills were later converted (c.1700) to paper mills when the textile industry collapsed. Many paper mills were generally situated along the tributaries of the river rather than the Medway itself.
By 1700 there were nine paper mills and twelve vats in the Maidstone area. This increased to fourteen mills and nineteen vats by 1733 and the number of employees is thought to have increased from c.150 to c.250. By 1800 there were nineteen paper mills in and around Maidstone with each mill often specialising in a different paper such as fine paper, pasteboard or wrapping paper. Turkey and Tovil mills were two of the largest mills with five vats each (most mills only had one or two vats).
During the 19th century paper mills continued to be a major source of employment in the Maidstone area. Despite mechanisation, paper mills increased their number of employees due to increasing in size. However competition resulted in the gradual reduction of mills in the area and the paper industry declined after WWII.