Tullis Russell Collection: Project Update

Friday 13 January 2017
Image of paper digester, c1950s (ms38973)

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.

Auchmuty Mill Maintenance Squad c1898 (ms38973)

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. Eventually 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.

Travel journal, 1824, documenting a trip from Cupar to Aberdeen (ms38973)

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.

Development plan, 1860 (ms38973)
Proposed branch railway with note of existing traffic of manufacturers in the area, 1851 (ms38973)

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.

Letter head from Tullis & Co. Ltd., wholesalers based in Edinburgh (ms38973)

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.

Estimate from James Fyfe for putting Electric Light into the works, 1885 (ms38973)
Estimate sent to David Russell from the National Telephone Company Ltd, 1895 (ms38973)
Table, exhibiting the rent, or yearly value of the water-falls on the water of Leven, 1828 (ms38973)

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.

Poster for the Markinch Institute opening in 1926 (ms38973)
Extract from the Employee Attitude Survey, 1950 (ms38973)

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.

Image of the mill from the photographic sequence in the Tullis Russell Collection (ms38973)

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.

-Sarah Rodriguez
Project Archivist

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8 thoughts on "Tullis Russell Collection: Project Update"

  • Cecilia Russell
    Cecilia Russell
    Thursday 4 January 2018, 10.35am

    Delighted that the Tullis Russell archive is kept as a whole collection within St Andrews University Library of Special Collections. If I can help with any information do get in touch. Cecilia Russell (daughter of Dr David Russell)

    • Mary Arnott
      Mary Arnott
      Monday 22 June 2020, 6.03pm

      I am extremely glad that this archive is preserved.I just learned of it this past week . Wishing the Saga of the Robertson Family it states that David Arnot (T) Variously employed had a note book of his travels between Markinch and Kircaldy to deliver paper as he traveled through the various tool gates prior to the railroad, and in 1845 . In 1851 he was a Bleachfield laborer, a carter in 1861 , Keeper of the steelyard in1871, and weigher in 1880. it also states that David’s brother Henry was a schoolteacher At Cupar and left notes on Geometry in that archive. can you tell me who the best person would be to discuss what other information about the brothers might be found and how to go about locating those records? David Arnot(t) Was my husband’s ancestor Most of his sons became papermakers and interestingly ,at least to me , one son in the US Married the daughter of Robert Stevens also a papermaker of Markinch. thank you so much for your time and thought into your answer, Mary Arnott.

      • skr23
        Monday 20 July 2020, 1.50pm

        Hi Mary, thank you for your comment. We do have the notebooks of David and Henry Arnot in our manuscript collections. You can see the catalogue entry for them here.

    • Michael Ritchie
      Michael Ritchie
      Wednesday 26 August 2020, 7.31pm

      i worked for Tullis Russell from 1987- 2011 i was winder man on A5 Machine winder all my time i learned lot of Quality skills in my time went on to take my skills where i am now great memories you cant buy

  • Patrick Dingwall
    Patrick Dingwall
    Monday 10 June 2019, 5.50pm

    Would it be possible to have a photographic reproduction of the letter written by John Dingwall. I am very happy to pay whatever it costs. Best wishes, Patrick Dingwall.

  • Michael Ritchie
    Michael Ritchie
    Wednesday 26 August 2020, 7.34pm

    I enjoyed my time here from 1987- 2011 Started as Machine Assistant on A5 Machine winder then promoted in 1992 to full winderman duties worked really hard gave me lot of quality skills that i still use today like TPM-customer service no regrets

    • skr23
      Thursday 27 August 2020, 1.31pm

      Hi Michael, thanks for your comments. It is always a pleasure to hear from former employees.

      • Michael Ritchie
        Michael Ritchie
        Friday 28 August 2020, 11.54pm

        thank you for the reply great story of family business gave me the customer service skills do well at Lothian buses Edinburgh


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