The River Test in North Hampshire has a history of paper mills and banking and to this day its links with printing money exist.
Let’s start with a nice story. There is a ‘myth’ which doesn’t seem to go away… For centuries, the founders, The Portal family and the present owners of the Overton mill, The De La Rue Group, have made and printed banknotes for many countries, including the Bank of England. The site of where this factory is a hamlet called Quidhampton. In 1984 the last UK pound notes were withdrawn. These were fondly refered to as ‘Quids’. Is this just a coincidence?
Henri de Portal (1690 – 1747), a refugee from France established the paper Mill and a long tradition working closely with the Bank of England. Learning his craft firstly at Stoneham near Southampton, He brought his first premises, Bere Mill, on the outskirts of Whitchurch in 1716.
As the business grew he looked to expand to other mill sites along the Test. in 1718 he aqquired a mill at Laverstoke. By 1724 Portals had the contract with the Bank of England, to print British banknotes. Laverstoke Mill was to be much expanded, and accomodation for workers was also provided nearby, which you can still see today.
Portals owned other mills including a site at Overton, but for 200 years this was their main headquarters, and close to the family estate.
Today the Laverstoke complex has been restored, and the building is occupied by the Bombay Saphire Distillery which can be visited.
It was in 1922 that the Portals finally moved their operations to Overton to a purpose built facility, by the railway. It wasn’t just the printing that linked Portals and the Bank of England.
With the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, The Bank saw fit to move its whole operation out of London to relative safety, and Whitchurch & Overton, helped house staff and family in accommodation and prefab chalets. You could say there was a mutual benefit for the residents of Overton, following the war who with the gratitude of the B.O.E. financed the village new facilities, such as replacing St Luke’s Hall. I find this a fascinating footnote, and more can be read here.
There are also some local peoples accounts here of the effect on Overton, which I found useful.
After the war things retuned to some normality, but not entiely – Portals carried on being an important player, but the world was changing. As countries part of the British Empire sought their independence, they too looked to other sources to print their new currencies. Portals had to adapt and keep abreast with new printing technologies, to guarantee new contracts. To it’s credit The Portal Group remained a successful international business, but was taken over by the De La Rue group in 1995. It’s a testament to it’s heritage and service, that the Quidhampton plant is still the main headquarters today.