What has the Walter family, famous for founding The Times newspaper, got to do with Norfolk? Quite a lot as it happens, and the details will emerge in due course. John Walter (also known as John Walter the first to distinguish him from his son and grandson) was born in 1738 and until he was forty he was a successful coal merchant in London. As his business prospered he became increasingly involved in the insurance of collier brigs. This was a profitable undertaking at first, but unfortunately he got in too deep. As a member of Lloyds of London he made some heavy losses. This led to him being declared bankrupt in 1781.
He started again in business by buying a new invention in printing that, instead of using individual letters for type setting, cast commonly used words as complete logotypes. This system of printing was not a success, but the newspaper he published to promote the system proved to be unexpectedly popular. The Daily Universal Register was renamed The Times at the beginning of 1788. John Walter (I) died in 1812 but his descendants were owners of the newspaper for over 100 years.
In 1845 the editor of the paper was a John T. Delane, and his father W. F. A. Delane, who was a business manager at The Times, purchased a paper mill in Norfolk. This was Taverham mill, and it had been one of a dozen mills up and down the country to install the new Fourdrinier machine, which for the first time produced paper in a continuous sheet. This was in 1809, but by 1845 the mill had fallen on hard times; the machinery had been sold and the mill stood idle.
Delane intended to use Taverham mill to produce paper for The Times; the recently opened railway line from London to Norwich made this a practical proposition. He had however omitted to inform John Walter II, the owner of the newspaper, of his intentions. He was apparently hoping to keep his paper making business a secret, but inevitably the truth leaked out. Worse still, it seems that Delane was overcharging The Times for his paper.
What followed was an awful rumpus; W. F. A. Delane was sacked from his job on the management of The Times and a colleague who was wholly innocent of any wrongdoing committed suicide. It looked as if the paper mill would never again supply newsprint to The Times. In the end however a compromise prevailed. John Walter II’s younger son, Henry Fraser Walter, was introduced into the partnership. Henry was a sleeping partner who took no active part in the running of the mill, but he made occasional visits to Taverham from his home in Nottinghamshire where he owned a coal mine. We know this from a passing reference to his presence in Drayton in the book on the life of Canon Hinds Howell, the Rector of Drayton. Drayton is the next village to Taverham where Frederick Magnay lived. He was one of the active partners in the mill, and son-in-law of W. F. A. Delane.
Another of the active partners, William Cavin Delane (the bachelor son of W. F. A. Delane) died in 1871, and his father had died in Norfolk in 1857. Henry Walter’s son, J. H. F. Walter (who was educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford) was already working at Taverham mill, and when Frederick Magnay retired in 1884 he took over the business.
William Delane had produced pulp at Helledon mill, and J. H. F. Walter leased Bowthorpe mill, also to produce pulp. Things were changing in the paper industry and pulp was being made from esparto grass rather than cotton rags as previously. This change Bowthorpe mill managed to adapt to, but the perfection on the bleaching process usher in the use of wood pulp for paper making. Wood pulp was produced in Scandinavia and paper mills on the coast had a major advantage in being able to take the dried pulp straight from the ships which imported it. The change meant Taverham mill was no longer profitable, and it closed in 1899.
J. H. F. Walter had other business interests, including a shipping company which operated from the Port of Norwich. He was Director of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society and of the local Savings Bank. He was active in the Triennial Festival (the music festival that was held every three years from the 1824 until 1989, when it went annual) and was President of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society. He was a committee member of the Norwich Society from its beginning in 1923, and co-founder of the Friends of Norwich Museum. He was President of Norfolk Cricket Club.
His sons were both active in the army before and during the First World War, and his grandson was killed on active service in the Second World War. By then J. H. F. Walter had died at the age of 80 in 1927. He had earlier lived in Old Catton, but in the 1890s he built Drayton House as his home and lived there until his death. After his death Drayton House was sold and became a maternity home, which it remained until 1988. It had changed its name to Drayton Hall, and it is now used as a centre for Evangelical worship.