Sir John Evans

Sir John Evans

Sir John Evans, KCB, FRS. 1823 – 1908

 

John Evans was the son of a clergyman schoolmaster who was all set for an academic career and about to enter Brasenose College when he was abruptly sent to work for his uncle John Dickinson, who promptly put him out to lodgings. He soon proved capable for everything he was asked to undertake. Having thoroughly learned the business he developed some of the earliest machines for making envelopes which had previously been hand folded. Like Dickinson he too held a number of paper-making related patents. Evans continued his uncle’s expansion policy and the Company continued to thrive. He married Dickinson’s daughter Harriett with whom he had five children, Harriett dying of an infection a few days after the last birth.

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Sketch by Hubert Herkomer of John Evans in 1890.

Taxation and the shortage of rags for raw material was a severe handicap to all manufacturers and he was instrumental in forming a manufacturer’s federation to deal collectively with the government. Evans helped Routledge finance a factory in Sunderland for converting Esparto grass from the Mediterranean region into a pulp from which paper could be made as an alternative to cloth thereby putting the whole industry on a new footing and leading to the use of wood pulp once the problems of effluent and pollution had been solved. Following the conversion of the Company into a Limited company he retired in 1885 but continued to live at Nash House within the mill grounds as a tenant until 1906.

Outside his business life he followed his hobbies of coin collecting (numismatics) and of geology. This was to lead to his publication of three books still considered as standard works today – Flint Impliments of the Drift (1861), The Ancient Stone Implements Weapons and Ornaments of Great Britain (1872) and The Ancient Bronze Implements Weapons and Ornaments of Great Britain and Ireland (1881) – all written while he was still Managing Director and very active in the company’s work.

A man of immense talent and of charming disposition he loved a ball and would dance the night away. He was Secretary, Treasurer or President of nearly all of the learned societies, (Geological, Geographical, Royal Society, Anthropological Institute, Society of Antiquaries, Egypt Exploration society and of the Society of Civil Engineers) but it was the Numismatic Society (now The Royal Numismatic Society) which was his principal interest. He first joined in 1847, acted as Secretary from 1854 to 1874 after which he was President until his death in May 1908. A Commemorative bronze medallion with the bust of John Evans was cast by the society in 1887 by the Numismatic Society in recognition of his outstanding work for them.

Bust of John Evans on the commemorative medallion created by the Numismatic Society.

John Evans was made KCB in the Birthday Honours list of 1892.

Sir John Evans had made a vast collections of coins, and ancient objects of stone and metal most of which he gave to his son Arthur or bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum. Visitors to the museum today will see many objects in cases stating that the donor was J Evans and there is also a gallery there named after him and another after his son Arthur. His wealth as a successful papermaker had allowed the collection of a unique assemblage of prize specimens. However his interests were not entirely academic for he was also very active in local affairs being a churchwarden of two local churches in turn. As a Justice of the Peace he was closely involved in the formation of Hertfordshire County Council being its second Chairman for two years in 1901.

His son Lewis, continued in the running of the Dickinson business and his daughter, Joan wrote the history of the company The Endless Web. The eldest son, Arthur, did not enter the business but established himself as a leading archaeologist.