Henri de Portal (1690 –1747) was a papermaker who made the first watermarked paper for the Bank of England notes. The Portal family came from Poitiers and took refuge in Southampton
Henri and his brother Guillaume escaped from France with their father Jean Francois. It is said that the children’s old nurse hid the children in an oven so that the soldiers would not find them and that they were hidden in wine casks and were smuggled on a small fishing boat to Southampton.
Before the Huguenots arrived, most white paper had to be imported from the Continent but in 1686 James II granted a patent to the White Paper Makers Company which consisted of 15 men, 9 of whom were Huguenots. One of their papermills was at South Stonham, which was where the young Henri Portal found work. He then took the lease of Bere Mill in 1710 which was so successful that he leased another mill at Laverstoke to expand the business. Portal was friendly with William Heathcote whose uncle was Governor of the Bank of England. The Bank needed protective paper for their banknotes and he agreed to manufacture a better kind of paper than they had been using previously. It was stronger with better definition and clarity, which greatly reduced the risk of forgery, and in 1727 Henry Portal obtained the privilege of making the notes of the Bank of England. His company also invented the metallic thread incorporated into the paper and the same company has been providing paper for English banknotes right up to the current day, although the firm was sold to De La Rue in 1995. For nearly 200 years the business was handed down from father to son, almost unique in the history of English manufacturers.
Quiet Conquest, the Huguenots 1685 – 1985. Museum of London
Highways and Byways in Hampshire: D H Moutray Read
Hampshire and the Company of White paper makers: J. H. Thoma, B.A.