‘Paper is an ever-present part of life’

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Kate Saunders, participation manager at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, reports on an open day about paper through the ages

In the Middle Ages, the pure water from Havant’s spring was used to help make a high quality parchment paper which, it is claimed, later came to form part of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

To celebrate this rich history The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre held an open day dedicated to paper. Inspired by the author Alexander Monro, whose book The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention put forward the theory that paper is the most important invention in history, I felt that here was a subject which touches all our lives and yet seems to go largely unnoticed.

From birth certificates to passports to money, paper is an ever-present aspect of our lives, albeit one now largely under threat from the digital world.

The evening before the open day, Alexander Monro was challenged to debate his hypothesis with, perhaps surprisingly, the director of the Havant Literary Festival, Tim Dawes, who held the opposing view.

Valerie Bird, who attended the debate, was surprised by the strength of both arguments.

‘Who would have believed a debate could be such fun and so controversial?,’ she said.

‘Alexander Monro’s argument was detailed and with thorough historical background.

‘But Tim Dawes, speaking against the proposition, had the audience floored.

‘He bribed us with chocolate, a disgusting vegan cheese but, more appropriately, his suggestions that the wheel, boats and language were very convincing challengers for this disputed “crown”.’

Finally the majority vote went to Alexander Munro although, as he later conceded, boats are a serious contender for the claim to be the most important invention in human history.

The open day itself was attended by more than 200 children and adults, who were invited to take part in a variety of paper-related activities.

A working printing-press was operated by printer Mary Dalton to the fascination of all.

Artist in residence for the day, Lyn Unsworth Lane, was also on hand and, with the help of those in attendance, created a beautiful butterfly mobile out of recycled paper. This stunning piece has been on display in The Spring’s Sadler Gallery for all to view.

Keep an eye out for our next Open Day in May 2016.

n For more about The Spring, visit thespring.co.uk.