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Henri de Portal

After reading this entry, every time you handle a banknote you will remember Southampton and Henri de Portal. Henri de Portal was born in 1690 at Poitiers in France into a Huguenot family. The Huguenots were French protestants who were inspired by the writings of John Calvin. The term Huguenot was originally a derisive term. Louis XIV broke the charter which protected the religious freedom Henri and his family enjoyed, forcing half a million Huguenots to leave France for protestant countries.

It is said that the Portal family were facing torture and death and in their flight from France Henri and his brother Guillaume hid in an oven and were smuggled out of France in wine barrels. They eventually found refuge in Southampton. The Huguenots brought many new skills with them and in Southampton found an established French community who with the permission of Elizabeth I used St Julien’s Chapel in Winkle Street as their church. Even today it is known as the French Church and monthly services are still held there in French.

In 1705, at the age of fifteen, Henri was employed at South Stoneham Mill to learn his trade as a paper maker. He was clearly a talented and charming man who had gained influential friends,  as in 1711 he gained the tenancy of Bere Mill near Whitchurch.  In the same year Henri became a naturalised citizen and from then on was known as Henry Portal. In 1718 his business had become so successful manufacturing high quality paper of all kinds that he was able to expand by obtaining Laverstoke Mill  between Whitchurch and Overton.

In 1723 he was making paper for the rupee and in 1724 the Bank of England asked him to make the paper for British Bank notes. The business continued for about 250 years being handed down through the generations until it was acquired by Candy and then its current owners the De la Rue Company in 1995.

Henry’s father died in London in 1704 and Henry married Dorothy Hasker in 1715 at Overton. Henry’s son Joseph bought the Manor of Laverstoke which included the mill in 1759. He became the Sherriff of Hampshire in 1763. Henry died at Freefolk near Whitchurch on 30th September, 1747.

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