Colour Ranges

Nov 7th, 2011 | | Colour Ranges | Paint Technical | 12 Comments

Duresco – King of Water Paints

Duresco Colour Card

Duresco – the King of Water Paints

“DURESCO on your Walls will bring DIGNITY, FRESHNESS and BEAUTY to your Home”.

At the very beginning of the twentieth century it was announced that:

The Guildhall, London was regularly treated with Duresco

The Foreign Department Buildings, Oslo was recently decorated outside with Duresco

The Bank of Brussels, The Old Palace of Flanders was recently decorated inside with Duresco

The Gleneagles Hotel had been treated INSIDE and OUTSIDE with Duresco

All this aside, it seems as though Duresco had good reason to call itself “The King of Water Paints”.

The shortcomings of the conventional size-bound distempers have been raised in another post entitled The Problem with Distemper. Apart from their fragility, the…

“…objection to distempers that they cannot be washed down, led some thirty years ago [ca.1894],1 to the production of sanitary distempers or washable water paints. The author believes that the invention was due to Mr J.B. Orr, who founded the Silicate Paint Co., at Charlton, and who produced “Duresco”, which has ever since proved very popular, and there are a very large number of water paints which may be described as being somewhat similar on the market to-day.2 As a rule, they are not made from whiting, but from lithopone, a dense white, which is the base of most undercoats used under enamels and paints, and for inside work possesses many advantages.”3

Duresco colour card

Incredibly, for a product that was one of the first and certainly one of the better known of its kind there seems to be no real record of Duresco. With little modification it was marketed and used widely for at least eighty years. It appears that the colour range was remarkably constant, seemingly little affected by the vagaries of fashion.

The colours shown in this colour card, of about 1901, were still listed thirty years later and in that document the prices were also given. This is always helpful as it allows us to see how they would have been used hierarchically – in much the same way as in the eighteenth century.

However, before considering this, let us look at the size of containers in which it was supplied and the coverage:

Duresco 7 lbs 14 lbs 28 lbs 56 lbs 112 lbs
1 coat 56 sq.yds 112 sq.yds 225 sq.yds 450 sq.yds 900 sq.yds
2 coats 28 sq.yds 56 sq.yds 112 sq.yds 225 sq.yds 450 sq.yds
3 coats 18 sq.yds 37 sq.yds 75 sq.yds 150 sq.yds 300 sq. yds

Coverage Rates for Different Sized Containers4

How it Was Used
Duresco came as a paste (known as body colour and to this the liquid medium, known as petrifying liquid, had to be added to dilute it to a workable consistency.5

The following is an early twentieth century account of a typical job with Duresco ‘washable’ distemper:

“…The walls being bare and clean, no washing or other preparation will be required, except that damaged places must be made good with pure plaster of Paris mixed with equal portions of water and Duresco thinners. Plaster thus mixed will set slowly – that is, in about an hour – but when thoroughly set will be nearly suctionless. All patching of plaster throughout the job should be done as early as possible, in order that it may have an opportunity of drying before the colour wash is applied.

The ceilings will require two coats, and they should be finished before the walls are begun. The first coat for the ceilings may be white, and should be made of about one-third of the liquid thinners to two-thirds of the body, Duresco distemper, which is generally sold in the form of a stiff paste. It is not practicable, however, to lay down a hard and fast rule in this matter; everything depends on whether the plaster to be coated has much suction or not. If, on trial, a sample brushful works out to thin or too stiff, more body colour or more thinners can be added.

These distempers required to be used rounder than ordinary colour wash. A good general rule is to keep them as stiff as they can be worked comfortably. The more quickly these distempers can be made to dry the better. It is therefore advisable, in cold and damp weather, to have a fire in the room when they are being used; and at the finish a good draught of air should be allowed to circulate by opening the window or by some other means. In fine, warm weather, two or even three coats can be applied in one day, if it is necessary to get the work finished quickly. The ordinary procedure, however, is to
allow a day for each coat. The second coat for the ceilings may be white or cream, and must be mixed rounder than the first, using water only, in place of the special liquid – for thinning the body colour – one part water to three parts body colour will generally be about the right proportions for finishing two coat ceiling work. Any splashes made on other parts of the room should be wiped up before they dry, as afterwards they are very difficult to remove.

The walls may require either two or three coats, according to the condition of the plaster. A little practice with these distempers will enable a man to make a first class job on fair plaster, with two coats and a touch up between. On such a wall a good round first coat can be applied. This first coat, when dry, will not be of a uniform colour; some places will have dried lighter or chalky. These light spots generally occur near angle beads, round fireplaces and door casings, and where the plaster has been patched. All such places should be touched up with a bit of stiff colour of the same tint as that used for first coating, before applying the second coat. When the work is dry, rub it down with glass paper. The second and finishing coat for the walls, as for the ceilings, should be mixed with water only, and applied as round as it can be comfortably worked. Some prefer the finishing coat stippled. This finish is in some cases desirable, but it is not absolutely necessary.”6

Duresco Colour Card (1)

The Sales Pitch
The following is taken from a wonderful book published in the late nineteenth century with the aim of making our houses healthier to live in:

“The Silicate Paint Company manufacture a series of paints, into the composition of which is stated that no injurious ingredients enter. Lead, arsenic, copper, and antimony salts are used in different ways to give brilliancy to many colours. To abolish these poisonous substances, and to substitute for them ingredients of perfectly neutral character, is without doubt a very valuable improvement on the score of health. These silicate paints are prepared from a pure silica obtained from the West of England. This is levigated, calcined, and mixed with resinous substances. Besides their non-poisonous qualities, these paints are said to stand 200° heat without blistering, to have no chemical action on metals, and to cover, weight for weight, double the surface of ordinary paint”.

“The same company have patented a form of distemper which is called “Duresco”. It is prepared from the “Charlton White” described above, and when applied to brick, stone, or plaster it hardens in such a manner as to indurate the surface. It is further claimed for this process that it is washable, that it is absolutely non-poisonous, and that it prevents the percolation of moisture. It also has the great advantage of being so easy of application that a labourer can apply it in a similar manner to whitewash”.7

Duresco 1940

Duresco in 1940 – Laxton’s Builders’ Price Book

The above advertisement indicates that different prices were charged for different colours, but a clearer idea of the range of (slightly lower) prices that were charged in 1931 can be seen below.

The Common Colours
The Common Colours included white and broken whites (some of which were designed for interior use only). Over half of the sixty shown here were included in this category. They were priced at 52/- per cwt.

47 Light Stone
48 Stucco
49 Pale grey
55 Chocolate
59 Stock Brick
62 Light Drab
64 Primrose
70 Golden Yellow
72 Cement
73 Neutral Brown
74 Brick Red
75 Red Brown
79 Purple
81 Slate
82 Terracotta
86 Cream
90 Pale Buff
94 Caen Stone
151 Light Cream
400 Parchment
401 Pearl Grey
402 Smoke Grey
403 Mauve Grey
414 Dark Chocolate
415 Gold
417 Brown
419 Black
A Blush Rose
B Eau de Nil
E Suede Grey
F Straw
M Apple Green
N Light Cement Tint
P Cowslip
T Cane
Z Oriental Green

The More Expensive Colours
The most expensive were nearly twice the price of the Common colours, at 100/- per cwt and were:

114 Carmine
115 Scarlet
511 Violet
529 Deep Marigold
530 Geranium

Somewhere between the two were the mid to dark blues and greens, which varied in price from 56/- to 80/- per cwt.

Duresco Colour Card (2)

The Demise of Water Paint
With the introduction of the more stable and much more durable emulsion paints in the late 1950s the age of Water Paint was over. The new emulsions were also free of that nightmarish property of failing when overcoated a couple of times. Quite bizarrely, versions of the obsolete product are still being sold – such is the power of the rose-tinted way in which many customers tend to regard what they consider a traditional paint.

Great Western Railway
Since posting this essay I was contacted by Richard North, who was researching the paints and paint schemes used by the Great Western Railway (GWR) for its stations and other structures. He had recently been given access to a complete set of the Minutes of the GWR Paint Committee from its first meeting in 1912 to its demise at nationalisation.

A question that had surfaced was the colours of distemper used by the GWR for the internal decoration of certain buildings. The Company had a number of Standard Tints for this purpose and they were as follows: B.1. Cambridge Blue; B.2. Italian Blue; G.1. Dark Italian Green; G.2. Privet Green; H.1. Cream; H.2. Grey (Slate); H.3. Grey (Suede Grey); H.4. White; Neutral Brown. (No tint number was allocated to Neutral Brown.)

I was able to show Mr North that all the names used by the GWR for Standard Tints of distemper appeared on the Duresco Colour Cards (see above).

He informed me that, at its meeting on 27 June 1922, the GWR Paint Committee agreed that the three most satisfactory distempers, Duresco, Walpamur and Victory, should be tried on old painted walls and the matter reviewed at the Committee’s next meeting. At the next meeting, on 3 October 1922, it was reported that Duresco and Walpamur were superior to Victory.

Current Availability of Colours
These colours have all been colour-matched and are now available in conventional modern paint at Papers and Paints Ltd.

1 In fact it is believed that Duresco dates from 1875 and it was still in production in the 1950s.
2 One such was the water paint produced by Thomas Parsons’ & Sons.
3 Arthur Seymour Jennings. The Decoration and Renovation of the Home. W.R. Howell & Co. 1924. p.70.
4 Drums of 112 lbs (1 cwt) were quite standard in the early twentieth century, in spite of requiring two men to carry them. An early photograph showing these containers can be seen Here.
5John T. Rea. How to Estimate being the Analysis of Builders’ Prices giving full details of estimating for builders, and containing thousands of prices, and much useful memoranda. B.T. Batsford. 1904.
6 Paul Hasluck. Cassell’s House Decoration. A Practical guide to Painters’ and Decorators’ Work. Cassell and Co. 1913.
7 Shirley F. Murphy (ed.). Our Homes and How to Make them Healthy. Cassell & Co. 1883. p.124.

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Comments (12)

Anthony James JukesNo Gravatar » 24. Jul, 2012

Family folklore has it that Duresco and the name Jukes were closely connected. The Jukes side of my family broke away shortly after WW2. Do you have any information that I might find interesting?

Sorry to bother you but I would be immensely interested.

Many thanks,

Tony Jukes.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 29. Jul, 2012

Thank you for your enquiry.
I’m sorry for my delayed response, but your email reached me on holiday and I wanted to check the facts before replying.
I have had a look through the text and group photographs in “Orr’s Zinc White 1898-1948″ but cannot see any reference to the name Jukes. There is very little that I have found written on ‘Duresco’, but I shall keep an eye open.
Best wishes

Patrick Baty

Julian ElphickNo Gravatar » 06. Mar, 2016

Dear Tony,
I have just read your message to Patrick Baty on the subject of Duresco paints. My mother was Mary Adeltrude (Pearl) Elphick née Jukes and her grandfather was Francis Ignatius Jukes. My father, Steve Elphick, was employed by Duresco before and during the war years. I am compliling a family tree and would like any info. you may have regarding any of the above. In return I am happy to offer any information or answer any questions that I can.
Best wishes,
Julian Elphick

Bob PhillipsNo Gravatar » 22. Dec, 2012

I am a great-grandson of Francis Jukes who I can confirm was a partner of Mr J B Orr in the Silicate Paint Company in Greenwich. I can send a copy of the Jukes Family Tree to Mr A J Jukes if he wants it.
Bob Phillips

Susan JukesNo Gravatar » 15. Jan, 2014

I’d love a copy of the Jukes family tree you have :-)
I am Tony Jukes’ Niece and live in Sydney, Australia where my Father Michael Jukes came with his new wife, Elizabeth, in 1960 as £10 Poms…
Please can you email me?
Thank you!

Bob PhillipsNo Gravatar » 18. Apr, 2014

Hello Susan Jukes. Please contact me on email address and I’ll see if I can get you a family tree copy.

Steve JukesNo Gravatar » 16. Jun, 2014

Please forgive me contacting you but I came on comments when looking at the “Duresco King of paints article.
The discussion stream asked the question I had been considering about the connection of my grandfather Francis Ignatius Jukes of Brighton and Eltham who was said, in the family, to have “invented emulsion paint”!! obviously this is fantasy but he was listed as a director in 1914, while living in Eltham.
I would be very grateful and interested in anything you might be able to say about this.

I am also constructing a family tree and wonder how these threads fit together.

Many thanks

PatrickNo Gravatar » 17. Jun, 2014


I cannot help you with the genealogical aspects, but I can comment on the paint issues. Yes, it is true, in a fashion, that your grandfather did invent emulsion paint. ‘Duresco’ was the best-known of the early oil-in-water paints and as such a true emulsion. You can see more on this here

Richard ChurchillNo Gravatar » 11. Dec, 2013

Hallo Patrick my late grandfather was a colourmatcher at Duresco for 62 years and my late father was a mechanic/driver for them between 1940-1953 the factory was as you probably know in Charlton where the Thames Barrier is situated now. I would think they were still producing into the late sixties early 70′s .The owner who my grandfather always talked about was Phil Jukes who I believed had a brother Austin Jukes who I do not think had any input in the buisness , I think Austin was still alive in the 1990′s. I actualy have a multi-layered clock crafted from a large layer of paint removed from a wall at Duresco where over the years my grandfather had scraped his pallette knife! Feel free to email me for any more info .

PatrickNo Gravatar » 11. Dec, 2013

Richard, that’s absolutely wonderful. It’s things like this that makes the past come alive. If you wanted, and were able, to take a photo of the clock, I’d love to include it. That really is unique.

Richard ChurchillNo Gravatar » 11. Dec, 2013

Will photograph clock & will try to upload in the next couple of days

PatrickNo Gravatar » 11. Dec, 2013

Thanks. That would be great. You may have seen that a couple of Jukes relations have been in touch. They may be able to supply more detail.