“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
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|
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
“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
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
49 Pale grey
59 Stock Brick
62 Light Drab
70 Golden Yellow
73 Neutral Brown
74 Brick Red
75 Red Brown
90 Pale Buff
94 Caen Stone
151 Light Cream
401 Pearl Grey
402 Smoke Grey
403 Mauve Grey
414 Dark Chocolate
A Blush Rose
B Eau de Nil
E Suede Grey
M Apple Green
N Light Cement Tint
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:
529 Deep Marigold
Somewhere between the two were the mid to dark blues and greens, which varied in price from 56/- to 80/- per cwt.
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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