Colour Ranges

Nov 15th, 2011 | | Colour Ranges | Paint Technical | 45 Comments



I have already written about two other significant brands of Water Paint in the twentieth century – Thomas Parsons’ Parlyte Water Paint and Duresco – the ‘King of Water Paints’. However, it is perhaps Walpamur, the subject of this essay, that is the best known and was something that Papers and Paints was still selling when I came into the business in 1980. In fact Walpamur made more than water paint as will be seen.

You will forgive the large number of black and white photographs, I hope. So rarely does one come across images showing the manufacture of paint; the business of colour checking and the putting together of colour cards, let alone a 1950s typing pool. Most of these processes have changed radically in the last fifty years and are worth recording.

A Brief History of Walpamur1
The River flowing through Darwen, near Blackburn in Lancashire, played a major part in the development and growth of industry in that town in the early nineteenth century. The water was of particular use to the calico printing and bleaching industries, and it was here in 1818 that Richard Hilton started the paper making industry that his sons were to develop. Hilton’s Paper Mills were soon the largest paper making works in the world and by 1840 had become the largest employer in Darwen, with a workforce of over 400.

In 1844 Hilton’s was taken over by Charles and Harold Potter who already owned a calico printing business in the area. Wallpaper manufacturing (known as Paper Staining) was added to their repertoire and the wallpapers that they produced were of such quality that they soon become world famous.

Major A.W. Huntington

The Potters were friendly with a designer called James Huntington, who was invited to become a partner in the firm, being joined by his two brothers ten years later. It was a son of one of the two, Major A.W. Huntington who, returning from the Boer War, became a partner in 1892 and after the formation of a combine known as The Wall Paper Manufacturers Limited in 1899, became a director. He set up a laboratory at the Hollins Paper Mill and carried out experiments into the making of a reliable Water Paint. A satisfactory formula was discovered and in August 1906 production commenced with a few hands borrowed from the mill. By 1908 the staff consisted of eight men and three boys, who appear in the photograph below which shows them grouped around a horse-drawn wagon. This was pulled by a horse named Jimmie and used to take paint twice a day to Darwen Station.

1908 workforce

The original works staff of eight men and three boys – photographed in 1908

The water paint was initially sold under the name of “Hollins Distemper”, but it was re-branded with the name WalPaMur being taken from The Wall Paper Manufacturers’ title.

Drums at this time were made in three sizes – 28 lbs; 56 lbs and 112 lbs (1 cwt) and they were returnable by clients. When they were sent back they were washed out in vats with caustic soda and a number was stamped on them to show how many times they had been sent out. This practice continued until 1926. The early tins were decorated in green, black and white and these came in three sizes – 4 lbs; 7 lbs and 14 lbs.

Old Store
The Old Store. The large drums on the floor are 112 lbs (1 cwt)

The first female member of staff joined the firm in about 1913. This was a momentous step for the company and the management issued a warning that anyone talking to her unnecessarily would be instantly dismissed.

The other major development was the decision to set up depots throughout the country and by 1920 a series were established at Manchester, Birmingham, Sunderland, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Belfast, Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham, Southampton, Plymouth, Sheffield, Gloucester and London.

At the same time the factory was reconstructed and some adjoining land was purchased to allow for future expansion. In the course of the work the River Darwen was bridged and built over, the laboratory was expanded and research began into the manufacture of oil paint. Exposure Stations were established in various parts of the country to provide information on the weathering of the paint and practical research was undertaken by decorators into the application of each new product.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, rapid steps were taken to convert the factory to the needs of war-time economy. Once again the older generation and the women kept the works producing while the younger men were in the Forces. Paint and dope were needed in great quantities for a wide range of war purposes and Walpamur again produced varnish and paint for ammunition as well as paint for camouflage, for black-out and for military vehicles and aircraft.

In connection with the latter, Walpamur were asked to deliver 90,000 gallons of white paint within a very short period for the painting of identification stripes on Allied aircraft participating in the invasion operations.

Painting Plane
Allied Aircraft, of which this Mosquito is shown here being painted, carried black and white stripes for identification on D-Day, 6th June 1944

Even during the War the factory was developed and enlarged. A new building for cellulose paints was erected together with a large new office block. Another building was set aside to deal with one of the major industrial problems of the immediate post-war period, that of training for industry the masses of young men being released from the Forces. Here experienced Walpamur men gave courses to apprentices on painting and decorating. In later years this demonstration block was used to display a selection of paints and wallpapers in settings that reproduced actual interiors.

1955 aerial view of Walpamur works
Aerial view of the Walpamur works in 1955

The Products
As with any paint, every Walpamur paint was a composition of two main ingredients – a pigment and a medium for binding. Naturally, both vary according to the type of paint involved. A visit to the dry colour store would reveal piles of sacks, drums, barrels and boxes brought from places as far afield as Australia, Burma, Bolivia, West Africa and the Persian Gulf. The quantities used were considerable and as many as one hundred tons of pigment might be unloaded into this store in a single day. The media or binding agents were classified under three main headings – Oil Paints, Water Paints and Nitro-Cellulose Paints.

Varnish was the most important binding agent for oil paints and the two main constituents – resin came chiefly from the Belgian Congo and linseed oil from Argentina and Canada. At one time Walpamur’s Varnish House was the largest plant of its kind in Europe. In the Enamel Paint Department the varnish was combined with pigment in pug-mills to form a paste. This was then ground in ball-mills to ensure more complete dispersion. The next stage saw the paste being fed through vertical steel roller-mills (see below). One of the most colourful sights of the factory was provided by the paste as it was collected from the rollers by the scraper and flowed down to accumulate in rich folds.

5-roll mill
A vertical 5-roll mill in the Oil Paints Department grinding the paste received from the pug mills

After further processes the end result would be Duradio Enamel Paint.

Making Duradio Enamel Paint
Filling tins with Duradio Enamel Paint in the Dublin factory

The famous Walpamur Water Paint was made in a separate building. Here oil varnish was made and emulsified in water to produce the binding agent (in essence it was an early emulsion paint). This and the required pigments were ground in a machine known as an edge-runner, which can be seen below.

Edge Runners in Operation
Edge-Runners in operation

Walpamur were very strong on research and development and carried out much experimental work. One of these projects led to the production of water-based gloss and satin paints – the sort of paints that are in increasing demand nowadays.

shade matching
Shade matching was an important function. All products were verified by comparison with standard samples

Walpamur Water Paint
Walpamur, or “wallop” as it was often referred to by the decorator, was an oil-bound, non-poisonous flat paint for walls.2 It was supplied in paste form and made ready for use by thinning with Walpamur Petrifying Liquid or water. It could be applied by brush or spray and dried to a smooth matt finish.

It was recommended that porous or loosely-bound surfaces should first be given a coat of Walpamur Primer to provide a sound foundation for the Water Paint. The Primer was supplied in either a transparent or a suitably tinted form.

Walpamur instructions

One hundredweight (1 cwt) of Walpamur, when thinned to proper working consistency, covered approximately 350 square yards with two coats on smooth non-porous surfaces. Under normal conditions two coats would produce a solid finish, but where Walpamur Tinted Primer of a suitable shade had been used the second coat of Water Paint may not be necessary.

Walpamur colour card
Walpamur colour card from 1950

Printing was handled by the Stationery Department which, in addition to supplying the central administration, the depots and subsidiary companies with office stationery, made some of the Walpamur shade cards. The colour chips were sprayed and stored in special fire-proof rooms, before they were mounted on the cards by hand or by machinery.

making colour cards
Mounting colour chips on shade cards in the Printing and Staionery Department

During the early years staff amenities were very restricted, but by the period after the First World War the facilities had improved immeasurably. The sports and social side of the company were very active and there was a singular effort to develop a feeling that the work force were part of one large family.

typing pool
A corner of the extensive typing pool in the office block

In many ways, Walpamur was too successful. In the early 1960s, the Wallpaper Manufacturers (WPM) group came under investigation by the Competition Commission. In spite of growing competition, WPM still controlled 79% of the wallpaper market. The paint side of the business was also of concern. By 1964, Walpamur had 89 depots, 42 of which were owned by subsidiaries, and 6 of which were jointly operated with Smith & Walton, an associated business. Probably as a result of the investigation, WPM sold Walpamur in 1965 to Reed International.

By the 1970s the company began producing emulsion paints. Feeling the name Walpamur was too closely associated with water paints, it was decided in 1975 to change it to Crown Decorative Products. The company was acquired by Wiliams Holdings in 1987, and in 1988 the name was changed to Crown Berger. In 1993 Crown Berger was taken over by Nobel (from 1994 AkzoNobel) but when AkzoNobel acquired in 2008 Imperial Chemical Industries, the maker among others of Dulux paint, the European Commissioner for Competition feared the company would have a near monopoly in several countries, including the UK. As a result AkzoNobel decided to sell Crown Berger in a management buyout backed by private equity firm Endless LLP.3


Current Availability of Colours
As with almost all the colours shown on this site they could be mixed into conventional modern paint by Papers and Paints Ltd

The Walpamur name is still used in Australia:

Notes and Sources of Information
1 Most of this has been taken from Walpamur Golden Jubilee – 1906-1956. Published by Walpamur, Darwen. 1956.
2 I don’t like using the word distemper in connection with Walpamur Water Paint because that causes confusion. This was not a Soft Distemper with all its advantages and disadvantages, but an early form of emulsion paint. The use of Water Paint can cause subsequent trouble as indicated in this Post.
3 Sebastien Ardouin.
Richard Ireland (who knows about Mosquitoes).

Although not connected, here is a very interesting account of paint-making in Hull – Some notes on the colourful history of Sissons Brothers & Co Ltd.

Papers and Paints can be found here:

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Comments (45)

sean browneNo Gravatar » 04. Feb, 2012

I Was a director of Walpamur…Great article

PatrickNo Gravatar » 04. Feb, 2012

How very kind of you Sean. It was surprisingly difficult to get together sufficient information, but so important that such a key brand should be recorded and recognised.

Jack HargreavesNo Gravatar » 12. Apr, 2012

Having joined the Walpamur Co.Ltd in 1948, was trained in the Sales Department at Darwen until 1954, when i was appointed Norwich Depot Manager, subsequently becoming a Sales Representative in i958 in East Anglia, and taking over the post of Area Manager in 1970(when the Comany had changed name to Crown Decorative Products, and then to W.P.M Merchant Group.
I have been in retirement for some years, and have been looking for photos and details of the old Darwen offices for some time. Could you suggest where these might be available ? Sincerely, Jack Hargreaves.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 13. Apr, 2012

How wonderful to hear from you. I’m afraid that the only images that I have seen are those in the book produced by The Walpamur Co. in 1956 to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary.

Jack HargreavesNo Gravatar » 20. Apr, 2012

Thank you for replying to my question.. I assume I should now contact Crown Paints to try to obtain a copy.


Jack Hargreaves.

D J NewtonNo Gravatar » 07. May, 2012

My Father worked for Walpamur, Read, Crown Dec and Crown Paints for nearly 60 years of his working life. He probably wouldnt recognise the factory in 2012. I worked there in the Holidays and a temp for a couple of years prior to joining HM Forces. I am lead to believe that Darwen Public Library has a great deal of photographs and archives a call to the library may help.. Crown is a major important employer in Darwen and long may it reign. There are a couple of publications about the company, and its sister companys Belgrave Mills, Releif Decorations, hollins Paper mill, and crown house (head office) An appeal in the Lancashire Telepgraph may help you also. Best wish and good luck

PatrickNo Gravatar » 07. May, 2012

Thank you very much for all that fascinating information. I felt that it was important to get something published and in a form that could be extended / corrected as further information came in. You have given me some excellent leads.

D J NewtonNo Gravatar » 23. May, 2012

I am told by a freind that one of the library staff Peter Bell at Darwen Library may be a usefull source, he will also be able to put you in touch with local historian Alan Duckworth (retired library manager) who is a wealth of useful information relating to darwen etc. Also, a lady Called Brenda Cronshaw, she is a councllior on the Darwen Council, also she has a second hand collectable stall on Darwen 3 day market. Brenda is a wealth of gossip and good information and has been responsible for numerous publications etc relating to darwen. Her phone number and contact details are on Darwen Council Web Site. But if you ever visit Darwen Market, Just ask for Brendas, every man and his dog knows her. Happy Hunting, would be great to see a concise publication about the History of Crown Decs. You could google a guy called Raymond (Ray) Kirkham he is the ex works manufacturing Director he lives a fairhaven Lytham St Annes,( he worked at Walpumur and Crown for over 60 years, if any knows it he will I did have a number and address, but cant put it up here for obvious reason. email me and I will see what i can do. Good Luck.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 24. May, 2012

That’s all excellent information. Thank you.

chris spenceNo Gravatar » 16. May, 2012

This is a great piece of information, it was forwarded to me by another painter and for that im grateful as i truly would of missed out on some paint history.
Thankyou for being so diligent in your writings.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 17. May, 2012

Thank you Chris. It’s always good to get feed-back.

Cllr Peter HollingsNo Gravatar » 09. Jun, 2012

I read this story with great interest as I am a councillor in Darwen and also a worker at Crown Paints which is the end product of the Walpamur company. Sadly I have to say that the production of Wallpaper on the site was ceased around 10 years ago and the Hollins Paper Mill will cease production and be demolished in November 2012. The land around the first paper mill was opened to the public in 1907 by Major AW Huntington and developed into part of Sunnyhurst Woods.
I would welcome any information on the historical significance of this area known locally as The Dingle to establish the future use of the land for the public leisure activities once it is sold.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 09. Jun, 2012

Thank you for that. How sad. There was little information to be had on the area other than what I gleaned from that wonderful book – “Walpamur Golden Jubilee – 1906-1956″. Published by Walpamur, Darwen. 1956. I am sure that you have been in touch with the local archives.

Angela BeaumontNo Gravatar » 10. Nov, 2012

A fascinating article. I worked for several years with Interior Decoration students at Leeds College of Art and Design and one of the subjects I covered was the history of paint and paint colours. It’s always a treat to learn more! Thank you for publishing this.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 10. Nov, 2012

Thank you Angela. I couldn’t allow the story to remain untold. (Sorry, that sounds a bit pompous, but you know what I mean).

Charles BlackburnNo Gravatar » 09. Mar, 2013

Thank you for a very interesting site. My father worked for Walpamur all his life except for a few years during WW2.
He worked his way up from ‘van boy’ helping with deliveries to branch manager, area manger and during his latter years his area that he controlled was the southern half of England.
My first recollections of Walpamur was when I was about 7 or 8 at the shop in Hove, Sussex. There were racks and racks of paint. All different types and colours. On a week-end we would help out by tying old rags around out feet and sliding up and down the aisles, pollishing the floors. Occasionally we would get to ride in the trucks (Lorries). Another thing I remember was the Wall paper sample books. Huge books made up of all the different wall papers that Walpamur sold. Sometimes dad brought home the out of date books and we could use the pages for craft and home-work projects.
He even said he could get me a job in the factory where they developed new varieties but at that time, being a ‘scientist’ didn’t seem that inviting to me and I eventually turned to working on the electronics industry. Looking back, it probably would have been a good job, not that the work I did wasn’t.

Anyway, what brought me to this site was, that in packing up our present home, (in Australia) I came across 3 Walpamur book matches, advertising ‘DURADIO’ 5 year Enamel, on the front and a picture on the reverse of two tins of paint, one Walpamur Emulsion and the other, Walpamur water paint.
There isn’t a date on the books but I do remember them being in the paint shops during the late 40′s early 50′s. My dad always had some in his brief case for when he went to meetings.
I don’t know if they are worth anything but wonder if ‘Head Office’ would like to see them.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 09. Mar, 2013

Charles, thank you for those wonderful memories. I too remember the wallpaper pattern books that my father used to display at ‘Papers and Paints’ and how we used to cut up the old ones for similar projects. I don’t think that there is a ‘Head Office’ any more. I believe that Crown took over the brand, but am not sure what has happened to them. P

D J NewtonNo Gravatar » 10. Mar, 2013

The Walpamur Company Limited, actually owned the “Crown” brand and trade mark and over the years has developed in to Crown Decorations Co Ltd. They still exist, and the Head office is still very much were it was in the 1940/50′s.

Crown Decorative Products Co Ltd
Crown House
Hollins Lane
telephone 01254 704951

This is the original head office, which I went to the Childrens Christmas Parties in the 60′s.

The telephone number was orginally Darwen 951 but has evolved over the years.

At one time Crown had archives with many of the designs and colours in their files.

Sadly Crown no longer make wallpaper at the Darwen Site, RD Factory closed a good 20 years ago, and is now produced in France and Poland under the Crown Wallcoverings brand, no longer owned by Crown Decs.

I believe that the company is now owned by the directors who made a management buy out in 2001.

Sadly its not the same company I remeber, its evolved into a more slick operation to keep up with modern day requirements.

Sad sign of the times, but essential for survival.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 11. Mar, 2013

Very many thanks for all of this new information.

Nigel FrosdickNo Gravatar » 17. May, 2013

Thanks for doing the research . My grandfather was a professional decorator ( apprenticed c.1920) and my dad was a decorator too . I remember grandfather mixing up Walpamur ( and Nine Elms? ) and the smell that still remains in a 4lb. tin I found , is very nostalgic.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 18. May, 2013

Thank you. You’re quite right Nigel. The characteristic smell was the preservative added to stop it going ‘off’.

Sean BrowneNo Gravatar » 02. Sep, 2013

It was cresylic acid.It gave it a wonderful aroma. The glue that held it all together was originally animal bone. It was the best paint in the World.
The last can of Walpamur was was made in Dublin around 1993 and was sold to Mr Robert Butcher of Potmolen Paints U.K. Sadly Robert passed away, and the paint was discontinued soon after.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 02. Sep, 2013

Many thanks for that Sean. Yes, we at Papers and Paints used to stock it in the 1960s and then again in the late 1980s. I remember it well.

MattNo Gravatar » 27. Jun, 2013

Found an old paint tin by Walmapur being used as a nail storage container in an abandoned pig farm this week. I have photos of it if you want them.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 27. Jun, 2013

Thank you Matt. I’d love a photo if it’s not too much trouble. patrick (at)

Belinda RobertsNo Gravatar » 03. Aug, 2013

Well done on the website – it was great to put some detail to questions about my ancestor (Great Grandfather) Robert Haddow who (according to family) worked for Walpamur in Darwen and Liverpool. He was apparently a manager for the firm and in 1911 living in Liverpool. Is there any possibility that photos and company details exist of him in the archives and where would I look to find them?
Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you or any other site visitors. B Roberts (Great Grandaughter).

PatrickNo Gravatar » 03. Aug, 2013

Thank you. How wonderful that you have a connection. I based most of the text on the Golden Jubilee Walpamur book of 1956. I imagine that Crown Paints / Wallpapers have inherited whatever archive that there may have been.

bj robertsNo Gravatar » 05. Aug, 2013

Thanks Patrick – do you have an archivist’s name at Crown or details on how to get a copy of the 1956 Golden Jubilee Book?
Has it been scanned to the internet. I don’t have much money to spend on this.
Appreciate your help.
B Roberts

PatrickNo Gravatar » 05. Aug, 2013

I don’t have any contact details, I’m afraid. There are copies of the book that appear on the Internet occasionally. I didn’t pay much for my copy, which I think was found in a second hand bookshop. This link will give you some more of the background as I believe that Crown has since been bought by another company –,d.ZGU

Sean BrowneNo Gravatar » 02. Sep, 2013

Hi Patrick,
I have some interesting stuff that I could get scanned and sent to you. Have you an e mail for receiving scans etc?

Sean BrowneNo Gravatar » 02. Sep, 2013

Is there anything specific you need from the book? I have a copy. Sean

PatrickNo Gravatar » 02. Sep, 2013

Many thanks for the offer Sean. I also have a precious copy of the book.

Narbi PriceNo Gravatar » 28. Nov, 2015

Hi Sean, I’m currently undertaking a PhD on the Ashington Group painters who used Walpamur as an art medium.
It would be great to speak to someone directly linked to the company as Patrick’s article and the Golden Jubilee book are pretty much all of the information I can find.
A 1930s colour card would be the Holy Grail for me! I can be contacted at

Gillian TattersallNo Gravatar » 15. Apr, 2016

Hi Belinda
I was born a Haddow and was brought up in the family home built by my Great Great Grandfather in 1908. This was at the time when he and several members of the family worked at Belgrave.
Does this mean we’re related?
I’m trying to find information on a member of the family at the moment and wondered if you could help?

Sarah BownessNo Gravatar » 09. Sep, 2013

Hi, my Dad Gwiliym Marsden worked as paint technician at Walpamur Darwen from just after being demobbed from National Service 1949 until around the early 70s. Before I was born he took part in a T.V. commercial for them where he worked some sort of paint machine. I’ve never seen this ad but my older sisiters remember it being on in the 60s. I was trawling Utube hoping to find it when I came across your site. I don’t suppose you have any knowledge of this ad?

PatrickNo Gravatar » 13. Sep, 2013

Thanks for writing Sarah. Sadly not. There’s precious little about Walpamur that I have found, which is surprising when one considers how ubiquitous it was at one time.

Richard BNo Gravatar » 31. May, 2014

I have a hardback publication entitled ‘Paint Specifications’ kindly by The Walpamur Co ltd . This second edition published in 1961was provided to me while on a Architectural Draftsman’s course at the Royal School of Military Engineering in 1963, by Walpamur. I no longer wish to keep the item. I doubt it would be of use to a charity shop. Would anyone like me to send it on for historical interest in the company or the paint industry generally.

Susan BrownNo Gravatar » 27. Oct, 2014

Hello, I have been given lots of paperwork from my Great Great Uncles Hardware store and I have found an article on The Walpamur Company’s stand at Olympia from 1923 along with statements and invoices from the company to my Uncle Dick all 1920s, lots of other hardware ephemera, including Cotterells Measuring Tables ( paper hangerstable to measure rooms for wallpaper)
Foster Blackett & Wilson Ld Hebburn on Tyne- Permagrip Hard Gloss Colour list (16 gloss colours) plus brochure for washable water paint
James Rudman Ltd Cambrian Colour Works Bristol Petraline The water Wall Paint – Paint Colour chart ( 46 colours)
Lead Paint Regulation 1927 book- giving advice. Its absolutely fascinating reading. I could upload some pictures if you would like to see them. Regards

Wilf O'MalleyNo Gravatar » 26. Nov, 2015

My grandfather, Wilfred Conroy, was transport manager at Walpamur in the 1930′s and 1940′s. He lived on the edge of the moors at Higher Sunnyhurst and after retirement became mayor in 1955. I believe his boss was a Major Mellor who came from Scotland. I would be interested to know if any of your contacts can shed light on his role at the company

Wilf O’Malley

PatrickNo Gravatar » 27. Nov, 2015

Many thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately there are very few names mentioned in the 1956 Golden Jubilee Book. It does tell me that Major Mellor retired in 1947.

frank SmithNo Gravatar » 02. May, 2016

I worked for the Walpamur paint and Wallpaper in Birmingham, 1, Cheapside at the bottom of the Birmingham Bull Ring UK in the 1960s. I worked in the wallpaper department. The building has now been demolished but I was hoping if Walpamur have any photographs or history of
the building inside and out. I have photos of a Christmas party we had one year. I now live in America but I have happy memories working in the building. Can you advise. Many thanks…Frank Smith

PatrickNo Gravatar » 02. May, 2016

Thanks Frank. I suggest that you contact Crown Paint at Crown House, Hollins Rd, Darwen BB3 0BG Phone:0845 034 1464 as they are the successors of Walpamur and probably have an archivist.

frank smithNo Gravatar » 08. May, 2016

Thanks for the information Patrick. Not knowing what part of the UK Darwen is in the UK I will phone them asking if they have an email address…regards..Frank

Bryan StubbsNo Gravatar » 07. Dec, 2016

Interesting read , I work for crown paints , Not in Darwen but in Hull . I have been here 17 yrs in that time we have been owned by akzo nobel , management , endless , But now are owned by Hempel coatings . The Hull site has been making paint for over 200 years which was known as Blundells & then Blundells Permoglaze , And still going strong

PatrickNo Gravatar » 08. Dec, 2016

Thanks for that. My shop in Chelsea, Papers and Paints Ltd, had been stocking Blundell’s paints since 1960.