Made in Lancashire - Lincrusta luxury wallpaper
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 March 2015 | UPDATED: 15:40 21 October 2015
State rooms on the Titanic, walls of the White House and royal rail carriages have all been adorned by a classic interiors product made in Lancashire. Sue Riley reports
It has links to the White House, the Titanic and British royalty although these days Russian oligarchs are among its biggest fans. Lincrusta, the very name evokes Victorian opulence, is one of those luxury items which has thrived during the recession and it’s all made in a tiny factory in the heart of an industrial estate in Morecambe.
Made from natural materials – the main component is linseed gel, mixed with gum rosin, paraffin wax, chalk, woodflour and whitener – the wallcovering is created in exactly the same way as it was in the Victorian era, give or take a tiny tweak. First developed by Frederick Walton in 1877, the heavily embossed wallcovering reminiscent of architectural mouldings was an instant success. Walton had taken the ingredients of linoleum, which his father had developed, and used it to make the highly ornate and washable Lincrusta – a combination the Victorians loved. It was bought to decorate rooms in the White House in Washington and used on the ill-fated Titanic; in those days it was still known by its original name of Lincrusta-Walton.
The company prides itself that the wallcovering is made in the UK and always has been, except for a while during the wars when a lot of their steel rollers were melted down for munitions and production ceased for a while.
It’s that UK pedigree and history which is key to its success overseas; it sells in 40 countries. ‘Russia is particularly successful, they love that it’s British made, that it’s unique and that they can apply extremely ornate and decorative effects to make it really opulent. We see the same opportunities in the Middle East and China as well,’ said Lincrusta commercial manager Martin O’Kane.
It’s also still very popular in the UK and you can see examples, both old and new, in pubs and public buildings across Lancashire. Some of the most glamorous examples are in the States though, there’s even beautifully gilded pieces of it from the house of the oil magnate Rockefeller now in the Smithsonian museum.
As the wallcovering is so hardwearing it’s often hung in public places. Many examples have faced a lot of wear and tear over the years so the company has created specialised restoration kits.
‘Because it’s so durable we were getting calls from people who needed help, so someone who’d just bought a 1910 semi was asking if they could get a roll of a particular design as the shower had leaked. Because we have lost so many designs we developed the restoration kit which is similar to using a Plaster of Paris cast,’ said Martin.
The kits have been particularly useful for the many railway buffs restoring carriages where Lincrusta was heavily used in the early days; perhaps the most ornate of any carriage using the wallcovering belonged to the last German kaiser, Wilhelm II.
At its peak the company produced thousands of designs, made tiles, placemats, ceiling roses, plaques, panels, had a royal warrant and factories in America, France and Germany.
Over the decades much of the archive has been lost and they are now using just 35 designs, although in recent years they have introduced a handful of new ones all with a heritage theme. Its bestseller, though, is one created in 1896, called Italian Renaissance.
Lincrusta has been produced in Lancashire since 1918 (before that it was in the south), first in Darwen and for the past 10 years in a small industrial unit at White Lund in Morecambe.
The current owner is Heritage Wallcoverings Ltd, which is investing in the business and keen to get interior designers and architects to use it more often. When it was originally sold in the Victorian era it was available pre-painted, but these days it’s sold plain for people to paint or embellish as they choose.
Design from a historical archive book
Finished rolls which are curing prior to being packed
Martin O'Kane, Commercial Manager
Ken Storey doing the manual inspection
After printing, the wallcovering is cooled on the festoon
A hand engraved steel roller (this is the best selling design introduced in 1896 called Italian Renaissance)
Raw material, the linseed gel
‘Many people in the UK paint it white or magnolia, while overseas more decorative effects like gold leaf and marbling are used. That’s really where designers and installers can add value to the product,’ said Martin.
The company has a £1.1million turnover and it’s growing. Every roll is hand finished, inspected and, unusually for wallpaper, dated. As it’s made from natural ingredients it can become brittle and hard to hang so the company recommends it is hung within two years otherwise it will have outlived its shelf life – hence the date. There are also approved Lincrusta installers across the country – locally, they have links with Accrington and Rossendale College – as it’s much heavier than other wallpapers and quite different to handle.
Now the company, which employs eight, is looking to the future and plans to encourage the use of Lincrusta in more public outlets like restaurants and hotels where the washable covering which sells at around £150 a roll will be both practical and beautiful.
But they’ve always got one eye on the past too. Martin said: ‘One of the areas we are sadly lacking is knowing where Lincrusta has been used over the years. We are really keen to find out more examples and get people to send us their pictures of where they’ve seen or it or plan to use it.’
The wall game
Lincrusta is often mistaken for anaglypta, a cheaper alternative developed by Thomas Palmer, one of Walton’s employees. Walton wasn’t interested in the new product made from embossed paper or blown vinyl (no linseed is used in the production) so Palmer went to the Lancaster-based Storey Brothers who had it on sale by the 1890s.