Made in Lancashire - The Surface Printing company

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:08 19 June 2017

Mike Morgan and Keith Fenton colour mixing

Mike Morgan and Keith Fenton colour mixing


A little known firm in Clayton-le-Moors has a burgeoning reputation among interior designers. Its latest range celebrates the industry’s heritage.

Mike Morgan and Keith Fenton colour mixingMike Morgan and Keith Fenton colour mixing

Queen Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey, Samuel Morse revealed his dots and dashes to the world and up here in Lancashire a chap called Charles Potter invented a printing technique that would transform the decor of our homes.

It was 1838 and Mr Potter, with his brother Harold and a mechanical genius called Walmsley Preston, developed what became known as surface printing at their calico works in Darwen.

It was different because it used engraved copper rollers positioned in a rotary machine in such a way that a complete pattern could be printed on material in one go without having to thread it through the press several times.

Not only did it save time and labour, when applied to wallpaper it produced a beautiful opaque effect that looked hand-painted. Another first for the red rose county.

Mike Morgan and Keith Fenton colour mixingMike Morgan and Keith Fenton colour mixing

Today, Potter’s clever invention lives on and the date 1838 is the name of a new brand of luxury wallpaper made just a few miles away in Clayton-le-Moors.

The Surface Printing company is a world leader in this rare style of wallpaper production and cast iron machinery going back 100 years is still in operation alongside the latest digital equipment costing £500,000.

‘The invention by Charles Potter is such a wonderful story that we thought it should be celebrated and more widely known. That’s why we chose 1838 as the name for our latest collection,’ said Abigail Watson, marketing director of the company founded by her father, John, who is company chairman. Her brother, James, is the managing director and he and Abigail are the fourth generation of the family to work in the wallpaper industry.

The company’s innovative designs and slavish devotion to quality make them UK industry leaders with an international client list that includes Ralph Lauren, Liberty’s, Mulberry and Cath Kidston. Rolls retail at anywhere between £64 and £112.

Surface Printing wallpaperSurface Printing wallpaper

One of their key strengths is being able to spot trends and they scored a major success in the vanguard of the revival of flock wallpaper, no longer the staple décor of Indian restaurants. Other products from Surface Printing can be found on the walls of Buckingham Palace and The White House in Washington.

‘Launching 1838 was a natural progression for us,’ said Abigail. ‘My brother and I want to keep the businesses moving forward using our worldwide reputation for quality.’

As well as having a highly talented designer, they also have an impressive archive which can be utilised and adapted to suit modern tastes. The 1838 collection falls into two sections – Rosemore and Avington. They mix and match classics which have been re-coloured with very modern metallic designs. A third is due to be released in September.

The designs were unveiled at a trade show in Germany. ‘The response was overwhelming,’ said Abigail. ‘We are supplying to 30 countries – we even had an order from Rwanda – but it’s China and Russia where English design is especially admired.’


Surface Printing employs 100 men and women in the small East Lancashire town making up to a million rolls of wallpaper a year. Despite this, they are not one of the county’s well-known businesses.

‘We are one of Lancashire’s little secrets,’ she said. ‘We are based down a back street and no one knows where are here yet we use a great deal of skill and craft in what is a unique process. People don’t realise how much blood, sweat and tears go into it.’

If Mr Potter could see them now, no doubt he would be just as proud as Abigail and the family.

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