This is one of a series of articles published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 7th April 1997 (p.7), and reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The series is now available as a fully-illustrated paperback, published in 2006 by Wildtrack Publishing of Sheffield (ISBN 1-904098-01-0)


The manufacture of paint has progressed from an early secret art to an advanced chemical industry strongly dependent upon synthetic materials.

The basic constituents of a fluid paint are a solid pigment, to give colour, in a liquid vehicle such as a drying oil or water solution. The industrial revolution introduced the use of water-powered grinding mills for pigment manufacture, the raw material being pulverised to a powder between millstones and sieved to the necessary fineness. Actual paint mills produced a stiff paste from the pigments and liquid medium, ground between two circular millstones ready to be thinned to a working consistency.

Some records make it difficult to differentiate between colour grinding mills and paint mills; for instance a 'paint grinding' mill formerly stood by Viator's Bridge in Milldale, whereas the Goytsclough Mill, powered by the Deep Clough stream and now demolished, was recorded as a 'paintmill'.

Pigments could originally be obtained only from naturally occurring substances, some of which were common to the Peak and were discovered in connection with lead mining activities. Along with alum, copper and zinc, lead has been one of the main metallic pigments. The mines of Bradwell produced white lead - the common name for lead carbonate, sought as a white pigment for paint since the 4th century BC. The use of basic lead sulphate, known as sublimed white lead, dates from only the mid-19th century.

One source of red pigment was red lead, important too in the manufacture of anti-corrosion paints for its rust inhibiting properties. A description of manufacture in the Castleton area appears in A Family Tour through the British Empire (1812); 'the melted lead being first exposed to the open air, the surface is soon covered with a dusky skin, which is taken off and succeeded by others, till the greatest part of the lead is changed to a yellowish green powder. This is afterwards ground fine, then washed and dried, and thrown back into the furnace, where, by stirring it, so as to expose every part of it to the air, it becomes red lead'.

Throughout the 19th century red lead was produced in Bonsall Dale by the Via Gellia Plant and Colour Company, an extensive concern which by 1893 was powered by both steam and a 32' water wheel. A wide range of colours was manufactured and another department specialised in grinding paints in oil. The company had a healthy export market and around 1905 expanded into the former Ashford marble mill.


A blackish-brown pigment was obtained from the ore of manganese, known as 'black wad' in the Peak where it occurred in mines at Alport, Brushfield, Elton, Great Longstone, Hartington, Hopton, Matlock Bath, Monsal Dale, Parwich, Winster and Youlgreave. Around 1830 it was being recovered in small quantities from Carsington Hill mine.

Black wad pigment produced an oil colour for outdoor use, especially useful for buildings and for ships of the British navy. This Matlock Bath, Monsal Dale, Parwich, Winster and Youlgreave. Around 1830 it was being recovered in small quantities from Carsington Hill mine. Black wad pigment produced an oil colour for outdoor use, especially useful for buildings and for ships of the British navy. This application of manganese ore was attributed to a Winster man by the name of Dawson, who supposedly reported his discovery to the Admiralty. When Glover's Derbyshire Gazetteer was published in 1829, the ore was at that time being processed at a kiln or furnace at Wensley.

Barytes, known in the Peak as 'cauk' or 'cawk', found use as an extender pigment, giving improved brushing and storage qualities. It is still an essential component in many paints, especially for priming and sealing purposes. In the 19th century, millions of tons were extracted from Bradwell lead mines, especially from the New York vein and Moor Furlong mines. Cauk was washed at a colour mill in Monsal Dale, the lead then sorted out and the barytes prepared for use as a pigment.

Around 1840 a cupola was built at the former Lord's Smelt mill at Stoney Middleton for the crushing of barytes. Cadster Mill at Chapel en le Frith also ground barytes and was in operation as a paint and colour works in 1857. In 1850 a stone crushing mill at Lumsdale began producing lead-based materials for the paint making industry. Some ten years later a disused cotton mill at Brough was converted for the manufacture of white, grey and red lead. The works was later extended by a smelting mill and refinery.

Moving into more recent times, in 1921 a paint and dye factory took over much of the Cromford Mill site. The Arkwright Society, having purchased the site in 1979, has had to carry out a major decontamination scheme in order to restore the buildings to use.

The lone survivor of the Peak's pigment manufacturers is Viaton. Their High Tor Works on the Derwent in Matlock Bath was originally established for mining iron ore but after this was worked out in 1850 the waterwheel was used to grind white lead. At the end of the century the Via Gellia Colour Company took over, installing a turbine to drive four pairs of Peak stones which for the next twenty years ground iron oxide. Then bone char, the waste product from sugar refining, was ground until the late 1960s. Today Viaton concentrates on blending pre-ground chemically-produced colour products for use in paving slabs and other cementitious products.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 7th April 1997.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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