Tag Archives: varnish

R.J. Hamer paints and varnishes

2 Miles Road
Varnish Paints

82 Church Road
Despatch Depot

Borough of Mitcham List of Factories,
Town Clerk’s Department,
July 1963.
Available at Merton Heritage and Local Studies Centre at Morden Library.
Reference L2 (670) MIT

1953 OS map

1953 OS map

Incorporating J.L. Fordham and Sons (est. 1837) – according to this newspaper ad in 1943 when the company’s protective paints and industrial finishes were mainly being produced for the war effort, but limited quantities were still available for Approved Essential Purposes. Two of their products named were ‘Pedigree’ Hard Drying Enamel Gloss Paint and ‘Perfecto’ Washable Water Paint.

8th June 1943

8th June 1943


1972 phone book Hamer

From the 1961 Kelly’s directory:

Manufacturers of “Aristocrat” Enamels & Syntheic Finishes.
“Pedigree” Hard Drying Gloss Paint & Varnishes,
“Perfecto” Water Paint, Japans, Lacquers, & Industrial Finishes.

From the minutes of Mitcham Borough Council:


—The committee received the following report from the Chief Sanitary Inspector

— To the Chairman and Members of the Finance and General Purposes Committee.

May 18, 1937.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Re complaint of fumes from Hamer’s varnish factory, Miles Road, I have made observation in Frimley Gardens as follows:-

May 10th at 11 a.m., no fumes, plant working;
May 13th at 11.45 a.m. to 11.55 a.m., very slight fumes;
May 13th at 3 p.m. to 3.10 p.m., very slight fumes, plant working;
May 14th at 11.30 a.m., no fumes, plant working;
May 15th at 11 a.m., no fumes, plant working;
May 18th ay 11.25 a.m., very slight fumes, plant working.

I have interviewed Mr. Bett, of Messrs. Hamer and Sons, on May 18, 1937, re this complaint and inspected the factory. Mr. Bett informed me that slight fume was unavoidable when the pots were moved. He also said he would be pleased to show any member of the Council the plant in operation.

I am of opinion that by the installation of the plant Messrs. Hamer and Sons have used the best practical means of abating the nuisance.

Yours obediently,
Chief Sanitary Inspector.

Resolved, That the Sanitary Inspector be asked to keep these Premises under further observation, and to submit a further report thereon to the Public Health Committee.

Source: Proceedings of the Council and committees, Mitcham Borough Council, Volume 3 1936-37

Minutes of meetings held by the Mitcham Borough Council are available on request from the Merton Heritage and Local Studies Centre at Morden Library.

Maps are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Varnish for Maps

Of the companies listed in the 1911 commercial directory of Mitcham, 17 of these were varnish manufacturers.

One of the uses of varnish was as a waterproof coating for maps, as described in this article from 1913.

Waterproof Varnish for Cardboard.

If cardboard is painted with celluloid varnish nice, smooth, washable surface results. This is the varnish with which almost all maps, for land or marine use, are superficially coated, as well as drawings and manuscripts subject to much handling and varying degrees of atmospheric tumidity, even to wetting. The varnishing is effected, either coating the cardboard with the aid of a flat brush and drying in the air, or by dipping. Papers that have been varnished in this way gain after drying 40 to 50 per cent, in strength, and cardboard so treated is perfectly washable, without warping subsequently. Moreover, the coating of celluloid varnish permits the bending of the cardboard in any direction, for it is elastic enough not to break.

Celluloid varnish is made by dissolving celluloid in amyl acetate. The emulsion can be cleaned from waste roll photographic film, and the resultant clean celluloid used. It is simply cut into small bits, placed in the amyl acetate, and allowed to dissolve, shaking occasionally. The usual formula calls for 120 to 150 grains of celluloid to 16oz. of the acetate. But the exact proportion does not matter particularly. Made according to the formula, it is rather too thick, and requires too long to dry. The best way is to let the acetate dissolve about all the celluloid it will take up, and then add nearly enough alcohol to double the bulk of the solution. If too much is added, there will be some of the celluloid thrown down. Made in this way it is much cheaper, dries much quicker, and flows better, being thinner.

—“ Camera Craft.”

Source: Sheffield Weekly Telegraph – Saturday 15 February 1913 from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)

1883 Destructive Fire at Varnish Factory

Surrey Mirror – Saturday 17 November 1883

Destructive Fire at Mitcham.

—Up to a late hour on Wednesday night the Croydon, Wimbledon, Sutton, Carshalton, and Tooting Fire Brigade were engaged at a destructive fire that had broken out at a varnish factory, situated at Westfield, Bath-road, Mitcham, and in the occupation of Messrs. James Crease and Sons, 29, Cow-cross, Smithfield, E.C. The call was conveyed through the police to the Croydon Corporation Brigade at 4.27 p.m., and when Superintendent Tennuei arrived with a steamer, fully manned, he found the building comprising a block, measuring 50ft. by 40ft., in flames, it was at once seen that there was no hope of of saving the boiler, running-off, finishing, and store rooms, and although engines arrived from the above mentioned stations in quick succession, the factory was destroyed with its contents. The fire was caused by the upsetting of a turpentine pot. Henry Fillsars, aged 39 years, the foreman of the works, and William Skelton, a workman, were badly burned about the face and hands, and removed to their homes. The damage is estimated at between £1500 and £2000. The building is insured.

1. Henry Fellows, not Fillsars, is listed in 1881 census living in Bath Road as an ‘Oil and Colourman’

John Robert Nicholls

Varnish manufacturer, see Nicholl’s Varnish Factory

Sussex Agricultural Express – Tuesday 23 October 1877

Assaulting an Old Man

JOHN Nichols, varnish manufacturer, Bath-road, Mitcham, was ordered to give John Adams, of Queen’s-road, Mitcham, 5s. for assaulting him on Oct. 19th, and to pay 5s. costs.—It appeared that complainant was gathering dandylions on Mr. Bridges’s land, when defendant came up, took his bag, and gave it to a dog he had with him. Complainant asked defendant to give it him back, when he used bad language to him, and when he asked defendant again for the bag, struck him in the head, and knocked him down, causing him to be insensible, and then struck him several times. Defendant also took his fork away, and threw it on to other premises, so he lost it.

—By Mr. Parry (who appeared for defendant): The dog did not take his bag, and he (complainant) did not threaten to run his fork through the dog.

Death reported in Sutton Advertiser of 13th September 1890


-With deep regret we have to record the death of the above-named gentleman, which took place on Thursday afternoon at 4.30. Deceased, who was in his 61st year, started life at what is known as the bottom of the ladder, and by his own industry, business-like habits, and far-sightedness raised himself to the position of a well-to-do market-gardener. He has filled nearly all the local public offices, and was at the time of his death Chairman of the Board of Way-wardens for the Croydon district, a Guardian of the poor, and a Lighting Inspector for the parish of Mitcham. Though perhaps not so eloquent as some of his colleagues, his practical experience was of great service on many occasions to the Rural Sanitary Authority, and he will be much missed by that body. Mr. Nicholls had been ailing for some considerable time, but had only been confined to his house for about five weeks. The death of his wife, which occurred about two years since, was a severe blow from which he never really recovered. Among the workpeople, by whom he was warmly esteemed as a kind and just employer, he will be sorely missed. As the arrangements at present stand the funeral will take place on Monday next.

Funeral reported in Sutton Advertiser of 20th September 1890


—On Monday afternoon the mortal remains of Mr. John R. Nicholls were interred in the family vault in the Parish Churchyard, wherein just over two years ago Mrs. Nicholls was laid. Mr. Nicholls was formerly a member of the Mitcham School Board, and for many years he has been one of the Guardians for the parish. He was also a very large employer of labour, and that he was popular with his neighbours was proved by the immense gathering at the grave-side on Monday. The coffin, which was of polished oak with brass fittings, bore on the breast-plate the simple inscription, “John Robert Nicholls, died 11th September, 1890, aged 60 years.” It was conveyed on an open car, and was completely hidden by floral tributes from many friends. The chief mourners were Messrs. Harry and Frederick Nicholls (the sons), Mr. W. Reading (son-in-law), and there were also present Messrs. G. Carter Morrison, W. Baldwin (Clapham), John Wallis, F. G. Samson, G. W. Dennis (Croydon), J. Howell (Epsom}, F. G. Lawson, Maxwell, J. W. Clarke (Buck’s Head), Richard Price, S. W. Reading, W. Mears (Singlegate), Ellis, Woodward, Haydon, Steel, Deady, H. Newman, Masters, Harwood, Hodges, Green, Dr. Smith, R. Slater, Allen, Mizen, Drewett, Thorne, Boyce, Roox, and many others. The first portion of the service was conducted by the Vicar in the church, and completed by him at the grave-side. The funeral arrangements were entrusted to Messrs. T. H. Ebbutt & Son, of Croydon.

Cock Chimney Factory in Batsworth Road

A local landmark in Batsworth Road, off Church Road, Mitcham. It is possible it may have been built in mid 19th century. The land was sold to London Borough of Merton in late 1960s, and the area is now occupied by a trading estate.

The firm of Donald Macpherson occupied the site until 1969, and the chimney had their brand ‘Foochow’ in letters running down the side of the chimney. Macpherson was started in 1884 as a paint, varnish and Chinese lacquer business, based in Manchester. The company’s telegram address was ‘Foochow, Manchester’.

Macphersons Trade Paints became part of the Crown Paints Group in 2008.

The chimney was first mentioned in Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter – Saturday 17 August 1889 from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)

Fatal Fall from a Chimney.

—An inquest was held at the Mortuary on Saturday last before Mr. R. D. Muir, deputy coroner, and a jury, concerning the death of Thomas H. Haslam, 25, Cow Cross-street, St. Luke’s, an engineer’s fitter. It appeared that on the previous Thursday the deceased, with a labourer, was sent to some repairs to what is known the “Cock” chimney at a varnish factory in Church-lane, and, having engaged lodgings at 15, Holmwood-road, proceeded to inspect the shaft.

Having ascended to some considerable height, deceased by some means lost his hold and fell with great force to the bottom.

Medical aid was summoned, and the man removed to his lodgings, where expired the same night.

The jury having viewed the body and having heard the medical and other evidence, and the Deputy-Coroner very carefully summed up, a verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned.

1945 ad

Donald Macpherson co. Ltd., Cock Chimney Works, Mitcham (paint manufacturers), require the following clerical staff: 2 Invoice Clerks. Order Clerks, Shorthand-Typists, Telephone Operator; good post-war prospects, possibility of advancement. Please reply to the above address or telephone for appointment, Mitcham 2963.

Source: Surrey Advertiser – Saturday 13 January 1945 from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)

aerial photo from 1947 and 1952 OS map

aerial photo from 1947 and 1952 OS map

Merton Memories Photos
JJ Schweizer

From the phone book



In the 1896 street directory, listed as John Jacob Schweizer, varnish manufacturer.


1912 to 1914

1915 Heyl phone

1915 and 1916


1919 to 1921







From the minutes of the
Town Planning and Development Committee
31st October 1968


– The Borough Surveyor reported that the Cock Chimney Works, which occupied four detached sites in Batsworth Road and Chapel Road comprising a total area of approximately 1.56 acres, had been offered for sale to the Council. He explained that the works were situated in an area allocated primarily for industrial use in the Initial Development Plan, but which had been re-allocated primarily for residential use in the First Review of the Plan now before the Minister of Housing and Local Government. He reported: —

(i) that the works were within an area at present being studied with a view to environmental improvement and adjoined other property which had been purchased by the Council, or its predecessors. for ultimate redevelopment for residential purposes;

(ii) that, to implement planning objectives in the area, the acquisition of the works had to be firstly considered from a town planning point of view and secondly as a prospective housing site; and

(iii) upon the estimated cost of acquiring other properties in the neighbourhood to form a viable site for residential redevelopment and on the likely housing gain which would be achieved.

Resolved – That the Borough Surveyor be authorised to negotiate terms for the purchase of the Cock Chimney Works and requested to report further to a subsequent meeting.

Source: Minutes of Proceedings of the Council and committees, London Borough of Merton, Volume 5 1968-69, page 806

Minutes of meetings held by the Mitcham Borough Council are available on request from the Merton Heritage and Local Studies Centre at Morden Library.

Maps are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

1911 Letter to Fire Brigade from WT Bigsby and Sons

From the minutes of the Mitcham Parish Council, 27th June, 1911

Report of the No. 1 Fire Brigade Committee.


Mr. A. Mizen (Chairman)

Mr. G. H. Barson
Mr. E. Birch
Mr. W. M. Bland
Mr. J. R. Chart
Mr. G. J. Dale
Mr. A. Dendy
Mr. J. D. Drewett
Mr. J. M. Leather
Mr. H. Mount
Mr. W. H. Parslow
Rev. R. Richman

Meeting held 27th June, 1911

The Committee beg to report the receipt of a letter of thanks from Messrs. Bigsby & Sons for the services rendered by the Brigade:

Dear Captain Jenner,

I take this, the earliest opportunity after the Coronation holidays, of thanking you on behalf of our firm for the splendid efforts you made in preventing the spreading of the fire at our premises. It was due in a great measure to the fact that both your No. 1 and No. 2 companies have apparently been in the habit of fighting fires at Varnish Factories that no greater loss occurred, and that you were able to limit the fire to the building in which the fire originally broke out.

We must certainly compliment you on having a most efficient staff under your control. We think that the Insurance Companies who carry our insurance have much to thank you for, as had it not been for the efforts of your Brigades, the remaining building of the block which contained a gum stock of £4,000 to £5,000, and about 60,000 gallons varnish, would most certainly have caught fire and nothing then would have saved them.

We therefore beg you to convey on our behalf our thanks to your fire committee and to each individual member of your brigades, for their efforts in putting out the fire last Wednesday.

Faithfully yours,

W. T. Bigsby & Son,
per J. A. Bigsby

Details of the fire were reported in the Croydon Guardian and Surrey County Gazette – Saturday 24 June 1911:

Workman Burnt to Death.

A fire with fatal results broke out at W. T. Bigsby Sons’ varnish works, Morden-road, Mitcham, on Wednesday afternoon. At about 1.30 a man named Ebenezer Symes, aged 49, years, who had worked at Bigsby’s 30 years, was pouring oil into one the varnish vats, to prevent boiling over, when the varnish overflowed upon him, setting his clothes in flames. Some comrades hastened to his assistance, and attempted to extinguish the flames by means of hand pumps.

Meanwhile the building had caught on fire, and alarms had been raised. The Fire Brigades of Mitcham, Morden, Merton, Carshalton, Sutton, and Wallington were all in attendance, but the building was practically gutted, the damage exceeding £2,000.

Symes, who was horribly burnt, was at first thought be dead, but he was, in fact, alive, and was conveyed to the Croydon Hospital. Here, the unfortunate man passed away on Thursday morning.

Minutes of meetings held by the Mitcham Borough Council are available on request from the Merton Heritage and Local Studies Centre at Morden Library.

WW1 – Varnish for aircraft wings suggested in 1911

Flight Magazine 11th August, 1911


It is really strange that no one in England has yet invented a really satisfactory fabric varnish, for there would no doubt be a considerable market for a preparation that would render ordinary cotton material air proof, damp proof, and impervious to the rotting effect of the castor oil that habitually soaks those surfaces in the wake of the engine exhaust, that would reduce the skin friction of the fabric and have the effect of shrinking, and so tightening it when applied after the fabric is in position.

Quite noticeable was the difference in the condition of the fabric on the wings of Beaumont’s and Vedrines’ machines after their 1,000-mile arduous journey round Britain. On the wings of Beaumont’s monoplane the fabric had become stretched and baggy, so much so in fact that many would have deemed it inadvisable to have used the wings again before they had either been recovered or the fabric reapplied.

Although Bleriot uses undoubtedly one of the best of rubberised fabrics, this sagging can only be accounted for by the assertion that rubber, although excellent in some respects, is by no means the best proofing agent it is possible to use, as it is as susceptible, and probably more so, to extremes of atmospheric temperature and humidity as is the fabric itself.

Again, it is universally known that oil and grease have a deleterious effect on rubber, and one would have thought that for this reason, if for no other, constructors and others interested would have sought out a means of further protecting the fabric on those surfaces, to the rear of a machine, that are constantly receiving a shower of finely divided oil.

Vedrines’ wings were, on the other hand, in as good condition as the day they were made. The high-toned drum-like sound, when the fabric was snapped with the finger, indicated that all the adverse conditions of sun, wind and rain had not altered its character in the slightest. The tail planes too, although covered with a film of oil were, none the less, tightly stretched and by merely wiping them with a petrol-soaked rag all traces of castor oil could be effectively removed.

The varnish that is used to treat the Morane wings is colourless and transparent, and is applied after the fabric is stretched over the wing skeleton. Its application, in addition to shrinking the fabric, has the effect of embedding the rough weft and warp of the material, thus presenting a perfectly smooth surface, and consequently diminishing skin friction. The base of the varnish is singularly like celluloid as far as outward appearance is concerned, but it is hardly likely to be of this inflammable material.

It has occurred to the writer that in more than a few instances the cabri flying of a much used Farman could be traced to the oil- saturated condition of the tail planes. Would it not be a much better plan in such a case to treat the tail fabric so that the oil could be easily removed instead of adopting the usual expedient of increasing its angle of incidence, and so diminishing its efficiency ?

Both the Nieuport and the Deperdussin firms in the manufacture of their machines treat not only the supporting surfaces, but also the covered-in fuselages, with a preparation that is marketed in France under the style of “Emaillite,” which is in effect similar to the Morane composition, with the exception that instead of being colourless it is of a brownish tint.