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Scottish Paint Companies

Scottish Paint Companies Posted on 22 December 2022

Mixing paint at the Craig & Rose factory

Decorating Matters editor Neil Braidwood investigates two Scottish paint companies – Craig & Rose, which has been trading for almost 200 years, and the Isle of Skye Paint Company, which launched in 2015.

When James Craig and Hugh Rose joined forces to create a paint company in 1829, the motor car hadn’t been invented and there was no such thing as a postal service. 

The two men set up their premises in Leith, then a separate town from Edinburgh. The factory employed lots of local people, many of whom stayed at the firm for more than 60 years. 

In those days the raw pigment (lumps of ore) was ground or milled twice to get rid of any lumps. Craig & Rose took the milling process a stage further and ground the pigments three times to ensure the smoothest paint. It was for this reason that painters loved the product and it became the favourite paint of the trade. 

In 1888, the company won a prestigious contract to produce the distinctive red oxide paint for the Forth Rail Bridge, which opened in 1890. Craig & Rose paint became so associated with the bridge that the company even used the bridge as part of its logo. The long-running contract came to an end in 1999, when Network Rail decided to strip the structure back to bare metal and use a new two pack paint for the job. 

During both world wars, Craig & Rose churned out millions of gallons of battleship grey to paint the fleet for the Royal Navy. This was especially hard as linseed oil was difficult to come by. The company experimented with fish and wood oils to get the best product for the time.  

We spoke to Ed Brown, Technical Manager at Craig & Rose. 

“We have a saying here,” he says. “When you’re dipped in paint, you can’t escape.” 

And it’s true. Ed has been with the business 24 years and in the paint industry since 1979.

He explains: “I started at Federated Paints in Glasgow, then worked with raw materials at NL Chemicals in Livingston before joining Craig & Rose in 1998 as a Development Chemist. 

“It was quite an eye opener! The factory and offices were in Leith Walk then and the laboratory had oak workbenches. I had come from a relatively modern lab, so it seemed very old fashioned. 

“Around that time, the business was still in family ownership – five generations of Roses at the helm. But with two daughters who showed no interest in the business, the time had come to transform the
paint company.”

The owner sold the site in Leith and Craig & Rose moved to a purpose-built factory in Halbeath, near Dunfermline, in 2000. In 2016, the business was acquired by Dulux Australia and the company was rebranded. 

With that history to draw on, a Heritage range was launched showcasing 110 colours, many of which had come from early recipes. 

“We have had to adapt to the changing times,” Ed continues. “Lead in paint was discontinued in the 1970s and the push is now very much towards low volatile organic compounds (VOC). Our factory became entirely water based about two years ago. It’s worth mentioning that our 1829 range has achieved an A+ French Indoor Air Quality rating.

“We have delved into the archives to help out some historic houses recently. Barnbougle Castle in South Queensferry approached us in advance of a major refurbishment in 2018. To keep with the building requirements, we manufactured distemper made with chalk and size. It’s the most breathable of all the paints and perfect for a historic building.

“The painters all remarked on how lovely it was to work with, like painting with cream,” he laughs. “Being breathable, it reduces the likelihood of moisture being trapped in the building, which can lead to damp or condensation problems.”

Craig & Rose products are available in many of the big DIY stores such as B&Q and Homebase. The company opened two bespoke high street stores in 2018 and 2021 – aimed squarely at consumers who wanted to get some colour into their lives. 

Fiona Brown, Scottish Stores Manager, explains: “We have a showroom in Stockbridge in Edinburgh and another in Byres Road in Glasgow. Both our showrooms are hugely popular and we find that customers are very interested in our new Heritage range.

“Of course, our Heritage range has 110 colours, but if you want to stray off the colour chart, we have a book with more than 5,000 colours. All of these can be mixed in store.

“We can also arrange a colour consultant to visit a customer’s home and help them create mood boards which will help bring their vision to life. 

“Our Artisan range includes a concrete finish paint and a rust finish – both easy to use for a DIYer, but really easy for a qualified decorator to use. It’s our way of providing alternatives to the norm and as a decorator, you can offer these finishes to your customer and look like you’re ahead of the curve.”

Ed explains the rust finish paint in more detail: “Basically, there are real iron particles present in the paint. These sink to the bottom, so that when given a good stir, they are dispersed into the paint. Once two coats of the paint have been applied and allowed to dry for 12 hours, a clear solution is applied over the top which reacts with the iron to give a real rust effect.

“I always think it’s funny that for more than 100 years Craig & Rose made paint to stop the Forth Bridge rusting and now we make paint that rusts!”

Isle of Skye Paint Company – Portree

Isle of Skye Paint Company

As a painter and decorator, why would you put up with sub-standard paint? That’s the question Alasdair Campbell asked himself while working as a self-employed decorator on the Isle of Skye.

“I just knew that I could have a go at creating my own paint,” says Alasdair, “but it took a wee while before we got it off the ground.”

Alasdair’s father was a joiner and instilled in his son the need for a trade. “I did my apprenticeship at
16 in Skye and then after four years left the island for a job with Bell Group in Inverness. I was made redundant not long after. It was a case of last in first out.

“I went home and set myself up in business. Within 10 years I had 12 painters working for me and we had picked up a lot of lucrative contracts on the island. 

“My dream was to have a paint shop in Portree – I knew it would be a success – and I was thinking of the future too, as I didn’t want to be climbing up and down ladders every day. 

“We opened the store in 2012, and began stocking trade paints along with luxury brands such as Farrow and Ball. I liked what they were doing in terms of the colour schemes and the whole ethos, so I thought I could have a go too.” 

Alasdair did a lot of research into paint manufacturing and took some courses with the British Coatings Federation so that he knew what he was talking about. 

The next step was to find an independent chemist and together they began working on what would become the first in the range of the new Isle of Skye Paint Company. 

“We began with masonry paint – it’s something that I know a lot about, having painted many houses on the island. I wanted to create something that would apply well and last a long time. We used it to paint our first house in 2015, and it still looks pretty good today.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Alasdair’s paint range now has 45 shades in five different finishes.  

“Everything is vinyl/polymer based, but the plan is to move away from that to a more sustainable, eco-friendly style of paint,” explains Alasdair. 

Currently, the company only sells in the UK, with Scotland being the biggest market. Alasdair also has an exclusive arrangement with Hammill Decorating Services in Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, which has a specialised tinting machine capable of mixing any of the Isle of Skye Paint Company colours to order. 

“It means less waste,” says Alasdair. “They just need to mix up what the client wants, using neutral base colours in stock.

“We do have some great colours though,” he continues. “We mixed up this greeny blue colour and then set a competition on social media to name it. A photographer came back with an incredible picture he’d taken of some storm clouds just off Milovaig – an area on the west of Skye. It was exactly the same colour, so he named it Milovaig Storm.” 

Most of the palette is inspired by the landscape of the island and Alasdair has had some input too from an interior designer who came up with the initial 30 colours. The company also produces wallpaper now, with designs by Glasgow School of Art graduate Julia Clare. 

“Setting up the paint company has been all consuming,” laughs Alasdair. “I lost most of my 40s when I was in the thick of it all. I couldn’t have done it without the help and support from my wife Carol, who is also a director of the business. Paint’s been good to us – it’s helped feed the family – and hopefully it will continue to do so.”