A brief history of machine-printed wallpaper

1 comment

Woodchip & Magnolia

Woodchip & Magnolia is a small family-run business based in the picturesque village of Darwen, Lancashire in the UK. Coincidentally (or not! Maybe wallpaper runs in our bloodstream...), Darwen also happens to be the birthplace of modern wallpaper production, and the 'Potters' the family who paved the way. We thought we'd give you a little history lesson (we'll keep it brief!) on machine-printed wallpaper and how it came to be...

Who were the Potters?

The Potters were the family who set up Potters & Co. wallpaper manufacturing. They were the first to adapt machinery on anything more than an experimental level when it came to producing wallpaper. They embraced it with unfaltering keenness and passed the ability down through generations of Potters family members;

A.V. Sugden and E.A. Entwisle, "It is the fashion in some quarters to regard machine-made articles as lacking the hallmark of art. It may be conceded that the work of the craftsman possess a quality which no machine can impart. At the same time, provided design is good, material suitable, and execution skilful, machinery can and does produce articles with sufficient beauty to satisfy even the fastidious - with this advantage over handicraft, that its products are not limited to the possession of the fortunate few but bring pleasure to the million." Potters of Darwen; A Century of Wallpaper Printing by Machinery.

How did they get into wallpaper printing?

The printing of calico first came to Manchester in 1776 by James Greenway. His daughter married John Potter (fun fact: he was also the uncle of Beatrix Potter) whose sons Charles, Harold and Edwin then went on to found Potter & Co. wallpaper in 1840.

How was wallpaper made before machines?

Before the advent of modern machine-printed wallpaper, paper was produced in sheets of limited sizes using only a block-press, and was mostly produced in London. What the Potters in the North of England did was adapt machinery based on the technique of calico printing. They were well-positioned in Darwen, not far from an ample supply of suitable water needed in wallpaper production at the time, and in 1838, with the help of a foreman machine printer called Walmsley Preston, they adapted the principles of calico machines to the needs of wallpaper production. The principle taken from calico printing was the idea of a roller printing machine; this method is still used today and is known as surface printing.

What did they do once they had adapted the machine?

By 1839 they were so successful in their attempts to adapt the machinery, that they applied for letters patent to protect their continuous length printing invention. Around 1845, the Potters added block printing to their business to keep up with the demand for higher grade paper, and thus paved the way for machine-produced wallpaper.

What happened after that?

Anaglypta is one of the most well-known variations of wallpaper and is a heavily embossed design. It was developed and sold by C & J G Potter and Company of Darwen, but is these days manufactured in Morecambe using a slightly different method to the original.

Since then wallpaper has gone from strength to strength, with all sorts of patterns, designs, materials, textures and production methods used. It's the perfect way to bring colour, pattern and warmth into our homes, and the way it's manufactured these days, means it's widely available and has become easier than ever to DIY.

We're so proud of our heritage here at Woodchip & Magnolia, and are honoured to be a part of the wallpaper landscape in Darwen; the home of wallpaper and the home of Woodchip & Magnolia.

1 comment

  • Val

    Really enjoyed reading your story.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.