Manders were once a well known paint and ink manufacturer whose products sold both at home and abroad. The company was at the forefront of the paint and ink manufacturing business and held many patents for innovative inventions and manufacturing techniques, thanks to extensive research and development.

Manders took over several other companies and became a large local employer with a workforce of  around 1,000. The company's products were second to none and became well known for their quality and reliability.

George Cox worked at Manders Heath Town factory for 42 years, starting on the shop floor and ending up as a senior manager. His memories provide us with an important insight into life at the works and the methods used for the manufacture of paints and printing inks.


I came out of the forces in 1945 and joined the police force, during which time I had my first encounter with Sir Charles Mander. I was based at Red Lion Street Police Station, and whilst on duty I saw a car parked on the wrong side of Darlington Street, opposite Beatties.

In those days cars had to park on one side of the road one week, and the other side the next week. The owner was Sir Charles Mander. I walked over and said “Good afternoon Sir, you have been parked on the wrong side of the road for 2½ hours”. Sir Charles replied “Oh yes constable, I had a meeting with the borough engineer at Barnhurst, we are having some changes you see.” I replied “I am sorry but you are parked on the wrong side of the road. I shall have to take your name and address. Have you got your driving licence?” He said “No I haven’t got it”, to which I replied “OK can you see that you take it to your local police station within the next 48 hours”. Sir Charles handed me a pen to write the details in my notebook and said “Constable you can use that, it’s a biro pen, it writes underwater. I paid £2.10s for that”. That’s the first time I ever saw a biro.

As a result Sir Charles was taken to court but wasn’t present. I had to be there to give evidence. He was fined £2. Six weeks later I was working for him but he didn’t realise that. Someone however told one of his nephews who came to me and said “You prosecuted my uncle didn’t you.” To which I said “yes”.

The Ink Department

I started at Heath Town in March 1946 in the ink department as a shop floor operator making printing ink on a 3 roll mill.

3 roll mills in the ink department at Heath Town.

The mixed powders and ingredients were put into a pan and poured onto the rollers in the mill, where they were thoroughly ground. A knife pressed against the mill to remove the ink, which went through the mill 3 or 4 times, depending upon the type of ink.

Each time, the supervisor tested a small batch of the ink which was sold by weight, and so finally weighed out on scales to 2lb, 4lb, or whatever. In the early days the ink pigment was soot.

There was also the liquid ink department, an offshoot of the ink department, where non-poisonous inks were produced for such things as food wrappers.

A 3 roll mill.

The Paint Department

In 1954 I moved to the paint department to become supervisor over the ball mills, which made the paint. I was supervisor over the four men who made the bulk of the paint. There were 6 ball mills. Five of them made 250 gallons at a time and the other made 500 gallons. When I first started, 45 percent of each mill was filled with 2inch and 1inch seaside pebbles, formed from hard rock. Every day the mills were emptied and refilled.

White paint in the main is titanium oxide which was mined in Norway and France. Most of ours came from Norway and was shipped to Grimsby. When it’s first mined it is as black as the ace of spades. It is then calcinated, or cooked, and burned to a powder which turns it white.

The ball mills.

Today it’s used in all sorts of things such as face powder, and I think it’s used to colour bread. White paint also contains varnish, white spirit and extenders such as china clay. The extenders reduce the amount of titanium oxide that is used.

Titanium oxide on its own would make the paint so expensive to produce that you would never sell it. The laboratory had to decide how much titanium oxide we could use and how much extender to use without spoiling the product.

The production department and warehouse staff. Courtesy of George Cox.

Paint also contains lethasin which is made from ground nuts. We used to buy-in 40 gallon drums, it looked like apricot jam. When added to the paint it kept the pigment in suspension, preventing it from dropping to the bottom of the tin.

We made our paint a little thinner so that it was easy to apply, but without reducing its covering properties. Manders paint was as good as any other.

Manders annual supervisory dinner at the Molineux Hotel in 1954. I had been appointed as a supervisor in the paint department in the early part of that year. Courtesy of George Cox.

George from the above photograph.

If we were making reds, greens, browns or blacks we added liquid dies to the mill. Other dies would be added later by the tinters to produce the right colour.

The mixers put the pigment, varnish, and spirit etc. into the manhole then clamped the lid on ready for grinding.

The mill then ran for 18 hours. The next day a sample would be taken and I would check it to see that all of the particles of pigment were fully covered with varnish and spirit. I checked it with a Heckman gauge. If it wasn’t ready the mill had to keep on running.

As the years went by the pebbles were replaced by ½inch and 1inch steatite balls. The smaller balls had more touching points and so allowed the running time to be reduced to 6 hours, so that two lots of paint could be produced each day.

The ball mills were very noisy, the middle mill contained 2½ tons of steel balls, which sent me deaf.

The pigment eventually became finer and finer so that grinding wasn’t necessary and you could mix the paint in a vessel. Grinding was then only necessary for strong colours.

Presented with my 25 years long service award. Philip Mander is in the centre and George Cox is on the right. Courtesy of George Cox.

After milling, the paint was then dropped into the mixing vessels where it was tinted. There were 6 tinting staff, called tinters, who tinted the paint to the right colour. Pastel colours all started off as white. We made 132 colours. Before the paint went into the tins a sample would be sent to the laboratory to check the colour and the standard. The paint would then be put into portable filling machines and the tins would be filled by a staff of 30 people.

If a strong colour, say red had been milled, the mill would be cleaned back to white. We put in white pigment, powders, varnish, and spirit. It not only cleaned the vessel but made red primer. When we made black, and the mill was cleaned back to white, we again added the white pigment etc. and produced grey undercoat. We did still however have to put some spirit into the mill afterwards to properly clean it before its next use.

Heath Town Works.

The paint industry revolutionised painting and decorating. When painters and decorators first started, a decorator would be called to a house to do a job. The lady of the house would state which colour she wanted and the decorator would return to his premises to mix the paint. It was made from white lead, a dangerous substance. He had various colours and would mix the paint to the lady’s requirements. This all took a lot of time and he didn’t get paid until he started to decorate after she had accepted the colour.

This all changed when paint manufacturers began to produce a wide range of colours which they supplied directly to the decorators.

A water paint mill using a stone wheel.

Around 1954 we made our first emulsion paint. Before emulsion we made water paint called “Aqualine” which was made in an edge runner, like a great big round pan 2ft deep and 8ft diameter. Inside a big stone wheel ran round to grind the paint.

The first emulsion was white and our first 250 gallons were given to our best customers. It was made in the water paint department and became very successful. Everybody used gloss paint outside, in kitchens, and in bathrooms because emulsion wasn’t suitable.

As years went by the paint improved and could be used anywhere, even outdoors. Emulsion then took over from much of the gloss. Manders always kept at the forefront of the technology, they had a good staff. The technical laboratory did research into both paint and ink.

The Paint Warehouse

In 1960 I moved to the paint warehouse to become the paint warehouse manager. There were 40 people in the warehouse where paint tins were put onto wooden pallets, each containing 100 tins.

Large volumes of paint were going through there. By December 1961 Manders had made 500,000 gallons of paint. Ten years later the company made its millionth gallon of paint.

The paint warehouse staff in 1964. Courtesy of George Cox.

The paint warehouse.
Another view of the paint warehouse.
The paint department production team in 1964. Courtesy of George Cox.
Paint department and warehouse managers and supervisors.

Courtesy of George Cox who can be seen 2nd from the left on the front row.

Some of the cottages in John Street that were demolished as the works expanded. Courtesy of George Cox.
I occasionally went to the old John Street works in the centre of Wolverhampton. The offices were on the left hand side of the street, as you went down from Dudley Street and the varnish works were opposite.

At that time the works were very old fashioned.

The works closed in the early 1960s and production moved to Heath Town.

Varnish making and my later years
Manders had their own range of varnish, first produced in 40 gallon lots. In 1820 the company started to make church pew varnish which did well because it wasn’t sticky, so the congregation didn’t stick to the seats.

It was also sold to the Queen for use as carriage varnish, for which it got the Royal Diploma.

Early varnish makers were called “gum runners”. They made varnish in a vessel which stood partly below the ground and was heated with gas burners. The men put in spirit, and varnish, and boiled it up to temperature. The thickness depended upon the temperature. When they were experienced they could spit into the liquid to tell when it was ready. They stirred the contents with a wooden paddle, a very dangerous process.

Early varnish making.

The company used to make a range of 30 or 40 different varnishes, but many were similar so the range was reduced to 8, 9, or 10.
The old methods of producing varnish were still in use at Manley & Company in Lower Horseley Fields in the mid 1950s as can be seen from the photograph on the left.
When varnish was made at Heath Town, 500 or 1,000 gallon batches were pumped into storage tanks on the top floor through a pipe line. The varnish was then poured into portable 100 gallon vortex mixers before being put into tins.
In 1894 Manders opened the Wednesfield Works in Well Lane, and later built the Heath Town works on the site where a munitions factory produced phosphorous poison gas during the First World War. 

The works officially opened in 1931 and were extended over the years.

Heath Town Works.

In World War 2 camouflage paint was produced for the ministry in 10 gallon drums.

  Combination plant used to manufacture white
When I first joined, several members of the Mander family were directors. There was Sir Charles Mander, Sir Geoffrey Mander, Vivian Mander, Philip Mander, and Gerald Mander.

Philip Mander died on a train from London. He was a nice chap who would talk to you. His sister married Bill Purslow who became the Works Director.

Geoffrey Mander started the Joint Works Council in 1944, after Ernie Bevan started the 40 hour week. They used to meet in the offices. There were the representatives of managers, supervisors, shop floor operators, and the senior shop steward. I was on it as a supervisor, but it died a death when Geoffrey died. We then had individual departmental meetings.

In 1967 I became works manager when the previous works manager Alan Capstick moved to the ink department as Ink Director. He later returned to the paint department as Paint Director. I stayed in the job until I retired in 1988.

I went to the works last year and saw that little was left. It was very sad. So much has been demolished and altered.

An advert from 1953.

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