50 Years of Paperhanging By Ray Harris – Part Two

Hand Operated machine trimmers were used by wallpapers merchants. These were very often young assistants who very often did not get the trimming accurate enough, so you would be in trouble!! Surface preparation was essential to obtain a good paperhanging surfacing. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, some surfaces were highly suspect which then meant that the surface had to be hung horizontally with lining paper first and then vertically with lining  finished paper. In the 1960’s, wallpaper manufacturers began pre-trimming wallpaper and wrapping each roll in cellophane. This was a big step forward, and the only papers that needed trimming then were the hand prints, but even there are pre-trimmed and wrapped today.

The advent of vinyl, and blown vinyl papers have greatly improved the quality of wall hangings.

In 1967 I was appointed lecturer in Painting and Decorating at a college of further education, rising to senior lecturer by the time I  retired in 1995. During this time I made a visit to Leyland Wallpapers with other lecturers. Whilst we were touring the factory, a machine broke down which enabled us to see the various stages of printing. I collected several pieces of the papers and put together the four stages of printing. The finished paper was dark brown but the initial ‘ground’ colour printed all over was light green.

Unfortunately, these samples were thrown away but they created a lot of interest as to which colour would be printed first. I also obtained a pre-war pattern book, but again, it was unfortunatly thrown away.

I always say my that my only ‘claim to fame’, was that I had worked in the house that Jack Whittle, the inventor of the Jet Engine lived in at the time, which was then owned by a colonel Gadsby

As in all trades there are always jokes being told, one was a client who complained that she could see the joins in the paper, the hanger replied, ‘ Lady, wallpaper is like an oil painting, the further away you are, the better it looks’!.

And – A lady rang the decorating company to say ‘ If the paperhanger has lost is cap, he would find it underneath her wallpaper!’ (refering to the ‘bubbles’ in the paper.

Ray Harris




50 Years of Paperhanging by Ray Harris – Part One

I started as an Apprentice Decorator in the late 1940’s. For the first two years I made tea, shopped for cigarettes, applied primer and undercoat, then was eventually allowed to paste for the paperhanger, being told distinctly “Dont miss any, and dont get any paste on the face of the paper”.

Starch based pasties were the only types available, cold water mix for lightweight papers, hot water mix for the heavier papers. To mix hot water paste, the powder was mixed first with a small amount of tepid water, and then boiling water was added. It was a ‘knack’ you developed because until you got it right the paste would would not thicken.

Cellulose pasties came in about ‘the late 1950’s’, they were easy to mix, did not go stale, and did not stain if you got any on the face of the paper. ‘Polycell’ was the main brand, ‘Solvite’ was quite a bit stronger. Ready mixed adhesives appeared in the 1960’s.

When I was twenty years old I attended a one week course at the sanderson school of paperhanging. The lecturer was a Mr L.G Shepherd who wrote a pocket hand book titled ‘Paperhanging’.

Sandersons had recently reprinted the striking and expensive handprint for the renovation of the house of commons in 1953, and which still hangs there today. We were given about half a roll of this paper to hang.

By the age of 23, I was becoming quite good at paperhanging, doing simple jobs for my employer, but gaining a lot of experience carring out work for friends and relatives. If you mastered the art of hanging ceiling paper, it was actually easier than papering walls, as you only had light fittings to cut round. The main specification for ceilings was ‘line and whiten’. This meant hanging grade W480 or 600 to the surface and apply one good coat of whitewash, a reasonably cheap job, one or two shillings (5p or 10p today) per roll, and 6d (2 1/2p today) for a ball of whitening, plus glue size. The alternative was a range of silvery random match finished papers, or embossed finished papers. There was also anaglypta and suger glypta papers, but the y required two coats of ‘walpamur’ water paint or emulsions, was then known as plastic emulsion paint but this made the job expensive.

My workmate, who was not very adept at ceilings asked me to help him put a silvery (mica) paper on a friends ceiling. I had all the equiptment, a loft long plank, two pairs of seven tread steps (high ceiling), a 6ft long folding paste board, trestles, paste bucket, tools, all of this was balanced from the saddle to the handlebars of my bike (no car in those days). For this job we received the sum of Thirty shillings (£1.50), and each had Fifteen shillings (75p). Each way to the job was 1 1/2 miles, round trip was 3 miles pushed myself on the bike. Also, in those days all wallpaper and boarders had a selvedge on on each side which had to be hand trimmed. Scissors  were generally used, but there was a commercial hand trimmer you could but. One was a ‘Morgan Lee, 21 shillings (£1.10p) or a ‘Ridgely’ at 15 shillings (75p).

Love and Peace 60’s Exhibition – Sept 1997

I well Remember the S.O.S on the phone from the curator of the Forge Mile Museum back in the mid nineties. Mike you are a local Art historian, local history expert and most importantly a professional painter and decorator or by profession at work. Please, please, please come down to the museum and help us design and produce a ’60’s-70’s’ swinging exhibition. New town, New start presentation.

Not much pressure here then I think to myself. No time to panic, let’s get started. I asked staff at the museum to ask around within their friends and family if anybody had any old fashioned furniture or artifacts from the 60’s or 70’s at home?

The cry went out far and wide over the next week or so and I got a great response back as someones grandma had recently gone into an old peoples home and her house was being sold off and cleared out for a quick sale. It was filled with 60’s – 70’s artifacts and fashions. We had permission to help ourselves to anything that would praise and promote our ongoing project.

My self and friends had a great pick and mix collection from inside the house and the skip outside on the drive. A  three seater sofa, table and chairs, coffee table, T.V., record player, wall pictures, mirrors, carpets, cushions and even a knitting-basket and wools etc. All we needed was room to get it all in!!!

I travelled around various old Redditch hardware and D.I.Y  shops looking for anything and asking for old or rare rolls of wallpaper they might have spare for a good cause. I got lucky, and was given 5 rolls of wonderful abstract 1960’s wallpaper as you can see in our recreation newspaper picture:

Space at the museum was very scarce for our needs. But we were allowed one corner of the main display room for our 60’s living room table  event. I prepared and wallpapered six 8×4 sheets of block-board and pieced them together as a 45% angled corner of a room display.

They say: “A picture paints a thousand words”, Ours does, our team work produced a realistic room, a great exhibition, a wonderful weekend of 60’s and 70’s nostagia. And a grand time was had by one and all!!!!!

Peace man!!!

Redditch Advertiser – September 10th 1997

Anne’s Stories

I remember flock wallpaper alot of it was red…flowery wallpapers were mainly kept for the bedrooms.

People would put violently coloured paper on one wall for example around a fire place

There was a fashion of putting sets of 3 wallpapers- stripes on the lower half then a border in the middle and floral paper on the top half of the wall

Woodchip! – who invented that?

We would have to cut the edge off by hand and trim all of the left hand side of the wallpaper in the past

My mother did all her own papering even the ceiling!

My husband papered the wall at 16.

Granny from Ireland asked my dad and his brother ‘can you paper the wall lads?’ they said ‘sure’ . when they had finished granny said oh that’s lovely, when they finished she realised they had actually papered the wall horizantally!

Another time father and uncle used actual sugar and water to paper the walls! as granny sat on her sofa it suddenly felt like they were in a tent as all of the paper came sliding down around her.

 When i lived on the other side of the Bullring none of the walls were even.  they always had bumps and cracks.  wallpaper covered this.

When i did wallpapering me and my daughter would measure and number all of the wallpapers and put them in a stack one on top of another.

I always bought patterns with small pattern repeats as it was much more economical as less of the paper was wasted when you tried to match it up.

My dad never did the wallpapering.

Boys and girls had different fashions in wallpaper. There were Thomas the tank type trains for boys and ballet shoes and teddies for girls

Once when I wallpapered the stripes were not straight, my husband got ratty and ripped it off, he stamped on it, but he was better than dad. When dad helped with wallpapering he would put on a finger on the wall to hold the paper in place…he was soon told to go and make the tea! it was up to mother and me to decorate

The paper used to be so thin, when it was pasted your finger would go through or when you held it up it distentegrated!

Philippa’s Story

I have a chilhood image of a wallpaper I’ve never seen since. Mid 1950’s – off-white paper with a silvery/pearlised floral pattern. This was on the ceiling and below was a narrow border ( probably floral ) The wallpaper may have been from the 1940’s or freshly put up in the 1950’s when I was a toddler.) There used to be a paper illustrated basket of flowers hanging from the ceiling to keep off flies. This was considered preferable to the ugly, sticky fly strip but not as effective!

Later, when we moved from the courtyard house to the modern semi-detached, we were included in making a choice of wallpaper for the rooms. The wallpaper I remember most was in the hall: an embossed paper with squares showing scenes of the willow pattern but in subtle greens and creams.

Moira’s Story

The first wallpaper I remember was in my grandma`s bedroom in Shirley. I really loved it because of the bright colours and interesting repeated pattern. The background was turquoise blue. The pattern was two budgerigars facing each other with leaves in the background. The house was built in the 1930`s..so was I!…and my memories date from that period.

Most of my memories of wallpapers come from the 50`s when things brightened up after the war. I married in 1955 and we had a new house and new babies too. In the lounge there was a paper in shades of beige with a pattern based on calligraphy. It was designed by Sanderson. In the kitchen the walls had paper in white with a pattern of flamingoes round a pool. We thought this was the bee`s knees with the colours pink and green standing out . The kids loved it and both remember this one now they`re grans.