Craig & Rose History 


A brief history of paint

Paint is one of our ancestors’ earliest accoutrements, as cave paintings of horses and bison attest. But until a certain Mr Perkins produced coal tar colour in 1855, paint making was very much a cottage industry, where a thick podgy paste was made and then sold on to painters and decorators (the colour men), taken away in pigs’ bladders. And it wasn’t until about 20 years after this that paint making on an industrial scale started. 

The relentless momentum of the Industrial Revolution and an escalation in chemical knowledge drove this. Everything that was being manufactured, so much of it from steel and iron, needed the protection of paint – the bridges, the ships, the railway carriages. And the firm of Craig & Rose were at the forefront of this scaling up, building the biggest factory in the Empire in order to coat the countless engines of that empire in premium paint. 

Established 1829

James Craig and Hugh Rose were two young Scottish entrepreneurs from up country who met in Edinburgh and set up in business together in 1829. They were both only in their early twenties but had that drive, self-belief and entrepreneurial spirit so typical of the nineteenth century when the world really did seem to be Britain’s oyster. They started out as oil merchants, first at New Street, then at Greenside Place. They traded both in shale and whale oil, linseed oil and olive oil – oils for a multitude of uses, from lubricating the wheels of the steam trains whistling across the landscape to lighting the lamps of Edinburgh’s streets, so evocatively captured by the young Robert Louis Stevenson. 

With oil as a base for paint, the shift from merchant to manufacturer is quite obvious. And, although there’s no existing record of when the firm started actually producing paint, the mere fact that they opened such a large paint mill in Leith in 1874 points to an already established expertise. 

Dedication to quality

What is apparent, as an establishing principle of the firm, is a dedication to quality. In those days when paint was milled, grinding the base raw materials that came from all over the world - where competitors ground twice, Craig & Rose were known for their triple grinding. The firm’s reputation spread swiftly and with bases close to dockyards in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, Craig & Rose paint became the painter’s choice for iconic structures like the Forth Bridge as well as a raft of private houses that reads like a who’s who of architecture.

Craig & Rose won the tender to paint the legendary Forth Bridge in the 1880s and provided the paint for over 100 years until 1998.  (The one and a half mile cantilevered railway bridge still ranks as one of design and architecture’s greatest feats.) At the same time, house-painting was done by tradesmen: word of mouth, assisted by a team of sales representatives, soon had painters and decorators from Somerset to Sussex to Selkirkshire painting the likes of Longleat, Brighton Pavilion and Bowhill with Craig & Rose. These, as well as many other country houses, palaces, cathedrals and public buildings remain on the firm’s purchase ledgers.

The Choice of Craftsmen

Painters and decorators are still with us of course. It’s a respectable trade and to get a room or a house painted immaculately it pays to enlist a craftsman. Once upon a time to become a painter and decorator you used to have to serve a seven year apprenticeship.  But with the development of emulsion and the standardisation of colours, applying paint became easier.  Accordingly, after World War II many demobbed servicemen set up as painter/decorators. The fees of ‘old hands’, understandably, went up.  And then, a whole movement of self-reliance, ‘do-it-yourself’, took hold, influenced greatly by the publication in the late 60s of the Whole Earth Catalog in the States. 

The term DIY was only coined in the 1950s and the origins of B&Q, Wickes and Homebase are as late as 1969, 1972 and 1979 respectively. In fact, packaged paint as we would recognise it today didn’t appear until the 1920s, although Winsor and Newton starting producing tubes of oil paint for artists as far back as 1841. 

DIY or employing the man in overalls, the quality of the stuff in the tin remains paramount. During both world wars Craig & Rose had been prime supplier to the Royal Navy, producing immeasurable gallons of the most durable battleship grey, innovating by using wood and fish oils as linseed oil was difficult to come by. During World War II, the firm excelled in the production of camouflage paint, again innovating, faced with a dearth of raw materials. It’s such innovation, based on knowledge and expertise, built on and built on since the late 1820s, that continues to drive the company today. 

Maybe all a customer wants is a 2.5L tin of linen white matt paint. But it’s satisfying to know that the linen white in a Craig & Rose tin is the best quality linen white on the market, made by paint chemists building on 180 years’ of heritage and still pushing the boundaries. 

Colour matching

Once upon a time matching colours was something of an art. Now it’s rather more of a science with the assistance of spectrometer technology. But the residual art in the eye and hand of the operator still counts for a lot. It’s to Craig & Rose that clients like Hampton Court come to match the colour of their wrought iron railings. And when the Royal Yacht Britannia was berthed in Leith in the late 1990s, Craig & Rose were asked to match the colour of the funnel and supply all the paints for its sympathetic refurbishment. Then there was the director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre who, at a meeting about the refurbishment of the auditorium, threw down a packet of blue Gauloises cigarettes and said ‘that’s the blue I want.’ That’s the blue he got. 

Where once the hulls and masts of the great ships being built on the Clyde were protected with Craig & Rose paint, now it’s masts of contemporary significance that are getting the equivalent treatment – the tv, radio and mobile masts dotted strategically around the globe and have to withstand the severest of weather conditions. Craig & Rose has also taken its expertise into developing the paint for the inside of CT brain scanners. And there are other exciting developments, under wraps for now, that one day will be in the public domain as they bring new benefits to society. 

These are just some of the ways that James Craig and Hugh Rose’s original values of quality and expertise live on today. Some of the firm’s ventures, like trading wine and producing bagpipe seasoning (a mix of alcohol, linseed oil, peppermint flavouring, lemongrass, water and disinfectant to prevent the bags drying out and becoming brittle) have been discontinued. The commitment to quality and exploration remains. As Jim Harte, Craig & Rose’s Paint Development Chemist says, “Paint is a positive product. Everybody uses it at some point in their life and feels they’ve achieved something after using it. And people feel better at seeing its effects, the transformation of a surface into something brighter, cleaner, smoother".


Craig & Rose Timeline

1829 was an exciting year in history for many reasons. Not only was the it the year that the Craig & Rose paint company was formed, but it was also the year that Bollinger first produced champagne and Perth, Australia was founded. Follow Craig & Rose history with some other interesting facts along the way:

  1. 1829

    James Craig and Hugh Rose founded Craig & Rose, dealing in different types of oils. 1829 also saw:

    • Bollinger first started making Champagne
    • Perth, Australia was founded
    • The Metropolitan Police was founded by Sir Robert Peel
    • The first ever Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race took place
    • Levi Strauss was born, the founder of denim 'jeans'
  2. 1873

    Craig & Rose move to Leith, and apply the latest technology to produce paints for the first time

    • 1st Site – Clyde Street, Edinburgh
    • 2nd Site – Leith Street, Edinburgh
    • 3rd Site – Greenside, Edinburgh
    • 4th Site – Leith Walk, Edinburgh
    • 5th Site – Halbeath, Dunfermline from 2000 to present

    In the same year Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received United States patent #139121 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Levi Strauss & Co. began manufacturing Levi’s.

  3. 1874

    Glasgow branch opens in Holm Street the same year that the first soccer club on European mainland is founded.

  4. 1875

    The London branch of Craig & Rose opens. Prior to this business was done through local agents.

    Bizet's "Carmen" is first performed at the Opera Comique, Paris and The first Edinburgh derby is played: The Hearts win 1–0 against the Hibs

  5. 1880

    Craig & Rose began to export and manufacture for Royal Courts, Palaces worldwide, South American Railway companies, African Goldmines, Arabian Dockyards and busy shipping companies.

    Wabash, Indiana becomes the first electrically lit city in the world.

  6. 1883

    Craig & Rose "Red Oxide" was used for the first time to paint the Forth Bridge and was used until 1993.

    That same year, The Brooklyn Bridge, New York is opened to traffic after 13 years of construction.

  7. 1886

    Craig & Rose Glasgow branch is completely destroyed by fire. The branch move to the old Anderston Free Church in Cadogan Street.

    Pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton invents a carbonated beverage that will be named Coca-Cola and Karl Benz patents the first successful gasoline-driven automobile.

  8. 1897

    New, larger premises are constructed at Bankside, London with the added advantage of including a wharf.

    Queen Victoria celebrates her Diamond Jubilee the same year that Dracula, a novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, is published.

    The word "computer", meaning an electronic calculation device, is first used.

  9. 1890

    The business was converted into a Public Company with capital of £200,000 and the then partners became Directors.

    The British Labour Party is formed and Ramsay MacDonald is appointed secretary.

    Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon the Queen Mother was born in London.

  10. 1920s

    Paste paints were replaced by Ready-To-Use ones.

    John Logie Baird invents the first working mechanical television system (1925).

    In 1928 he invents and demonstrates the first colour television.

  11. 1950s

    Craig & Rose became wallpaper distributors as well as paint manufacturers.

    The first successful ultrasound test of the heart activity and NASA is organized

  12. 1960

    White Lead paint is replaced by Titanium Dioxide, leading to a wider range at affordable prices. Elvis Presley's song "Are You Lonesome Tonight" is recorded for the first time and United States presidential election, 1960: In a close race, John F. Kennedy is elected over Richard Nixon and becomes president of the USA.

  13. 1987

    Craig & Rose is awarded BS 5750 (now ISO 9000) and construction of the Channel Tunnel is initiated.

  14. 1993

    Started manufacturing for Fired Earth. For the first time, the public is allowed inside Buckingham Palace.

  15. 1994

    Craig & Rose helped found The Traditional Paint Forum. The first passengers travel through the Channel Tunnel.

  16. 1999

    The Living Rooms paint range was launched, and work starts in teh historical archives researching colours for the Authentic Period Colours range. In 1999 Craig & Rose also started manufacturing for Homebase, 

  17.  The Euro is established.

  18. 2000

    Headquarters moved to Halbeath, Fife and the Authentic Period Colours (1829) range is launched. 

  19. The Millennium Dome opens its doors and the last Mini is produced in Longbridge.

  20. 2003

  21. The Opulence range is launched, bringing together trends for lavish, rich colours with decadent effects such as metallics and glitters.
  22. 2012

    Craig & Rose launch their premium paint range - Craig & Rose Superior

  23. 2014

  24. Craig & Rose manufacture ranges for brand partners Abigail Ahern and Liberty.
  1. 2017

  2. The 1829 Vintage Colours Colection is launched in 110 colours, and the Artisan Decorative Effects range is aso launched.


Craig & Rose