How Lincrusta beat the blitz

By Elspeth Pridham
May 14, 2020

Lincrusta has this week announced that it is back in production. The recent Coronavirus lockdown is just a small blip on this British manufacturer’s long history.

It all started in 1877 when Frederick Walton, who had pioneered the development of linoleum flooring, invented what was described as ‘the first washable wallcovering’. Manufactured from a paste of linseed oil and wood flour the product takes its name from Linum (flax, from which linseed oil is made) and Crusta (meaning relief, because of the deeply embossed patterns created by metal rollers)

Lincrusta was an instant success. It replaced painstaking artisan plasterwork and appealed to Victorian England’s tastes due to its sanitary properties, as well as its beauty, practicality and durability. The blank canvas of Lincrusta meant that the Victorians could indulge in their love of ornament with highly decorative paint finishes. Soon after its launch, the demand for Lincrusta was so high that the company opened a new factory and showroom in Paris, helped by the continued development of the industrial revolution.

The reason for Lincrusta’s success, an 1880 pamphlet claimed, was that it was ‘Warm and comfortable. Would not warp or be eaten by worms. Was not cold in winter or hot in summer. Did not absorb moisture and give it out like brick and plaster, and was impenetrable and resistant to wet’. This latter quality drew particular attention and was to be a key selling feature.

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 meant that production was halted and, for the second time, the Lincrusta steels were melted down for use as munitions to help the war effort. At this time Lincrusta was earning the reputation as the indestructible wall covering. With advertising strap lines such as ‘Solid in Relief!, Solid in Colour!, Solid in Value!’.

British Architect, ASG Butler alluded to this strength in his 1942 memoir recounting his work as a building inspector in bomb-damaged London. He wrote of ‘The triumph of Lincrusta’, adding ‘I do not mean aesthetically, but quite the opposite, in a military sense. No material, I think, has stood up to a blast so stoutly. The bumpy, adhesive skin on the walls and ceilings, aping rich plasterwork has counteracted many blows from bombs, even sustaining whole surfaces by itself.’

Using its heritage as inspiration, the company says it is facing the Coronavirus head on with the same spirit that has kept it going for over 140 years. As it restarts production, Strength and Durability will carry Lincrusta into the next chapter of its history.