From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Rockwood Pigments

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Rockwood Pigments Factory is located under High Tor cliffs in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. The factory is now empty and faces an uncertain future. It is known as the High Tor Works.

Originally called Viaton, it was originally established for mining iron ore but after this was worked out in 1850 the waterwheel was used to grind white lead. At the end of the century the Via Gellia Colour Company took over, installing a turbine to drive four pairs of Peak stones which for the next twenty years ground iron oxide. Then bone char, the waste product from sugar refining, was ground until the late 1960s. Later the site was used for blending pre-ground chemically-produced colour products for use in paving slabs and other cement products. Finally the site became part of the Rockwood group.

On the factory site is the mine entrance which is known as Side Mine. It is an unusual mine with some very fine stone stempling and it was open as a Show Cavern between 1825 and 1845. The red colour on the walls and roof comes from residue from the pigment factory when excess pigment was blown into the mine via ventilation fans. The mining finished in 1844 when the owner gave up his attempts to drain the workings of water.

Solid pigments are the basis of colour in paints, concrete, clothes and other specialist products. They are mixed in water, drying oil or solvents to make paint or dyes. The industrial revolution help to change the way paint was manufactured with the introduction of water powered mills to grind the pigments out of raw materials using millstones. This ensured the material was turned into a fine powder or a stiff paste and could be sieved to the right consistency.

Pigments are made from natural materials, most common in the peak district which were mined. Various materials are used for different coloured pigments, such as alum, copper, lead and zinc. High Tor is known for its early lead mines, which produced white lead, or lead carbonate which was used as a pigment for white paint since the 4th century BC, but in the 19th century, lead sulphate, also known as sublimed white lead was used until it was banned. Red lead paint was also produced as it was very good as a corrosion inhibitor. Throughout the 19th century red lead was produced in Bonsall Dale by the Via Gellia Plant and Colour Company, an extensive concern which by 1893 was powered by both steam and a 32' water wheel.

A blackish-brown pigment was extracted from the ore of manganese, known as 'black wad' in the Peak where it occurred in mines at Alport, Brushfield, Elton, Great Longstone, Hartington, Hopton, Matlock Bath, Monsal Dale, Parwich, Winster and Youlgreave.

Barytes, known in the Peak as 'cauk' or 'cawk', found use as an extender pigment, giving improved brushing and storage qualities. It is still an essential component in many paints, especially as a primer.

Rockwood Pigments is now the second largest manufacturer of iron oxide color pigments in the World. They manufacture and supply powder, liquid and granular forms of iron oxide and other inorganic pigments for use by manufacturers of coatings and colorants, concrete products, plastics, rubber, paper, vinyl, cosmetics, pet food, ink, toner, and many other industrial uses.