Big thank you from

The very different art of a painter

The Rambler 03/01/2003

RECENTLY, when a painter who was busy with a roller decorating a ceiling, needed more paint, I volunteered to nip down to the nearest stockist for some.

Armed with a colour card I got prompt attention from a charming young lady.

In no time, with the aid of a computer and a power-driven 'whirly gig' she converted a white base to the precise tint stipulated by the tradesman, and sent me off (minus a few quid). Another satisfied customer.

En route home, my mind went back to long off days, when Dad decided to give things about the place a lick of lime-wash and paint (in the nineteen twenties).

Firstly, he would have whitewashed the exterior walls of the dwelling house. He needed lime for that which he had to cart from he nearest kiln.


There was one at Megaberry, about four miles away, and he would have yoked a horse and set off with a farm cart and some used jute sacks.

At the lime kiln he would have loaded maybe half-a-ton of redhot blocks by lime, so hot that they would have scorched the sacks. He certainly would not have sat on top of the load.

Half-a-day after he had set out, he would have got home.

Then he would have tipped the load off and slaked the lime with buckets of water, causing it to break down into powder.

With the powder, he would have made a wash to decorate the walls. Special white-wash brushes were available at all local stores.

A second coat was usually needed, but a glistening white coat was easily obtainable. At ground level a trim of tar would have been applied, maybe 18 inches deep, to suit a muddy environment. Chimney stacks had to be done up as well as walls, and given a selvage of tar, to match the walls.

No great skill was needed, just elbow grease, but a well-decorated thatched building was a pretty sight.

Window frames got lead-based paint - orange as a primer. Dad mixed that using paint-oil (raw linseed oil) and turpentine.

'Oil' gave the shine and turps was the dryer.

Too much of that and the shine was lost.

A lot of stirring was needed to perfect the home-made lead paint. Why ready-made shop paint wasn't used I don't know. Probably it was regarded as inferior in lasting and wood preservative qualities.

Red oxide and Buckingham green gloss paint went on doors. I cannot remember that being mixed.

For indoor use, varnish stain was preferred. Wainscoting got dark oak, mid-oak, or light oak.

As readers will know, preparation of the surface is more important than applying the paint.

In this context, let me conclude with an anecdote which has been handed down around Aghalee for upwards of a century.


One day, a wheelwright called Alexander Goldie was busily preparing a wooden wheel that he had made, before painting it.

It needed filling and he was laying on putty pretty lavishly.

The local dispensary doctor, W W Duff, came along on his bike, put his foot to the ground and watched the wheelwright at work.

"Alexander" he quipped, "putty and paint cover all your mistakes". "That's right, doctor, and a spade and shovel cover yours."

Ulster Star