Backbarrow - Ultramarine Blue

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Ultramarine at Backbarrow

By Ronald Mein

The Main hotel complex - formerly the Old Drying Sheds

The photo on the right shows the Mill building as it is now, having said that, the mill probably now looks more like it did in its heyday. But enough of this - you can read all about the history of the mill below.


Ultra Marine Production at Backbarrow Mils

Ultramarine production was at last established at Backbarrow, what exactly is Ultramarine?
 
Ultramarine in its natural state is a gemstone called Lapis Lazuli, now more readily available than in previous years. In the time of Abraham, Lapis Lazuli was used in his home town of Ur as a temple decoration and it was also used for personal adornment in jewellery by the wealthy. The gemstone was mined in the most inaccessible places like central Tibet, it was brought overland by camel trains to the Mediterranean each mile it travelled added to the cost. In the time of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire an artists colour was made from lapis lazuli which was ground into a powder then mixed with oils and beeswax to produce a vivid blue oil paint used very sparingly by artists. When the Saracens invaded Byzantium many inhabitants fled to the west taking their most treasured possessions with them including paintings with the vivid blue colours on them, the like of which had never been seen in the west before.
 
Lapis Lazuli was still available, the Venetians in spite of all the obstacles managed to ship small quantities from the eastern Mediterranean. The pigment made from it was known as ultramarine which roughly translated means "the blue form across the sea" this name distinguished it from an inferior local product known as Citramarinum which was made from azurite. At this time true ultramarine was worth its weight in gold and had to be used sparingly; artists and others were thinking longingly of a miracle that would make the colour readily available at a price they could afford.

Eventually a prize was offered in France to whosoever devised a method of making a synthetic Lapis Lazuli or ultramarine by a factory process. It was known that Lapis Lazuli was a product of great heat as tiny blue specks like glass beads had been found in the ash of certain factories which used a furnace process, for example glass foundries; and with the prize on offer it was only a question of time before someone discovered the chemical composition and method of manufacturing the material.
 
With the formula discovered the method soon followed and the needs of the artists were met, but their requirements were literally dwarfed by the demand for a laundry aid and this blue had the facility of improving the whiteness of materials in the washing process. For years grocers had been offering inferior commodities and now the real thing was available.
 
The first manufacturer was a Frenchman called Guimet and in 1830 factories were set up in France, Germany and Belgium. Reckitt's were wholesale grocers who bought their supplies from Germany but eventually decided to try and make their own to increase the company profits. To this end they hired Eggestorff who had become skilled in making ultramarine.
 
Johannes was now the leading light in the Backbarrow venture where the pioneers were trying to make laundry blue. They were finding it difficult to make a repeatable standard product and they found themselves making a whole range of colours "willy-nilly", however, they did perfect the process and were receiving enquiries from paint manufacturers, makers of linoleum, wall paper, ink and other products each requesting a guaranteed quality of product to suit their own requirements.

photo of the Blue Mills Drying Sheds taken from the Wier

The photo above shows the mill from the wier below the bridge on the Leven. The chimney and drying sheds feature most in this shot.
 
The row of buildings on the left of the shot no longer exist and were houses for the workers before they were demolished.

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