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Jonathan Kepple

The factory in the photograph may well have been involved in the production of paintbrushes.

One of my elderly friends, who is an amateur artist, claims that he remembers a brand of paintbrushes called ‘Oldton’.

He says that they were brushes specifically designed and graded for painting one specific natural feature such as the sea, the sky or the bark of a particular tree. Apparently the brushes weren’t really up to the jobs they were supposed to perform, but they did produce interesting textures and were quite popular.

My friend also mentioned that Oldton brushes were dispatched to artists in the trenches during the great war. The soldiers, who used the brushes, often marked the handles with their initials and surviving brushes from this period are still much sought after.

He has in his possession what he says is an Oldton brush, marked with the initials KJ, L(we think the second initial is: Y) and JF, which we both think must belong to the great war painter James Foster. Foster’s well known painting of a feral cat stalking a pigeon, alongside the tracks of a disabled tank, famously sat on an easel in a shell crater in no-man’s land for two days - troops from both sides making several aborted attempts to recover it before it was eventually captured by the German army.

I did a quick spot of research on the internet this morning and found an entry on one of those badly moderated message boards, that have been allowed to fill up with spam and troll posts, which I think may refer to the Oldton brushworks.

A Mary Storey, who claims to have worked at the brush factory, says that, during the morning, two workers would be selected at random from the shop floor and set to task making an oversized paintbrush. When it was finished, the brush would be fastened to a bracket outside the factory and then set ablaze like a flaming torch as the shift ended and the workers returned home. The length of the brush's bristles were varied according to the time of year – shorter in summer and longer in winter - the idea being that it would burn throughout the hours of darkness.

I was going to post the link to this message board, but someone’s cleared the history on my web browser and I can’t remember what I typed into google in order to get it.


Martin Raynes


Your interesting comments about the construction of an outsize paintbrush at the Oldton brush factory may well have solved a family mystery. For years we had a vast brush, far larger than any other brush I have ever seen. It was so large it was quite impractical for any but the coarsest work. Indeed we used it for creosoting fences and similar wood treatment work. In florid scriptiform on its handle were inscribed the words "Wright's Reliable Brushes". Clearly this behemoth among brushes must have originated at the brush factory at Oldton and my parents must have somehow come into possession of it on one of the occasions they visited Oldton to see Reenie and Arthur Gladding (residents of Oldton and close family friends).

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