Items from the Forbo Nairn archive




In this year a fusion of the interests of Michael Nairn & Co., with those of the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. was arranged. It was considered that both companies would benefit by this arrangement, working in unity rather than as competitors. The writer of an article describing the manufacture of Greenwich inlaid linoleum began his introductory remarks by enumerating the seven wonders of the ancient world.

He then went on to say: – “It is not within the power of the tripper to do all these sights today. But he need not despair – he will find greater wonders at Royal Greenwich down by the river. First of the modern world wonders to be found at Greenwich he lists the Observatory which he describes as “home of the celebrated Meridian of Greenwich from which ships of all civilized nations, in all parts of the known world, reckon their distances.” The Royal Naval College is rated a second world wonder. Then The Blackwall Tunnel – a brilliantly illuminated carriage road under the Thames, a place of astonishing reverberations and the subway, certainly make a third, while the fourth is undeniably the monster gas holder at the works of the South Metropolitan Gas Coy., with its diameter of in feet, height of 2C.4 feet and capacity of 13 million cubic feet the biggest gasometer in the world

The Torpedo boats just across the water and the works of the furnaces set up at Greenwich by Bessemer, who, by his experiments, revolutionised the steel-making industry of the world, are considered to be the sixth wonder. And on the actual site of this establishment stands today a vast range of factories, which, like the Observatory, are not intended for show but for work – the premises of the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Company.

Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum is undoubtedly the seventh wonder of the world. The Greenwich Company were makers, by the Walton method, of first class inlaid linoleum, but this was their only production, and they felt the need of extending their interests to include other qualities. Michael Nairn & Co., Ltd., on the other hand, manufactured almost the full range of linoleums, plains, printeds, inlaids, etc. – with the exception of Walton inlaids. and these they were anxious to include in their range. A result of these and other considerations it was decided a new proprietary company, with a controlling interest in both firms, should be formed.

On 17th July, 1922, the formation of Michael Nairn Greenwich Ltd., was announced. The Greenwich factories no longer make linoleum, manufacture by the Greenwich method having been transferred to Kirkcaldy. It is hoped that when conditions permit, the old Greenwich factory buildings may be put to good use. The gateway to this old factory is still protected from damage by traffic by buttresses forged from Bessemer’s first steel.


In 1922 a fusion of the interests of Michael Nairn & Co., Ltd. with those of the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. was arranged. It was considered that both companies would benefit by this arrangement, working in unity rather than as competitors. On 17th July, 1922, the formation of Michael Nairn & Greenwich, Ltd. was announced. The new company had an authorised capital of 2,200,000 shares of £1 each. The issued capital was 1,993,601 shares of £1 each, fully paid. Holders of Nairn ordinary shares received 15 fully paid shares of £1 each in the new company, for every 2 fully paid shares of £5 each in the Nairn Company. Holders of Greenwich ordinary shares received 5 fully paid shares of £1 each in the new company, for every fully paid share of 10/- each in the Greenwich Company.

Directors appointed were: – Mr. John Nairn (Chairman of Michael Nairn Co., Ltd.) Chairman Sir Michael Nairn, Bt. (Managing director of Michael Nairn Co.Ltd), Major R. Spencer-Nairn (Managing director of Michael Nairn Co.Ltd). Mr. William Black (Managing director of Michael Nairn Co.Ltd.) Mr. Alfred P. Feat (Director & Secretary of Michael Nairn Co.Ltd). Mr. Alexander H. Dewar (Chairman Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co.Ltd.) Mr. John Mallace (Director of Michael Nairn Co.Ltd.) Mr. Andrew Sherran Thomson (Director Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum. Co. Ltd). Mr. Edward Francis Armstrong (Director Greenwich Inlaid: Linoleum Co.Ltd.).

In 1933 Michael Nairn & Greenwich Ltd. bought up all the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co.’s preference shares from the holders of these shares. Later in the same year, Michael Nairn & Co., Ltd. took over from Michael Nairn & Greenwich, Ltd. the total issued capital of the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. Ltd., giving new ordinary shares in Michael Nairn (A Co., Ltd. in exchange. In 1934 the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. Ltd. went into voluntary- liquidation, and in order that the name and goodwill should be retained, a new Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. was formed with a nominal capital of £100. Shortly thereafter, according to plan, manufacture of Greenwich linoleum was transferred to Kirkcaldy where adequate and cheap power: was available, labour plentiful and where local burdens were less onerous.

Part of the Greenwich machinery was brought to Kirkcaldy for incorporation in the new plant which was set up in large premises built for the purpose on the North Fife site. The remainder of the Greenwich machinery was sold. In 1947 the land and buildings of the north factory of the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum Co. Ltd. were sold. The south factory buildings were retained for future use, with the idea that they might be developed as a distributing warehouse for the London area. This plan had to be postponed owing to post-war trading- conditions and building restrictions. During the war, the buildings were rented out as stores, and as such, they continue to be used.


In 1955, Michael Nairn & Co. Limited, decided, to make an offer to buy the whole net assets of the Fife Linoleum Company. The Fife Company was incorporated in 1904 with a capital of £50,000, divided, into ordinary shares of £1 each. By 1955, the capital of the Company had been increased to £86,040. 10/-, of which £24,585 represented, a bonus issue. The Company had been showing ‘trading losses, and the Directors: Sir William Cook Lockhart Sir William Stovyell Haldane, Mr. William Rankin Miller Mr. Robert Haldane. McQueen recommended acceptance of the Nairn offer. At a meeting of the Fife Linoleum Company in Kirkcaldy on 25th September, 1955, the offer of £75,000 for the net assets was accepted. By this transaction Michael Nairn & Co. Ltd. were able to use the North Fife factory site for a new building in which to house the Walton Inlaid Plant which was to be installed at Kirkcaldy when manufacture at Greenwich ended.

To: Forbo Nairn,
Fife, Scotland
25th October 1990

Attention Messrs Alan & Roger Strugnell

Dear Sirs,
Spelthorne Museum – Linoleum
We are proposing to set up a display at our museum in Staines, Middlesex, on the subject of Linoleum. As you are probably aware manufacture of Linoleum was a major industry in the town starting in 1860 and continuing for more than a century on a site, which extended at its peak to 45 acres and employed more than 1,000 people.
We have collected a considerable body of material both published information and old photographs. These include pictures of the Scottish plant at Kirkcaldy, presumably Barry, Ostler and Sheppherd Ltd., with other photographs we have, as yet to identify. We would be pleased to put these at your disposal if of interest to your locality. We would like to know if you have any information or material that we could borrow for the purpose of our display. The display will be in the form of photographs, brief details of what they show and a general outline of the production process. A small amount of material, such as materials used in the manufacturing process will be displayed in a small case. We hope to have this ready for early 1991. We would also be interested to know if there were any commercial links between Staines Linoleum and your Scottish plant. At this stage we only wish to have a general indication as to what material, if any, would be available.
Thanking you
Yours sincerely
J. Chapman (Vice-chairman, SAFG)

11th February 1991

Dear Mr. Hill,
This is a rather belated response to your most welcome letter of 5th December 1991. I was especially grateful for the enclosures which are of great interest. Yes, I would like to have a list of your acquisitions as I am sure they extend knowledge of the history of linoleum. I have passed a copy to. Dallas Mechan, Curator, Kirkcaldy Museum and hopefully he will see it.
I do not know whether you have a copy of the book “Nairns of Kirkcaldy” published in 1956, but if not then I am sure you will find the enclosed extracts of interest. The enlarged photocopy of the 1878 notification also. It will also interest you to know that we have a photo album commemorating the visit to the Greenwich factory of H.R.H. The Duke of York (late George VI) on 9th March 1926. The album also contains aerial views of the factory complex and press cuttings. I will happily send you photo copies if you think they are of interest.
For Forbo-Nairn Ltd

9th November, 1990

Dear Mr. Chapman,
Spelthorne Museum – Linoleum
I was very interested to learn from your letter of 25th October, that you are fitting-up a linoleum display in your museum in although it is of course the town in which linoleum was first made although this generic name was not used in any of Walton’s early patents. The attached photocopy relating to Walton may be of interest.
Michael Nairn & Co began making linoleum in 1877 when Walton’s patent expired and we are now the only company in the U.K still manufacturing the product. As you say Barry Ostler & Shepherd (Shepherd used to work for Michael Nairn) had extensive works in Kirkcaldy, but the declining popularity of linoleum saw the business close in the early 1960s and production was concentrated in Staines. Barry Ostler & Shepherd always had close business links with the operation in Staines, but Nairn was a competitor. Yes, we would be very interested in any material you have relating to Kirkcaldy. We also have a lot of archive material, which we will gladly show you, including a videotape that shows the production processes as they were in 1960. I look forward to speaking to you as I am sure we can co-operate to our mutual advantage. Incidentally, the Kirkcaldy Museum has a list of material relating to Barry Ostler & Shepherd. The Curator is Dallas Mechan (0592 260732).
Yours sincerely,
For and on behalf of Forbo-Nairn Ltd
Roger Strugnell


German scientific research shows that bacteria die off more rapidly on linoleum
By Bob Annan, Technical Services Manager, Nairn Floors Limited

An aspect of linoleum which is perhaps little known, certainly in this country, is that it possesses inherent germicidal properties. Most of the research into the subject, it would appear, has been carried out in Germany though a certain amount of work has been done in Australia. However, it has clearly interested the Germans most. Two reports have been published by the Technische Universitat Berlin – Charlottenburg Institut, and independent research and papers have been published by Dr. Rudolf Fahr and by Sophie Charlotte Pantel the latter in “Berlin Medicine”.

It is said that the work done by Sophie-Charlotte Pantel “is a comprehensive, thorough and hence more practical investigation compared with previous papers”, but all four draw the same conclusions – bacteria die off more quickly on linoleum.

The work undertaken at the Technische Universitat made comparisons between bacteria applied to linoleum and to glass. The time period employed in the experiments ranged from six hours to a full week. The higher the temperature, the faster the rate of extinction, it was showfn. Strong sunlight speeds up the process still further, but this is to be expected in view of the germicidal action of ultra-violet light. Sophie-Charlotte Pantel’s work, however was directed with particular regard to isolation wards, and she used various floor- coverings in her tests including linoleum and PVC. Swabs were taken from linoleum and PVC flooring in different types of hospital location. All swabs showed bacterial growth of some description. The various types of bacteria were then applied to unsterilised floor coverings. The tests showed that, except for original spore inoculation, the bacteria were extinct on linoleum after 48 to 72 hours, but no such extinction was -observed on vinyl floor covering. In summary, all the German tests show that linoleum has certain bactericialogical properties which are attributed to the fact that possible products of the oxidisation of linseed oil render the surface unsuitable for bacterial growth to persist.

The German scientists conclude that a linoleum floor covering, regularly cleaned and maintained, is more hygienic than any other. It is interesting that similar conclusions were reached at a recent conference of British hospital maintenance managers in Edinburgh, though from day-to-day experience rather than from any scientifically quantifiable reason.

Department of Regional Chemist Public Analyst and Agricultural analyst
Ronald S Nicolson MChcmA FIFST MIWPC CChem FRSC

CERTIFICATE Reference No. GP/EH/5128/5129
Mr. D. Harty, Development Chemist,
I, the undersigned, public analyst for the Forbo-Nairn Ltd.,

STRATHCLYDE REGIONAL COUNCIL, do hereby PO Box No 1, certify that on the 21st day of November 1988 I received from David Harty FIFE. KY1 2SB. 1 Bulletin Board 6.0mm Canvas Back

Antibacterial Activity
The antibacterial activity of the sample was tested, using a plate diffusion technique, -individually, against three pathogenic and one non-pathogenic species (Bacillus stearothermophilus). On the surface of each of four freshly prepared agar plates, each inoculated with a culture of the appropriate bacterium, were placed two 14mm diameter discs of t sample, one face up and one face down, and one 14mm disc of paper previously dipped in a concentrated disinfectant. The plate was then incubated overnight. After incubation the inoculum developed into a visible culture throughout the agar except where an antibacterial activity was present. This antibacterial activity manifested as a clear zone around the discs. The diameter of the zone of inhibition gave a measure of the antibacterial activity. The results, expressed as the distance between the edge of the disc and the edge of the clear zone, were as follows:-
Top Surface Bottom Surface Disinfectant
Staphylococcus aureus mm 1.0 Nil 15
Escherichia coli ……… mm Nil Nil 15
Pseudomonas aeruginosa … mm Nil Nil 15
Bacillus stearothermophilus mm 4.1 3.0 715
As witness my hand this 7th day of December, 1988
Public Analyst/ Regional Laboratory, Beckford Street, Hamilton, ML3 OBT. Tel. Hamilton 454326

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