This story doesn’t start in Sheffield, but 230 miles away at Brighton in East Sussex, when in the late 1800s, a gentleman by the name of Fowler formulated a special polish called Fowler’s Wax Composition, although legend suggests it might have been Mrs Fowler who came up with the putty-coloured substance.
Production was taken over by his son, Thomas Horace Fowler, who registered the name of the polish as Ronuk in 1896, an anglicised form of a word suggested by an ex-Indian Army officer signifying brilliance.
Manufacturing switched to Portslade, a suburb of Brighton, and in 1927, Ronuk launched Colron Wood Dyes that helped establish the company as a leading UK DIY brand, followed by Ronseal wood varnish in 1956.
Our story switches to Chapeltown in 1960, when Newton Chambers, one of England’s largest industrial companies, founded in 1789 by George Newton and Thomas Chambers, bought Ronuk.
The brands were absorbed into the company’s Izal division in 1963, and the following year manufacturing was switched to Sheffield. With significant investment, the Ronuk, Ronseal and Colron brands soon became dominant, but by 1968, Roncraft had been adopted as the name for Ronseal.
Newton Chambers was bought by Central and Sheerwood in 1972, and the following year Izal was sold to the Sterling Winthrop Group, renaming the Roncraft business as Sterling Roncraft.
In 1989, Sterling Winthrop was bought by Eastman Kodak, until the multinational photographic company sold all its DIY business to New York-based investment bank Forstmann Little & Co, which included the Roncraft brand (reverting back to its Ronseal name) within its Thompson Minwax Holding Corporation.
The brands were sold again in 1997 to Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams, involved in the manufacture of paint coatings across North and South America and Europe. Far from diluting the integrity of the brand it renamed the Roncraft business as Ronseal Ltd, advancing the name with a new slogan – “Does exactly what it says on the tin” – devised by advertising agency HHCL.
With production now taking place at a new facility in Thorncliffe Park, Chapeltown, a new warehouse was opened in 2007. Two years later, Sherwin-Williams acquired Altax, a woodcare company in Poland, and added to its Ronseal Coatings division.
Still owned by Sherwin-Williams and considered to be the UK brand leader in varnish and woodstain products, Ronseal achieved acclaim in 2013 when Prime Minister David Cameron told a mid-term press conference that the coalition between the Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats was a “Ronseal deal.”