100 years of Marley

The rise of the British concrete roof tile
Despite their popularity today, concrete roof tiles did not play a significant part in the history of pitched roofing until Owen Aisher founded the Marley Tile Company in 1924. 

Owen was born on the Isle of Wight in 1876. As he grew up he joined his brother as a plasterer and together they plastered houses being built in the expanding seaside towns along the south coast. In those days, plasterers would also try their hand at slating, which is where Owen first experienced roofing.  

In the early 1920s Owen foresaw that Kent would be ahead of other counties in building development and began building houses. Before long, he was building bungalows and selling them at £1,000 each.  

After the First World War, roofing materials were in short supply, so in true entrepreneurial spirit, Owen bought one of the early Winget press machines for 27 shillings and began making his own concrete roof tiles. Little did he know that he would be responsible for the development of concrete roof tiles in Britain.  

Owen employed two men to make concrete roof tiles and soon they began making more than they could use. Recognising the business opportunity before him, he formed The Marley Tile Company in 1924, selling roof tiles that were manufactured from a cowshed in Kent.  

The Marley Tile Company
Owen's son, Owen Junior, came into the family business as a salesman and was later knighted for his contribution and commitment to the roofing industry. Sir Owen was the driving force behind The Marley Tile Company and expanded the business with six tile-making machines and by employing eight men.  

Sir Owen sold products on his motorbike, delivering to architects and merchants in the south east. He found that little was known about how to install concrete tiles and so began a revolution in marketing, offering a supply and fix service.  
Early Tiles
Early tiles produced by The Marley Tile Company included the interlocking 15 x 9 inch Ludlow tile, a 16 ¼ x 13 ¾ Roman tile, a bold roll old English pantile (15 x 10 3/4 ), a Mendip ‘very bold roll’ (16 7/8 x 13 ½), and a Cubana Tile (17 x 8 ½). Some of these tiles formed the basis for today’s interlocking tile range. 
The first ever concrete roof tile believed to be in existence
sir owen aisher delivering tiles on his motorbike
Expansion and development in the 1920s
The first tile machines were established on the Harrietsham site in Kent and served the local area. By 1927, as demand for tiles increased in the Home Counties, additional factories were built at Leighton Buzzard and Storrington.  

During the early years, Marley had little help with the development of roof tile machinery. Although companies like Lintott were consulted, there was no option but for Marley to develop their own production techniques, often by adapting machinery used in similar processes.  
Expansion and development in the 1930s
Progression from the hand-operated Winget machines took about four years and by 1930 the first automated machine was installed at Storrington. This was an adaptation of a machine from Baumgarten, imported from Denmark, which was suitably rebuilt and improved with Lintott making a number of the additional components. 

During 1935, additional plants were built at Aveley, Sevenoaks and Burton-on-Trent. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, a further factory was built at Poole in Dorset, which boosted total capacity to 195 million tiles per annum.  

As part of the war effort, Marley manufactured a range of concrete products, including the prefabricated Mulberry Harbours for the Normandy Landings.  
Post-WWII expansion

This era heralded a further boom in the UK housing market and, to cope with the demand, Marley built new factories to satisfy the growing desire for concrete tiles. The first to be commissioned in 1945 was Glasgow, followed by Delamere, Near Chester in 1947, Bridgend in Glamorgan in 1950 and Ebchester in Northumberland in 1953.

The post-war construction programme was completed in 1954, when a fourth factory at Beenham, near Reading, was commissioned to supply tiles for the booming market in southern England.

Changes in tile technology
The typical Marley concrete tile factory of the mid-1950s could be described as 'semi-automatic' with the tile-making machines linked to the curing tunnels, where the tiles were 'de-palleted' by manual labour. 

The tile-making technology was based on a continuous process called a 'press plate' extruder, which was a simple roller that rolled the concrete onto the pallet before squeezing it through under a solid plate.

The alternative 'roller and slipper' technology adopted by Marley in the mid-1960s operated on different principles where the tile machine had a very small roller that pulled the concrete mix down onto the pallet. The shaped slipper formed the upper profile of the tile, the lower profile being formed by the pallet. This process gave a better control over the extrusion process and the shaping of the tile profile when high-speed production was demanded. 

The first Marley automated machine and racking plant to operate hydraulically was installed at Riverhead in 1961. When the tiles came off the extruder, they were automatically loaded onto racks and taken by a manually-operated truck into a large curing shed. The racks of uncured tiles were deposited and a rack of cured tiles taken out. One man and a racker did the work of eight to ten men and allowed machine speeds to be increased to 90 tiles per minute. 

The 1980s saw a period of change in the manufacturing base, with substantial investment and rationalisation to reduce costs. In 1980 the first chain machine was installed at Leighton Buzzard. The 'chain' was described as similar to a tank track, being physically more compact and able to push the tile pallets in a completely continuous motion.

This marked the final transformation in the development of concrete tile production, from one of a simple reciprocating machine, pushing one tile through the machine at a time, to becoming a completely continuous and smooth action, enabling production speeds of up to 120 tiles per minute to be achieved. 
Marley Limited pre-2000
Continuing with the family entrepreneurial spirit, Sir Owen Aisher diversified the business into many new areas, including Marley Flooring, with the introduction of MarleyTex vinyl floor tiles, as well as and Marley Plumbing and Drainage, which is still active today. 

During the late 1950s Marley also entered into the retail sphere, opening the first Marley shop in 1959, known as Marley Homecare. A chain of stores soon appeared across the UK and the brand name changed to Payless.  

Marley remained a family-run business up until 1986, when Sir George Russell joined the company as Chief Executive. In 1992, Marley Building Materials Ltd was formed from five Marley companies in order to meet the challenges of the new Millennium. 

In 1999, Marley Building Materials was acquired by the Etex group, one of the largest European manufacturers of building materials and six years later it synergised the Eternit and Marley roofing business to form Marley Eternit Limited, the UK’s leading provider of roofing products. 

To further develop its roofing offer, Marley began to develop dry fix systems to improve the reliability and installation of roofs, rather than rely on the traditional mortar mix fixing. The first dry verge system was launched in 1975 in white uPVC, followed by an interlocking dry verge in 1980 and dry ridge system in 1981. Marley was awarded the Design Council Award in 1984 for the first UK Dry Fix Roof System for ridges and verges. 
Marley post-2000

Marley acquired John Brash and Co. in 2016. The highly regarded and market-leading JB Red roofing batten has become an integral part of the Marley roof system and combined with additional accessory products, enables us to be the only manufacturer to offer customers a complete roof system with a 15-year guarantee.

In 2019 a new chapter in our rich history began as Marley Ltd had been acquired by Inflexion Private Equity, this strategic move allows us to further our growth plans by accelerating the development of innovative products and services.

Solar solutions added to the complete Marley roof system offering which has only been enhanced with the acquisition of Viridian Solar in 2021; the UK’s leading supplier of roof-integrated solar panels.

April 2022 confirmed the sale of the Marley Group to Marshalls plc. The joining of our two successful businesses both with a rich heritage and market-leading brand presence, creates sustainability for the future and strengthens the market position for both organisations.

early brochure promoting marley tiles

From the Archives

panoramic shot of marley museum