Marley celebrates 90th anniversary

This year, Marley is celebrating its 90th anniversary. David Cassell, Marley Eternit Training Manager, unofficial company historian and curator of the Marley Museum at Burton, delves into the archives to look back at the history of one of the building industry’s most recognisable names. 

Think building materials and the name that automatically springs to mind is Marley. This isn’t a coincidence. The Marley name has been synonymous with the manufacture of materials for the building industry for the past 90 years. 

The company’s history can be traced back to just after the First World War, when Owen Aisher set up as a builder in Harrietsham, Kent. However, like many builders during that time, he was faced with a shortage of slates and clay roof tiles, the traditional roofing materials used in Britain. 

The slow down of building during the war saw many men released from the labour intensive quarrying industry to serve in the armed forces. On their return from the war they were reluctant to go back to working in the austere conditions they had previously encountered. 

The decline in natural slate and clay tile production left builders like Owen Aisher with a problem, until his family turned their hand to making concrete roof tiles for their own use. 

The family soon realised that other builders required roof tiles too, and so the Marley Tile Company Ltd was formed to supply the demand. 

Business was brisk and by 1928 they had set up three factories, at Harrietsham, Storrington in Sussex, and Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. A further factory at Riverhead near Sevenoaks was opened in 1930 to service the booming house building market in South London. This would later become the Marley head office until the late 1980s. 

Later in the 1930s, additional factories were opened at Aveley in Essex, Burton upon Trent, Poole and Glasgow, such was the demand for concrete roof tiles. 

During the Second World War, building went into decline and as a consequence roofing activities closed down. Marley assisted the war effort by producing air raid shelters, tank landing mats and pre-fabricated units for the Mulberry Harbours that were used in the ‘D-Day’ landings. 

This led the company into new territory, the concrete products market, taking over Surrey Concrete Ltd, which was a pre-cast concrete manufacturer and contractor to HM Government. Renamed Marley Buildings, by the 1970s it was the world’s largest producer of pre-cast concrete garages, as well as being a pioneer of aluminium greenhouses and self-assembly kitchens. 

Meanwhile, other parts of the business, including Marley Floors (tiles and sheet flooring), Marley Extrusions (plastic pipes and guttering), and Marley Foam (car steering wheels and dashboards) were also flourishing. 

Overseas expansion continued, with operations established in Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA. 

It was the overseas connection that resulted in the ‘Marley Man’ trademark, which has become so familiar in the UK. Adopted by Marley in the 1960s he was originally the logo for a flooring company in Holland that fixed Marley products.

Over time the Aisher family relinquished control of the company and many of the businesses, particularly those overseas, were sold off or merged. 

In 1992, Marley plc amalgamated the remaining UK operations into three core businesses; Marley Floors & Waterproofing, Marley Extrusions, and Marley Building Materials. Further rationalisation during the ‘90s saw the disposal of the brick and paving operations to Tarmac.

In 1999, Marley plc was acquired by Etex, a world-wide producer of building materials, best known in the UK for its’ Eternit fibre cement slates, profiled sheeting, and clay tiles. Following the merger in 2005, the Marley Eternit name was born and with it the beginning of a new era for Marley. 

So happy birthday Marley. Here’s to another 90 years in business.

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