Celebrating our unique 80 years heritage in crafting and painting exquisite ceramic wall tiles by hand, in Marlborough, England
The origins of the company can be traced back to the early 1930's when two lady schoolteachers, Sylvia Packard and Rosalind Ord, found that their mutual interest in painting ceramic tiles was commercial enough to provide them with a living.
On 13th April 1936 the Packard and Ord partnership was officially registered and the business relocated from Bath to Barnfield, Marlborough. They initially specialised in commissions and giftware, with much work coming via word of mouth, and customers ranging from Royalty to Public Houses. Queen Mary was a regular customer and they even supplied tiles to Fortnum and Mason.
Their hand painted work was hallmarked 'PO' (Packard & Ord) on the front of the tile and examples can still be found today in the V&A museum, private collections and, of course, on walls across the world.
They continued to work on commissions until the war forced them to stop in 1940.
By 1945 when the war finished, Miss Packard was too old to be interested in starting up the business again and sold her share of the partnership to Hugh Robb, grandfather of the current Managing Director, Jamie Robb.
From 1946 onwards, under Hugh's commercial lead, the company, now Packard & Ord Ltd, expanded rapidly making predominantly giftware and fireplaces. Their many outlets included Liberty's, Heals, Harrods and the Medici Society.
The hallmark was changed to 'OR' (Ord & Robb) at this time. Their many outlets included Liberty's, Heals, Harrods and the Medici Society.
They specialised in majolica painting, that is painting with ceramic colours and oxides on the top of raw earthenware glaze, the whole tile then being fired at earthenware glaze temperature resulting in beautiful colours.
About this time, the demand for fireplace tiles started to supersede the demand for giftware. Hugh Robb began to consider the feasibility of making fireplaces themselves, commissioning a Fireplace designer.
In 1955 the new fireplace business was relocated to the current Marlborough Tiles site in Elcot Lane, Marlborough, whilst the hand painting of tiles continued at the Barnfield workshop.
The circular horse and castle logo was designed and registered as the company's trademark (inspiration taken from the 5 white horses from the downs & Marlborough Castle). Every fireplace was branded with the logo from 1957 onwards, at which time they were making 100 fireplaces per month.
By 1960 when Miss Ord announced her intension to retire the following year, this figure had doubled again.
Meanwhile, exciting new glazing techniques were being explored at the Barnfield workshop, using slip training and strong interacting colours and glazes. This led to a flourishing of their gift trade, particularly in sales of wrought iron tables and stands incorporating these new 'psychedelic' tiles.
Miss Ord retired in 1961 leaving a wonderful archive containing a plethora of exquisitely hand-drawn and painted decors, which further generations of our ceramic artists have continued to add to.
Packard and Ord Ltd was now wholly-owned by the Robb family.
While the Elcot Lane factory was bustling with fireplace production, the Barnfield workshop continued to hand paint tiles. Many new techniques in painting were experimented with at this time, including stencilling, screen-printing, enamel painting and under-glazing.
The company exhibited these new glazes, including a striking large Peacock panel, at a large building exhibition. They caught the eye of many visitors including Ken Barden, designer for Wimpey Builders. He began to design panels for Packard & Ord to produce for their many building projects. Also very successful in this period was an exclusive series of tiles designed for Wyncraft, manufacturers of tile cheese boards.
'Edwardian' was the first design to be screen-printed in the late 1960's, having originally been painted by hand.
By 1970, sons Alastair and David Robb had taken over the reigns from Hugh. Alastair had worked with the company since 1952, first as a salesman and then as a Director, whilst David joined in the 1960's.
The popularity of installing central heating in so many homes had badly affected fireplace sales and it was Alastair who negotiated the sale of the now ailing fireplace division to a company in Dorchester, Wyvern-Marlborough.
At the same time, the vogue for fitted kitchens brought new requirements of the tile trade. Marlborough's designers excelled in creating commercial designs and colours for these new consumers and so the business began a new period of growth.
In 1972, the company installed 'state of the art' Italian production lines and kilns, immediately doubling its tile-making capacity. The Barnfield site was sold the staff relocated to the Elcot Lane works, all in one building for the first time in 20 years.
Mary Duckett (nee Bailey) was the principal hand-painter during this period, and designed the hugely successful range, 'Frogs'.
The first tunnel kiln was installed in 1975 which doubled the firing capacity of the business.
The designers now turned their focus to the long neglected room in the British home, the bathroom. They developed tiles to co-ordinate with the top selling bathroom colours and designed decorated tile ranges, 'Pastorale' and 'Champfleur', that were over the next few years to out-sell plain glazes.
The early 1980's saw a movement to in-glaze printing, with a demand for clear-cut colours on a white 6 inch background. One of the company's best-known tiles, 'Snowflake', was born at this time. These small-scale designs required a border and in 1981 the hugely successful 6x3 inch borders were launched, including 'Tulip border'.
By the mid-eighties, inexpensive Italian and Spanish ceramics were flooding into the UK, adversely affecting sales of the Packard & Ord 6 inch designs. Lower overseas manufacturing costs made it very difficult to compete and it was time for Marlborough Ceramics to reinvent itself once more.
To mark the company's fiftieth anniversary, the business launched a new 11x11cm range called 'Marlborough Glazed Terracotta'. Initially available in 16 colours with a variety of insets and borders, the renowned 'Leapfrogs' and 'Relief Fruits & Animals' were born. Stencil printed designs followed together with a wide range of 'Barleytwist' pencil borders, and so began another successful era.
Alastair's son Jamie joined the business in 1989, learning the ceramics trade through working in every area of the company from production to sales.
In 1998 Jamie Robb took over the reins as Managing Director from his father, Alastair (David having died a few years earlier).
The company was officially renamed Marlborough Tiles Ltd on 25/11/99 and the hallmark was changed to 'MT' (Marlborough Tiles) to mark the millennium.
With growing overseas competition and a move in trend towards minimalism causing the business to contract, Jamie decided it was time to create a new niche in the higher-end design-led area of the market.
Specialising in the most difficult areas of tile making; complex glazes, hand crafted biscuit and hand decoration, the company launched a world-leading 'Lustre' glaze range that was soon to become award winning.
This was followed by a collection of silky smooth matt tiles and a series of highly successful ranges designed exclusively for Fired Earth.
In 2005 Tracey Putt joined Marlborough Tiles as Brand Director. With 20 years experience in the tile market as a Director of Fired Earth, Tracey brought renewed focus and a new skill set to the business.
The company launched 6 new ranges in 2006, building on the established crackle glaze range of hand painting 'Contemporary Classics' which is now the Marlborough signature collection.
This was swiftly followed by the launch of an exclusive collection of glass and porcelain floor and wall tiles to complement the in-house glazed collection.
A New 100 page brochure and website were launched as the company began its campaign to increase brand awareness.
In commemoration of 75 years producing tiles, the company has a new 2011, 100 page wall and floor tile brochure featuring many new collections, some of which have been taken directly from Marlborough Tiles' extensive archives.
"Only the finest clay is used to make our biscuit. On to this we apply opaque and transparent glazes in an array of carefully researched colours. Each of our colours is individually mixed, selecting from over 50 raw pigments and stains that are expertly combining to create exact nuances of shade we are looking for. Our decorated tiles are hand painted using the majolica technique, a complex, right first time process where a single colour is finely painted on to the chalky surface of the glaze before it is fired. Most of our artists are fine art trained and even then it takes months of training before they are able to achieve the exceptional quality that is our hallmark." Jamie Robb, MD
And so it is that, unique to Marlborough Tiles, the hallmark enables their tiles to be dated to the period in which they were painted, thereby contributing to their intrinsic value over the years as 'collector's items'.