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Our history Our history

Our history


    In the beginning

    The story begins in the early 1930s when two schoolteachers, Sylvia Packard and Rosalind Ord, found that their mutual interest in painting ceramic tiles could earn them a living. In 1936 the Packard and Ord partnership, using the hallmark ‘P&O’, began production in Barnfield, Marlborough, specialising in commissions and giftware.

    Queen Mary and Fortnum and Mason were regular customers, and examples can still be found today in the V&A, private collections and, of course, on walls across the world.

    Black and white photo of a tile factory with four females hand painting wall tiles.

    The impact of war

    The Second World War brought an abrupt halt. When the war ended, an ageing Miss Packard sold her share of the partnership to Hugh Robb, grandfather of the current Managing Director, Jamie Robb. The hallmark was changed to 'O&R' (Ord & Robb) and the company continued to specialise in majolica painting – a complex, right-first-time process where a single colour is finely painted on to the chalky surface of the glaze before firing.

    Customers included Liberty's, Heals, Harrods and the Medici Society.

    Black and white photo of the female factory team at the Marlborough Tiles Factory
    1950 - 1960s

    Psychedelic experiments

    The 50s and 60s witnessed exciting innovation. New glazing techniques using slip trailing and strong interacting colours and glazes resulted in ‘psychedelic’ patterns, many of which proved very popular when the tiles were incorporated into wrought iron tables and stands. Other techniques included screen-printing, enamel painting and under-glazing.

    These new glazes caught the eye of Ken Barden, designer for Wimpey Builders, who began to design panels for Packard & Ord to produce for Wimpey homes. Other successes included exclusive tiles designed for tile cheese boards.

    In 1961 Miss Ord retired and the company became wholly owned by the Robb family.

    Black and white image of the tile factory team working in the factory in the fifties with a symbol of the white horse
    Two hand painted tiles of a lotus leaf and a frog on a green tile with a pink flower border.
    1970 -1980s

    The kitchen and bathroom reinvented

    The 70s and 80s were a time of huge change in the tile industry. The vogue for fitted kitchens and new interest in the long-neglected British bathroom opened new opportunities. To fend off competition from inexpensive Italian and Spanish imports, Marlborough deepened its research into decorative tiles.

    Close up of our catalogue from the 1970s featuring hand painted tile illustrations of afternoon tea figures
    Combination of Marlborough Tiles' leaflets and catalogues showcasing our hand painted tiles from the eighties.
    Two geometric pattern tiles created in the 1970s. One in orange and brown and the other in blue and grey with an ornate pattern.

    New millennium, new era

    Jamie Robb, the current MD, joined the company in 1989 and spent the next decade learning from his father before taking over in 1998. To mark the new millennium, the company was officially renamed Marlborough Tiles Ltd in 1999.

    Jamie decided to find a new niche in higher-end, design-led tiles, specialising in the most difficult areas of tile making – complex glazes, hand crafted biscuit and hand decoration. A world-leading 'Lustre' glaze range was followed by silky smooth matt tiles and highly successful ranges designed exclusively for Fired Earth. The company continues to produce ranges for Fired Earth, Neptune and other high end tile retailers.

    Black and white image of our MD Jamie Robb weighing paint pigments in our tile lab.

    New opportunities

    Early in the new millennium, Marlborough Tiles was quick to spot the potential of porcelain floor tiles and began buying from the world’s leading specialist producers in Italy and Spain. The range of floor tiles rapidly grew to encompass bathroom, kitchen, halls – in fact any indoor or outdoor space.

    As the UK’s sources of clay dried up Marlborough stopped manufacturing the base tiles (the ‘biscuit’) and shifted manufacture to a factory in Spain. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Any tile can be made quickly and efficiently in any shape, allowing Marlborough to expand its range and focus on its true passion – colour and design.

    Meanwhile the variety of hand painted tiles grew exponentially with a far wider range of colours and shapes. Each tile is now produced to each individual customer’s requirements.

    A black and white image of the Marlborough Tiles team in 2011 with a bathroom image and a floral botanical tile.
    A wall of botanical tiles with flowers, butterflies and insects behind a sink with traditional taps
    2010s & beyond

    An R&D revolution - A bespoke specialist

    Innovation has become a passion at Marlborough and in recent years it has received numerous grants for its research and development work. Not only have new colours, new colour blends and visual effects been developed, but to achieve these efficiently new firing processes have been invented, employing rapid firing kilns and precious metals to achieve brilliant colours and beautiful new glazes. Where another manufacturer might make five colours per tile shape, Marlborough’s small batch production enables it to make as many as 30.

    By the 2010s Marlborough Tiles could produce collectable tiles in vibrant colours at a tiny fraction of the cost of other artisan producers. It has always been a specialist, but today it is a hugely flexible specialist. Increasingly it counts among its customers not only discerning individuals but also designers and architects commissioning tiles for high end dining and retail venues.

    Green scallop tiles coming out from the kiln ready to be packaged

As featured in…

House & Garden
The Telegraph
Homes & Gardens
English Home
Elle Decor
Country Homes
Period Living
Country Life
Country and Town House
Architectural Digest
Marlborough Made