Marseille Clay Roof Tile History

The Marseille Clay roof tile was patented in France in 1874, as was the first clay press. Marseille Clay roof tiles were first brought into New Zealand as ballast on French ships, the early loads were sold to Thompson & Bridger (a large Dunedin timber and hardware company). Then Briscoes (you never buy better)became the sole agent, back in those days Briscoes was a British Building merchant it set up shop in Dunedin in 1862. The French Marseille tiles were imported by them from 1868 until the late 1930’s, they all so became the agents for Wunderlich roof tiles as they were cheaper and more readily available than the French clay tiles as supply was disrupted due to the First World War.

The First New Zealand made version of a Marseille clay roof tile was started in the North Island at Taumarunui in 1910 by the O’Reilly Brothers, they had four good years of supplying mainly the Auckland market but their adventure soon ran in to troubled times with the first world war being declared. With the end of the war came a rejuvenated building industry the out look was brighter. They were then faced with increased competition in the North Island from the French and Australian Marseille tiles imported by Briscoes.

In 1915 Winstone Ltd were looking in to manufacturing tiles similar looking to Marseille clay roof tiles in New Zealand. Discussions with the O’Reilly Brothers resulted in Winstones decision to aid the Taumarunui project by buying a 50% stake in the company.

In 1919 a fire seriously damaged the works resulting in the company being put in to liquidation. Winstones then purchased the remaining 50% holding off the O’Reilly Brothers. The company was reborn as the Winstone Roofing Tile Works Factory Ltd in 1920.

Then in 1922 another fire. At this time the Winstone Clay roof tiles were too expensive to produce to be able to compete with the imported tiles. They decided on a wide scale rebuild of the works incorporating the most up to date and efficient production equipment. These new works went into production in 1924. It was not until 1926 that the modernised works returned to profit.

In 1932 the drastic world recession and the fall off in building brought about the closer of the works yet again. Two years later things had brightened sufficiently to resume production. This two year closer necessitated a major overhaul of the plant. It was not until 1935 that they were ready to meet the demand for its products. In 1938 Imports were restricted and became subject to licensing. Manufacturers such as Winstones had a protected market in which to sell their product. In this way manufacturing overcame the limitations of plant and market size. When coupled with the restrictions caused by the Second World War, the result was a manufacturing boom.

After the Second World War these works could no longer keep up with demand. They had a choice to either enlarge the works or set up another one which they did. A new factory was constructed in 1946 near clay deposits just inland of Plimmerton 20 miles north of Wellington. The plan was for Taumarunui to supply the north and Plimmerton the South.

The Taumarunui plant was closed down permanently in 12th July 1954 due to the age of the plant and the increasing costs of freighting the Winstone clay roof tiles to the principal regions of population growth.

Do you know about Dunedin Abbottsford?

Clay roof tiles called Dunedin Abbottsford were made in the South Island. Do you know the history of them? We would love to know.