Marseille tiles sit atop many homes dotted about our neighbourhoods. Their red hues can be easily seen when you look across the horizon of Timaru, they harmonise perfectly with the greens of our trees and gardens.
Marseilles tiles are derived from the French Gilardoni tiles which were first produced in the 1850’s. These were the first interlocking roofing tile to be given a centre rib. This made them stronger and able to carry the weight of a person making installation and maintenance easier.
The Marseille Clay roof tile was patented in France in 1874 along with the first industrial clay press. Presses and molds allowed a uniform standard and size to be produced, this reduced overlap and increased coverage areas resulting in lower construction costs, better drainage and fewer leaks.
European French tiles retained a slate grey but the exported tiles were red. This had a huge impact on colonial homes both here and in Australia. As housing styles evolved the red tiles proved a perfect match for the English and Arts & Crafts architecture popular in Timaru at the time.
Marseille tiles were first brought into New Zealand as ballast on French ships and these loads were on sold to Thompson & Bridger (a large Dunedin timber and hardware company). Briscoes was a British Building merchant who set up shop in Dunedin in 1862 and for a time they became the major importing agents for tiles in New Zealand.
Bringing tiles all the way from France was expensive and not without its difficulties. Distance and war took its toll and imports were eventually sourced from the Australian company Wunderlich. This made the product cheaper and more readily available. An import substitution policy in the 1930s, meant tiles became the predominant roof covering for new constructions as Corrugated Galvanised Iron had to be imported.
The first New Zealand made version of a Marseille clay roof tile was fired in Taumarunui in 1910 by the O’Reilly Brothers with Winstones Ltd buying into the business around 1924.
These tiles have remained popular till the present day for many reasons, they are rich in colour, strong and reliable. They absorb little water and are great insulators. They breathe and aid in keeping the building warm in winter and cool in summer. Not to forget Beautiful!
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