Family firm who said it with flowers

R H Marshall at Woodlands Nurseries in Upper Caldecote was a family business and well known employer of local people. Brian and Mike Marshall spent nearly 40 years in the industry. Catherine Rose took a look at the history of this successful flower firm.

Friday, 15th July 2011, 12:01 pm

WHEN Brian and Mike’s father Ray set up R.H. Marshall in 1936, he was following in the family tradition. His grandfather Ebenezer had started a crop farming business at the turn of the 20th century which faltered during the depression and much of the land had been sold. Ray built a wooden glasshouse on his inherited six acres and started growing tomatoes.

In 1947 he bought a house in Upper Caldecote and the existing house was split and rented to staff. Business went so well that Ray was able to purchase 50 acres of land once belonging to the Marshall family. The site was developed to include eight acres of glasshouses producing salad crops along with outdoor field vegetables and flowers.

In 1966, massive imports of tomatoes from Spain began to affect British growers so the company turned to flowers, with chrysanthemums as a main crop. In 1968 Brian became a partner and his brother Mike joined a year later.

“I honestly didn’t think I would do anything else but come into the family business” Brian said at the time.

Between 1968 and 1969 the glasshouses were expanded, the exterior crops were cut and in a bid to support the efforts of small local growers, the rest of the land was rented out. In 1980 a farm shop opened.

Ray died in 1981 aged only 62 and at this point Brian became responsible for sales and accounts while Mike took responsibility for the production, engineering and staff who were trained on site.

The brothers decided to begin concentrating solely on flower production, growing mainly chrysanthemums but also spray, alstroemeria, iris, daffodils and enchantment lilies which they sold to florists and churches.

By the company’s 50th anniversary on June 14, 1986, the propagation area with its underfloor heating and double glazing had been built and to celebrate, a two acre wood of oak, maple and cherry was planted along the roadside boundary and named Jubilee Wood.

The Golden Jubilee celebrations consisted of a dinner in the thatched barn (now a house) at Attertons Farm. Chairman John Burr gave a speech (he retired in 1997) and 100 guests enjoyed a buffet supper and disco.

In the photograph, front row seated are John and Billie Burr, Brian Marshall, Mrs Ray Marshall, Mike Marshall, Dawn Marshall and Vicky Marshall. Staff attending with their partners were Judy and Ray Lindsay, Sandra and Ken Amos, Steven and Jackie Taylor, Shirley Cooper, Connie and Mr Brinkler, Margaret Woods and partner, Trevor Weldon, Gary Lester, Fanella Bull, Stan and Mrs Bates, Mr and Mrs Peters, Fred and Mrs Finch, Cynthia Webb and Gerald Gilbert, Debbie Norman, Debbie French, Gillian Szarvas, Jeff and Janet Baldwin, Jean and Melvyn Graham, Janice and Brian Faulkner, Mr and Mrs Clark, Graham Stanton, Ray and Kath Franklin, Mr and Mrs Graham Randall, Mr and Mrs Ken Hanford, Ernie Randall, Sandra and Stuart Pince, Horace and Mrs Albone, Mr and Mrs Adams, Mr and Mrs Hutchinson, Mrs Smith and partner, Peter Farr, Sally Hunt and partner, Mr and Mrs Norman and Kay Bolton.

Guests included Mr and Mrs Gordon Barker, Peter Maudlin, Tim and Tricia Sills (Leeds Smith Solicitors), Maurice and Mrs Batt (Lloyds Bank), Mr and Mrs Bob Smith (NFU), Mr and Mrs Peter Zwetsloot, Mr and Mrs Henk Biermann (Zwetsloots), Mr and Mrs Freddy Jones, Lord and Lady Pym, Mr and Mrs Richard Godber and Vic and Mrs Hansford.

In the early 1990s the company was hit by recession. Although Brian and his wife Christine have three sons, none wanted to follow in the family flower footsteps so Brian decided to amalgamate the business with four others. Their principal leaseholder was Chessum Roses (run by Paul Chessum) and in 2003 Brian and Mike did a deal enabling Paul to buy the business on a lease purchase arrangement, allowing the brothers to eventually retire.