Since it’s conception in 1588 Keymer has supplied quintessentially English, handmade clay roof tiles to specifiers, architects and roofers across the UK. Now in its 427th year, Keymer’s heritage and traditional attitude towards roof tiles and ornaments is now under the protection of Wienerberger – the leading supplier of wall, roof and landscape innovations. Whilst Wienerberger continues in its mission to develop new and innovative ways to manufacture construction materials, Keymer’s identity, and reputation for traditional manufacturing techniques is being robustly maintained. To explain more Richard Bishop, Category Marketing Manager for Roof at Wienerberger, told us more about Keymer’s past, present, future and why Keymer is perfect for restoration projects.

Keymer’s enduring success has been the quality of its tiles, and the beauty it has afforded projects across the country and the world.”

Keymer as it stands today

“The actual process of creating a handmade tile has hardly changed in the 400 years since Keymer’s birth. For example, all the tiles are still made out of Wealdon clay, which is native to the area and is a material employed by generations of roof tile artisans. Once the clay has been extracted, and allowed to weather naturally for a year, the clay is wire cut and is supplied to the tile makers that still apply sand by hand to give the tiles their distinct colour. Different amounts of Manganese Oxide in the sand give the different tones for Red, Antique and Elizabethan tiles – a process which a maker from 400 years ago would recognise.

“Even today the clay is then manually inserted into the mould, the excess is cut away with wire – in the same way cheese is cut – and the punch is finally brought down to insert the nibs, holes and maker’s mark. These tiles can be found on a huge range of both new and old properties and buildings and are identifiable by the handprints left on the underneath of the tile from the clay being slapped into the mould. Because the process of manufacture has remained almost unchanged for the past 400 years, Keymer tiles continue to be specified for restoration projects and new builds as they bring class and individuality to any roof.”

Brand protection and innovation

“The key to Keymer’s achievements has been its ability to evolve and innovate as times change – as one can imagine, in a lifespan covering six centuries, there has been ample room to adapt and improve. For instance, following the Clean Air Act the tall brick chimneys at the site were demolished meaning the company had to alter its manufacturing process. This was altered but without compromising on the quality of the finished product.

“At its core, the Keymer philosophy has always been to create, by hand, high quality roof tiles that stand the test of time alongside bespoke finials – the final furnishing to heritage roofs. For only the fourth time in its history, Keymer moved once again in 2015 to its new home at Wienerberger’s Ewhurst factory – a site that houses two of the original four clay phoenixes that stood guard at the four corners of each of Keymer’s previous homes – where its philosophy continues.”

The restoration

“The process behind the manufacture of Keymer roof tiles affords a vital advantage for restoration projects – flexibility. If a particular project has a distinct roof that needs new tiles to replace its unique cladding, without detracting from the overall aesthetic feel of the roof, Keymer can recreate tiles that match those that need replacing. This can be achieved through its time-tested techniques including the application of varying levels of Manganese Oxide, which make available a wide range of colours, alongside the hand made nature of tiles allowing for interesting and unique shapes to also be recreated. In short, the heritage nurtured by Keymer allows designers to rest sound in the knowledge that almost any roof – regardless of age, or design – can be renovated to an extremely high standard.

The products in practice

“Keymer tiles have been specified for a whole host of projects of different scales and budgets. Bewley Homes for example, in South Warnborough, specified Keymer’s Shire Tiles to ensure it was in keeping with the local, quaint village feel. Although the properties are not as old some projects using Keymer tiles – the Shire roof tiles link the homes with the local surroundings by adding a sense of heritage and timeless class. That said, Keymer tiles have also been specified for the regeneration of particularly prestigious projects including the birthplace of Shakespeare in Stratford upon Avon and Leeds Castle in Kent. These incredibly important heritage sites specified Keymer tiles to protect their individual histories without compromising on the aesthetics of the buildings. Such is the beauty of Keymer tiles that the Aston Martin Owners Club selected Traditional Antique tiles to roof its headquarters whilst the Anglo-Catholic Church specified tiles in Antique / Elizabethan mix to roof the awe-inspiring Tewkesbury Abbey, a building that was close to destruction only 48 years before the creation of Keymer during the dissolution of the monasteries.

“These case studies prove that the specification of Keymer tiles is in no way limited to properties of a particular age, or architectural school, as they sit upon the roofs of buildings built from before 1588 to 2015. They have been involved in church regenerations, the refurbishment of ancestral homes to the aristocracy and private new build homes.

“We are really excited for the future of Keymer. We have recently launched the latest Keymer Specification Guide, which includes a wealth of design and technical information and will, I hope, inspire future generations of architects and home builders.”