Marsh Fuels: two significant milestones

This year Marsh Fuels celebrated two huge landmarks. As well as marking its 120th anniversary, managing director and master of The Worshipful Company of Fuellers, Carrie Marsh, chalked up 25 years with the company. Liz boardman chats to Carrie about her time in the industry, as well as reflecting back over the company’s long and fascinating history.

Marsh Fuels celebrates two significant milestones

A brief history

The company was founded in 1902 when Henry Marsh came to Ball Hill from London, fell in love with the daughter of the local landlord and settled in the village.

Bert and Carrie Marsh

Collecting coal from the railway station by horse and cart, they delivered by the bucket to local homes. Henrietta sat up front with her little black book, keeping note of payments. They kept the locals warm through two World Wars but, during the Second World War, there was an accident with a load of coal in the yard and Frederick (Fred) Marsh, Henry’s son, was drafted back from the war to run the essential service. He later found his place taking on the Coal Board for the right to haul his own coal supplies.

Years later Frederick’s son, Bert Marsh, joined the business after learning the trade. It was around this time in the late 1960s that oil arrived and would later become the firm’s main source of income. Fred Marsh also started the building of small industrial units, and the company became landlords too.

Carrie joined the company in 1997 as a boiler engineer and progressed through the various departments, from gas and coal delivery, driving the tankers to deliver oil and eventually to the office, before becoming managing director.

What have been the main company milestones of growth and change during the last 120 years?

The arrival of the telephone… In the early 1900s we were ‘Highclere 3’, then 253, before eventually becoming 01635 253253.

The 1980s saw the old carbon copy ledgers and cash books swapped for new-fangled computers; very basic in their day, but now all singing and dancing versions with social media to boot! Horse and cart transport was replaced by the horsepower of various trucks over the years, to the latest in oil tankers with digital display. The arrival of our own oil storage in the late 1960s has been invaluable. World wars, a pandemic, freak weather events and drifts of snow, have all been overcome one way or another.

Although there have been changes over the years, from the bigger companies supplying us, to then supplying the customer direct, we have stood our ground and remained focused on traditional service and customer care. In recent years we have built a wider customer base on the simple fact that we are small enough to be adaptable and always answer the phone, while large enough to be able to deliver as promised.

What was the best piece of advice you have been given in this industry?

Check twice, cut once – admittedly this was referring to a piece of wood at the time – but has since applied throughout the entire business, from adding up figures to making big decisions. That and to always ‘sleep on it’.

What’s your favourite way to spend time when you’re not working in the business?

I have to admit, I’ve forgotten, after the last three years! But it used to be staying at the coast in West Sussex and watching musical theatre!

Marsh Fuels is a family-run business. Please introduce us to the next generation.

The next generation are 11-year-old twin girls, so I am the most recent full-time generation. However, during lockdown and throughout home schooling, they did brush up on their maths by doing the stock take and came in very handy with a mop and bucket washing the trucks, so we are definitely building up their fuel distribution skills.

Carrie, I know you started out as a boiler engineer, then a truck driver and now you’re mostly office based. Can you tell me more about your role and what you enjoy most?

My role encompasses everything in some shape or form, from problem solving in the office or yard and keeping up with legislation, to seeing what’s next. I’m also a landlord to our tenants so I wear that hat too. I miss driving the tanker, which I still occasionally get to do, though now I have the added advantage of being able to give myself the nice loads!

How many members of staff were there when the company was founded in 1902 and how many people are involved with Marsh Fuels now?

There was a much bigger staff in the ‘old days’ of coal bulking, bagging and delivery but you don’t need all that manpower for delivering and handling heating oil, so we are smaller in number but still mighty!

What do you think makes your customers choose you as their supplier?

We answer the phone (a surprisingly rare thing in our area around February-March 2022) and we know many of our customers by phone or in person. They like the care and attention they receive from our drivers, which reflects our overall high standards. We treat other people’s property as we would our own and are always ready to offer advice to anyone in need. We offer a traditional service – still fairly manual – so we often say ‘yes’ when another firm’s computer says ‘no’.

What have you enjoyed most about working in fuel distribution?

Driving the trucks and seeing the end customer with their tank filled.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the business?

Different things spring to mind, from keeping our staff and customers safe during Covid, to running the business completely and, of course, becoming the Master of the Worshipful Company of Fuellers, a London City livery company, representing all energy companies and working towards a net zero future.

Congratulations on becoming a master fueller! How did it happen and what have been the highlights of the last year?

It was a very special opportunity and once-in-a-lifetime experience for me as I supported and took the reins from the immediate past master, HRH The Earl of Wessex. Promoting the journey to zero carbon and encompassing all types of fuel generation from fossil to renewable, I feel as though I’m following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Frederick Marsh, who was a founding member of the modern livery company when it was re-formed in 1984.
I’m one of the few fuellers who actually delivers to the end consumer. Lots of the other members are involved in different areas, such as shipping, or represent global fuel companies.

Earlier this year I hosted a Masters Weekend in Newbury and Ball Hill. The Fuellers came to the yard to see how we run the business, to get a glimpse of the trucks up close and personal and to help us to kick off our 120th anniversary celebrations with a specially commissioned cake.
I’m also a trustee of the Fuellers Charitable Trust fund and am involved with the Livery’s philanthropic work.

Tell us about your most memorable day at work.

How to choose?…
There was the day I came into the yard to find a cow loose, which had to be caught and put back in the field. Another day it was a field of sheep! Or maybe the day I delivered gas oil to the Newbury Bypass construction team, and they thought it hilarious to drop a huge chain in a chalk puddle just behind me, covering me in thick chalk water which dried like concrete.

Possibly the training course I went on for my ADR, when the chap running it advised us to elevate the limb, adding that men might use their toolboxes whereas I could use my handbag! Then there was the day I was chased by an ex-police dog and had to sit on top of an oil tank up on bricks until he got bored. The almost total eclipse in the yard when the light faded, and the birds stopped singing. Watching 9-11 on a portable TV with the postman and a customer, who had come in as the news was breaking about the Twin Towers. Also, digging a route in the snow from our gate and up the hill to help get traffic moving, only to be told by some neighbours that I should’ve started earlier so they could get to school! My favourite days, however, were simply working alongside my dad in the office, learning how to schedule efficient loads and just sharing a cup of tea.

Tell us about your colleagues. Who do you love working with?

Bill has been with us for over 50 years. He taught me to drive trucks and has a wicked sense of humour. His broad Berkshire accent is unusual and a delight to hear, while his dedication to the business is rare.

What is it like working with your husband, Dave? Did you meet at work?

In actual fact, I’m in the office while he’s out on the truck or in the yard, so we actually see more of each other at home! Dave used to work at Lloyds Bank under strip lights with very little fresh air, so he came to join the business just before we got married and is now much healthier. Fun fact, Dave took my surname as he has two brothers and I was the last to have our family name…only to then have twin girls!

How have you celebrated your various anniversaries? Or are the celebrations still ongoing?

The Fuellers Company came to celebrate our anniversary back in May and we have enjoyed letting our customers and local press know.

Cutting the cake!

Standing in London addressing the Fuellers in our 120th anniversary year and my 25th anniversary was quite a ‘pinch me’ moment.

Looking to the future, what’s the vision for the company as it moves forward and plans ahead for the next 120 years?

Hopefully I will be retired long before then, but we will evolve the family business to suit the current climate at the time. I hope that our own children will follow their own interests and we may well end up reverting back to being landlords, with Dave cutting the hedges and me on the ride-on lawnmower enjoying a quiet life in our twilight years but, whatever happens, I plan on the yard and the business still being here in some form or another for many years to come.