On Wednesday the 11th of March 2009 I attended a free public presentation entitled: “Marshall of Cambridge ‘A Centenary Celebration’” which had been organised as part of Cambridge University’s Science Festival. The “lecture” was given by Group Captain Terry Holloway a retired RAF officer who has worked for Marshall since 1995.
Marshall is a fantastic company, which I think is clearly a huge asset to both Cambridge and the UK. I find it absolutely shocking that our current elected representatives are pushing for the airport site to be taken over by homes, and that the city is considering things such as a congestion charge and a business rate supplement which will be damaging to this valuable organisation. The city needs to be working together with the all businesses to make Cambridge an attractive and prosperous place.
Almost everyone in Cambridge knows something about the story of the Marshall business and family. I suspect even those visiting the city for a short time as students find some connection to the company. Like many people in the city, I bought my car from Marshall and regularly have it serviced there. Mr Holloway took the opportunity during his introduction to make a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch in respect of some of the company’s products which I imagine are primarily targeted at those outside Cambridge, for example £35m personalised jets. A number of people did approach him afterwards; though I expect they were more interested in dates and times for plane spotting than placing orders.
The presentation started with brief overview of the structure of the company, which at his broadest level can be broken down into three groups: cars, specialist vehicles and aeroplanes. Marshall is currently in its centenary year. Mr Holloway described how he and Michael Marshall, the Chairman had been up at dawn on the 1st of January to see the new year in hoisting a “centenary flag”, a ceremony which was witnessed by the Cambridge News and the BBC. The flag will be up all year, except when they’re flying the Union Jack. As part of the “centenary” the name of the airport has been changed from Cambridge City Airport to: “Marshall Airport Cambridge”. Mr Holloway joked that the local newspaper would probably never catch on to the the change, though ironically he described them as the “Cambridge Evening News”, a moniker they’ve been trying to move away from themselves.
The rapid-fire history of the company we were given started with David Marshall, who had left school at fourteen, as was common in the 1870s. At that time, for young Cambridge people despite the presence of the University there was no real opportunity for education. David Marshall moved joined the catering staff of Trinity College and worked his way up to become a chef. His contacts at Trinity led him to make a move to manage, and become Steward, of the Pitt Club. He managed to turn around that establishment which was in a state of decline and proved himself as an entrepreneur. We were told that in 1905 David Marshall visited France where he saw cars and realised that there was an opportunity to use them to get his well healed patrons at the Pitt Club home in the evenings. The type of patron at the Pitt Club was illustrated by a tale of a student who was in the club along with one of his tutors. The student asked to borrow five pounds from his tutor (this was at a time when that could have bought a terrace of houses in the city). The student took the note, rolled it up, dipped it in the fire and used it to light his cigar. He reassured his tutor the debt would be repaid in the morning and it was. In my experience Cambridge, while now more diverse, still attracts many people with that kind of profligate attitude today. While there has been increased diversity an environment of equality and meritocracy has still not, in my view, been established.
Back to David Marshall in 1905. He established the “brunswick motorcar company” providing a chauffeur service to take his customers home, he operated at first from a Lock-up garage on brunswick gardens. Initially this business was run as a side-line to his job at the Pitt Club, it expanded and in June 1909 established the Marshall motor car business operating from Jesus Lane. The Red Arrows are expected at Cambridge Airport in June 2009 to mark the anniversary.
During the first World War David Marshall wanted to do his bit and found his catering skills usefully applied to providing meals at Woolwich Arsenal. Cambridge had become a hosptital centre for troops returning to UK from Europe, they arrived via the railway and were taken by ambulance to the hospital (which then was the building which is now the University’s Judge Institute), and to the colleges, many of which were also being used as hospitals. Marshall’s was given the contract to maintain the many army ambulances in the city, this was the company’s first contract with the armed forces, a link which they have maintained. David Marshall also found his services called on to solve catering problems at the Longbridge car plant. Connections and awareness gained in that role led to Marshall becoming the Austin distributor for Cambridge.
The next character in the interlinked family and company history was Arthur Marshall. He received a first class education at the Perse School in Cambridge, followed by Tunbridge in Kent and Jesus College, Cambridge. While a young, rich, man in his late twenties looking for adventure he bought an aeroplane which he parked on a field behind the Marshall family on Newmarket Road. At this time Alan Cobham, an aviation pioneer who ran a “flying circus” was looking for a place to base his operations. He was flying over Cambridge, spotted the plane in a field and landed. He asked if he could base himself in Marshall’s field, this was agreed to and the field became the first airport. This was in a location between the Football Ground and the McDonald’s roundabout – closer to the city than the current airport on a much smaller site. The opening of the airport caused a huge uproar in the City because it operated on Sundays. The University academics and the Bishop of Ely were outraged. The resultant press coverage provided fantastic publicity for the airport – everyone wanted to learn to fly. The first student of the new flying school which Arthur Marshall established was Norman de Bruyne a Junior Bursar at Trinity College Cambridge. He wanted to fly something more fancy than the plane Marshall had so designed and built the Snark to do this he developed his own new synthetic glues; technology which enabled the Mosquito aircraft to be built during the second world war.
In 1937 the airport on the current site was opened. The first airport closer to the city had been called “Fen Ditton Airport”, on opening the new site was called “Teversham airport”. The opening ceremony included the first public showing of the Spitfire.
Michael Marshall, the group’s current Chairman has his officer in the “tower” of the “control building” which was built on the new airport site. Marshall trained twenty thousand pilots for the second world war and repaired around five thousand aircraft for the war effort.
Mr Holloway related the story of a B17 flying fortress which had crashed in Cambridge during the war. The company repaired the aircraft and had it ready on a Sunday, this was the company’s test pilot’s day off and no-one in Cambridge had flown this type of plane. Arthur Marshall decided to fly it himself, no staff were prepared to accompany him so he took off with just his wife who accompanied him to work on Sundays so they could have lunch together. Once Arthur Marshall had demonstrated the safety of the plane in the morning, everyone wanted to experience flying in it in the afternoon and lots had to be drawn among the maintenance staff.
We were told that Michael Marshall learnt to fly sixty years go, and started in the Jesus Lane motor business in 1959, he was credited with being the architect of the motor group’s expansion; it now has sites from Northern Yorkshire to East Anglia. The company still has a chauffeur business.
In 1946 the Mayor of Cambridge was taken on the first civil flight in the UK by the company. Cambridge University Air Squadron, which Mr Holloway described as the “oldest and finest” was supported by Marshall until it moved to RAF Whitton five years ago, and close links are still maintained.
Arthur Marshall looked at his company and reviewed the state of the company and determined that he had the best people along with excellent hangers and a great airport but was lacking an in-house manufacturing and design capability. The company decided to develop this area and now claims to have a design office second only to BAE in the UK and a state of the art in-house manufacturing capability.
Arthur Marshall’s success in positioning his company is illustrated by the fact the iconic drop-nose of Concorde was designed and manufactured by Marshall in Cambridge. This involvement in cutting edge aerospace continues today – Marshall makes all extended range and long range fuel tanks for Boeing’s 747 777 and 737 planes, as well as we were told making “bits for Airbus”
A major model in the company historically and still today is the C130 Hercules. Mr Holloway said: “The RAF orded 66 in 1966 and we have looked after them since then.” We were told that the first C130 to cross the atlantic and arrive in Cambridge was again in the City today. It had just undergone its seventh major service and is due for its post-service test flight next week. Examples of the work the company have done on the C130 which we were shown photographs illustrating included stretching the fuselage, rebuilding wings, and modifying for metrological research. All of the new “J” variant of the C130 had been through Cambridge on before going into service.
We were told Marshall look after foreign aircraft from countries including Austria, Australia and Canada. South African and Dutch military aircraft had had glass cockpits installed in Cambridge.
One of the famous modifications of aircraft carried out by Marshall was the conversion of the C130 to enable them to refuel in flight so they could get to the Falklands. This modification was completed in just nineteen days, from the point of first contact to the plane becoming operational. Mr Holloway joked that you can’t get a letter replied to by the MoD in that time today.
Another impressive modification which I had not heard of before was related. In 1992 the MoD called to ask Marshall to paint one of their Tristar aircraft “desert pink” in advance of the Gulf War. When asked when they wanted this work done the company was told the plane was already in the air on its way to them, with the paint on board. The MoD then said they’d booked the flight crew a hotel in Cambridge for the night and wanted the plane back the next day. Marshall contacted Jesus College asking if any of their undergraduates wanted to earn some money that night, sent people into Cambridge to buy up all the sandpaper, brushes and rollers they could find, called in the Marshall’s in house caters and they got the aircraft painted overnight and it was off to war within twelve hours of arriving.
A particularly impressive slide showed a Marshall’s converted Tristar carrying a Pegasus satellite launching rocket. The plane takes the rocket so high, it is released from the plane and ignited and takes the satellite into orbit.
Other work includes recent urgent operational requirements for Afganistan and Iraq, which Mr Holloway told us the company were very proud to be carrying out, as well as civilian work for example for KLM and British Airways. In respect of BA he said Marshall had installed the business class seats in some of their planes. We were also shown a slide of a Bombardier Global Express, a long range corporate jet which Marshall finish with external paint jobs and complete interiors. It was this aircraft which Mr Holloway was offering members of the audience with £35m to spare.
We were told that the company had recently made a £5m investment in their “Business Aviation Centre” on the airport and that this was an expanding area of their operations. Other aspects continue, such as flying training. Mr Holloway described Marshall Airport Cambridge as the best equipped local airport in the country, pointing to an area radar with 150 miles of coverage bringing safety to the region, and the fact the airport can operate around the clock. He said the airport often received diverted charter flights, horse flights (the “passengers en-route to newmarket), hospital flights and we saw a slide of a charter flight supporting a University of Cambridge conference in the city.
The family history now turned to Robert Marshall who we were told joined the company in 1994, and based on historical experience might have to wait some time before he takes over the whole group. He is currently chairman of the motor group, and chairman of Marshall’s specialist vehicles, which like the airport is also being rebranded this year, this time to “Marshall’s Land Systems”. This part of the business employes 250 people and turns over £250m, an incredible ratio!
We were told that if we had received a letter today it had almost certainly at one stage travelled on a Marshall specialist vehicle (we were shown slides of Royal Mail and other couriers’ vans). We were also told that 95% of the UK’s custodial vehicles were made by Marshall’s.
The specialist vehicles division has also been involved in the production of the Watchkeeper unmanned reconnaissance plane.
Also 9500 DROPS Flattracks (Demountable Rack Offloading Pickup System) had been worked on by Marshall. We were also shown expandable shelters, including one containing a mobile bakery and equipment for homeland chemical, biological and nuclear civil defence. The specialist vehicle division also works on “ordinance disruption systems” – bomb disposal robots, and has even won a UK government competition to create a “robot solider” which can be operated by remote control (it looks superficially a bit like a bomb disposal robot). The company still has connections with the UK army’s ambulances – modifying all 826 of them. We were also shown a mobile hospital which had been built for Norway. This work had led on to building modular permanent operating theaters. Marshall has built operating theaters 12,14,15,16, and 17 at Addenbrookes’ (there is no 13). Inside you can’t tell the difference from a traditional building. These are now being used elsewhere.
Investment in People
Mr Holloway told us that Marshall was very proud of the skills of its people, and it had never not had an apprentice on its staff.
We were told the company took on fifteen graduates per year and if it was externally reviewed would probably be told it spent too much on training, but that it thought it was valuable as the company kept people on for a very long time. An example was given of an individual – Sam Barnard who joined the company as a 14 year old and left at the age of 79. Mr Holloway proudly stated there was : “no ageist policy at our company”. This is something I strongly support. I’m a huge supporter of meritocracy and think ageism is tolerated far to much in the UK today.
We were also told that a Marshall’s employee receives a “state award” almost every year. One highlighted was Bob Ward, Marshall Aerospace Engineering Director who we were told was the only civilian given an OBE in the Afghanistan honors list.
The various things done in memory of Arthur Marshall were listed, including the naming of a “virtual research centre” in the University of Cambridge, various trophies, including the “Chariots of Fire” charity run through Cambridge, a sliver model of a plane presented to Jesus College and a board containing his running medals presented to the Hawks’ Club.
A slide summing up the company stated a combination of wheels and wings bring us prosperity. The coat of arms of the company which includes a cockerel representing Jesus College, Wings for Aviation, the light blue of Cambridge, “walls” of the City of Cambridge, worker bees and a motto which translates as “Happy is he who works”.
A Flying Day?
Following the “lecture” a member of the audience asked if there was to be a “flying day” as part of the centenary celebrations. We were told that there would be flying accompanying the Company Employees Family and Friends Open Day on Sunday 20th September 2009 but that this would not be open to public on the grounds that there was insufficient public car parking, and it was very much an internal day. Mr Holloway encouraged those who knew Marshall’s employees to try and get an invitation from them.
Building Homes on the Airport Site
I asked what Marshall’s thought of proposals that their airport ought be used for the building of houses, and of the congestion charge. I think that the city is undervaluing the company and it is incredible that those currently running the council are making these proposals.
Mr Holloway described the council’s decision to identify the airport site as being suitable for development as “rather imperious”. He said that while the company could have simply said “go away” or something stronger given that they own the land they decided not to damage the relationship between the company and the council and decided not to object to putting the proposals in the statutory local plan conditional on finding a new location for the company and airport which met its needs and those of the company’s customers. He said that Mildenhall had certainly been ruled out, and that any move would have to make economic sense for the company. Beyond that though he didn’t think moving the airport was good for Cambridge or the region. He said it was a valuable asset, and that a lot of inward investment in the area depends on the airport. He pointed to the fact Bill Gates regularly files in and suggested that he would not have invested in the Microsoft building on the University’s West Cambridge site if the airport had not been there. Mr Holloway said Cambridge needs a regional airport. If not on current site, not far away and discussed the problems surrounding finding a new site – no one wants it in their back yard.
I’d also managed to mention congestion charging in my question on our political leadership providing an environment in which the company can thrive. We were told that Marshall “has not quite got a policy yet”, but was aware that it would be “very harmful to our employees” and “as we well motor cars from within the zone, it would not be helpful”. Mr Holloway made the personal observation that Cambridge is badly served by public transport, and he was all for improving it. His message to the politicians was – improve public transport first. He wanted to see better connections from places like Ely and Haverhill to all parts of Cambridge City – not just the centre (or the station). A member of the public made a passionate contribution saying that Marshall ought remain on Newmarket Road and he would hate to see them move.
The event drew to a close with a member of the audience relating one of her relative’s positive experience as a long serving member of Marshall’s staff.