The history of what is now MJ Gleeson plc is a long one. In the early 1900s our founder, Michael Joseph Gleeson, travelled from Cloonmore, a small hamlet in the West of Ireland, to Sheffield to find work as a bricklayer.
There he joined an Irish family business specialising in housing development and building contracting. A few years later he married his employer’s eldest daughter.
In due course, he inherited his father-in-law’s firm and changed its name. And so the story of MJ Gleeson begins.
Ireland is a country where farewells have marked the lives of many. For centuries, the Irish have emigrated all over the world – and over a century ago, two brothers from a small farm in Cloonmore, County Galway, said farewell and set sail for England.
One brother soon returned to Ireland, homesick for the green fields and hills – the other, Michael Joseph Gleeson, decided to stay. Moving to Sheffield, “MJ” became a bricklayer for an Irish builder who also came from Cloonmore. He subsequently married his employer’s daughter and, on eventually inheriting her father’s business, committed himself to its substantial expansion
This was an era of large scale speculative housing and general building contracting in and around Sheffield. But, while taking full advantage of this, MJ also expanded the firm’s building operations into other areas, including Manchester, Fleetwood Preston and London. And, recognising the benefits of diversification, he also, overtime, acquired a greyhound stadium and several local cinemas.
The Gleeson business empire marched further north and south, building nearly 400 houses for Newcastle upon Tyne Corporation in 1932, and acquiring for housing development the extensive Nonsuch Park Estate between Cheam and Ewell, in Surrey. Gleeson also started to undertake major civil engineering projects, most notably a section of the London to Fishguard trunk road, including the Western Avenue Viaduct. For most of this period, MJ’s nephew JP (Jack) Gleeson was responsible for all the Company’s operations in the South, working from a small office in Worcester Park, Surrey.
During the Second World War, MJ Gleeson was instructed by the Government to devote its efforts almost exclusively to war work, building major airfields in Norfolk, and military camps and hospitals throughout the country.
Michael Joseph Gleeson retired in 1950 and was succeeded as Chairman by Jack Gleeson. The building and civil engineering business continued to flourish winning many major contracts – particularly for power stations and dams throughout the UK.
MJ Gleeson became a public company, quoted on the London Stock Exchange, and continued to build both power stations and dams. In total, MJ Gleeson built over 30 power stations and 18 dams in the UK. The Company– can still claim to have built more dams in the UK than any other contractor.
The Company’s building operations continued to grow strongly in both the North and the South. A particularly prestigious building contract in this period was the Crystal Palace National Recreation Centre.
MJ Gleeson took on many major social housing schemes, especially in London and Sheffield, whilst also constructing the massive British Aluminium Company smelter at Lynmouth, near Newcastle.
The company also built a number of the earliest motorway projects, including a stretch of the M25, as well as shopping centres, hospitals and leisure facilities, notably the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
This was also a period of further expansion by the Company’s housing division, Gleeson Homes, in both the North and the South of England.
Whilst continuing to expand its civil engineering operations in the UK, MJ Gleeson plc won a number of major building contracts, most notably the impressive new Lloyd’s of London building in the City. The company also ventured overseas, building cold stores in Burma, the Seychelles and Egypt, as well as constructing dams in Nigeria and roads and sewage treatment works in Uganda. In Kenya. the company built a new runway at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Nairobi.
In the UK the company became increasingly involved in commercial property development and investment. Its office development at 43 London Wall in the City of London was the first development in the UK to secure a rent of £50 per sq ft.
In 1988 Jack Gleeson retired as Managing Director and was succeeded by his nephew, Dermot Gleeson, as Chief Executive. The 1980’s also saw the acquisition of two other companies; Powerminster Ltd, specialising in mechanical and electrical work and property care services, was acquired in 1985; and Concrete Repairs Ltd the UK leader in repairing concrete structures, was acquired in 1986.
Following the privatisation of the English and Welsh water industry in 1989, Gleeson Engineering Division completed the first Thames Water turnkey cost contract at Camberley in 1991. This was quickly followed by Walton Advanced Waste Treatment Works and the implementation of Thames Water’s first partnering agreement (EQUIP). During the 1990’s Gleeson established itself as the UK’s market leader in water-related civil engineering. A particularly significant milestone was the construction of the Stirling Water Treatment Works and the subsequent award of the AVSEP Wastewater Treatment Works for Edinburgh.
In 1992, the Company purchased ECL Ltd, which brought the company additional experience in the design and installation of sewage and effluent treatment works.
Building contracting activity continued to grow strongly, particularly in the social housing sector; whilst Gleeson Homes operations were enlarged by the acquisition of the quoted housebuilder, Colroy plc.
In 1994, Jack Gleeson died, and Dermot Gleeson became Chairman as well as Chief Executive. In 1998 he relinquished the latter role but remains Chairman to this day.
The first half of the decade saw continued growth for the building and civil engineering operations in the UK, with Group turnover reaching £645m and staff numbering 2,800 by 2004.
Subsequently, however, MJ Gleeson plc decided to narrow the commercial focus of its operations by withdrawing from building and civil engineering contracting and concentrating instead solely on housing development and strategic land promotion. In 2005, the Northern and Southern construction divisions were sold to a management buyout team. In 2006, Concrete Repairs Ltd was also sold to a management buyout team, Gleeson MCL Limited was sold to Morgan Sindall and became Morgan Est Rail and the Engineering division was sold to Black & Veatch.
In 2010, MJ Gleeson sold its last remaining contracting business, Powerminster Gleeson Services to Morgan Sindall who incorporated it in their facilities management business, Lovell Respond.
MJ Gleeson plc now specialises in building low-cost homes in the North of England and the Midlands, and in strategic land promotion in the South of England.