The Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd (APCM) was the company that became known as the Blue Circle Group.
The company was created in 1900 by the amalgamation of the largest British cement manufacturing companies of the time, the purpose of the company, according to its prospectus, being to unify the entire industry. The formation and early development of the company is described in great detail by Cook and Francis, both using O'Hagan as their primary source.
The main companies interested in the amalgamation were J. B. White & Brothers Ltd., Hilton Anderson Brooks & Co. Ltd., and Martin Earle & Co. Ltd. Although the intent was to "amalgamate all the cement firms in the country", they seem to have been rather dismissive of the industry outside the Thames/Medway area, and concentrated in unifying the large south-eastern companies. As it turned out, not all these were prepared to cooperate, and in particular, the relatively large Martin Earles, Lee's and Wouldham companies backed out when offered too little for their businesses. Nevertheless, the company launch went ahead on 18-21 July 1900. (See Prospectus.)
The chosen launch date was unfortunate, since it coincided with a major stock market crash precipitated by the Boxer Rebellion in China. The sponsors found that only 70% of the shares were taken, and had to take on massive debts to buy the remainder. A hurried re-negotiation of the purchase terms with the selling companies took place, and three of them - Johnsons , West Kent and Trechmann Weekes were sufficiently dissatisfied with this to pull out of the deal. This caused much acrimony and litigation in the subsequent years.
When the dust died down, APCM held in 1900 about 60% of the British cement manufacturing capacity. This sunk to about 35% by 1910, partly because of more rapid expansion by the competition, but also because, as part of its declared strategy, the company closed most of the small, chronically inefficient plants that it had acquired, in order to reduce "overcapacity". Only two of the plants (Arlesey and Vectis) were outside the Thames/Medway area. The process is shown in the following table tracking the company's components as at 1900.
The British rights to the Hurry and Seaman patents had been bought by White's and were regarded as a key asset of the merged company, giving exclusive access to the use of rotary kilns. However, this proved illusory: the competition installed bigger and better rotary kilns, while the combine had to pay substantial royalties to the patentees for their own rotary production. In the end, the British patent was bought out by the company in 1904 for £180,000. No action was ever brought against the competition for patent infringement.
During 1911, BPCM was set up as a second combine, the objective again being "a complete amalgamation of the cement trade". This brought together most of the companies that escaped the first merger, as well as several significant new entrants. BPCM was constituted as a wholly-owned subsidiary of APCM in December 1911. Subsequent acquisitions of the Group - such as Kent, Red Triangle, etc were absorbed by APCM, except for Humber and G&T Earles' new plants, which were absorbed by BPCM.
Although the two companies maintained separate boards for many years, they acted in concert commercially. The joint brand name of "Blue Circle" was made official in the 1920s, and individual company brands nearly all disappeared. At the same time, the Cement Marketing Company (CMC) was set up as the two combines' common selling organization. APCM, BPCM and CMC were formally called the "Blue Circle Group" in 1956. BPCM was finally merged with APCM in 1965. The Group continued to trade as APCM until 1978, when it was re-named Blue Circle Industries PLC. The last of the APCM plants to operate was Swanscombe, which finally shut down in 1990. Blue Circle Industries was bought by Lafarge in 2001.
© Dylan Moore 2011: last edit 26/01/14.