The company had its origins in the activities of the Walker family who commenced making Blue Lias lime on their own land at Newbold and New Bilton. The first public company was the Rugby Lias Lime & Cement Company Ltd., founded in 1862. Production of Portland cement in the true sense began in 1870. The company was reconstituted as the Rugby Portland Cement Company Ltd. in 1872. The Walker family continued as a driving force within the company until 1925. Despite attempts to keep up with the technology of the industry, including installing rotary kilns, the company found it difficult to compete and by the 1930s, like many other small operations, was on the verge of extinction.
New capital was injected when Halford Reddish took control, and the bounce-back of the industry from 1935 onward provided the launching platform for an aggressive expansion. Four plants were acquired: Southam in 1934, Rochester in 1937, Gillingham in 1939 and Stockton in 1945. The first two were immediately rebuilt with up-to-date wet process technology. The latter two, which competed with Rochester and Southam respectively, were immediately shut down. This left the company in a condition for easy profitability in the post-war boom. The company began overseas ventures in the West Indies and Australia. After a period of loose co-operation with Eastwood's (Barrington, Lewes and South Ferriby), Rugby bought out their cement operations in 1962, giving the company a broader geographical spread across England. Eastwoods' non-cement operations (mainly brick making) were sold to Redland. Finally, a similarly loose associate, Chinnor, was acquired in 1963.
A first venture into energy-efficient cement production began with the Lepol kiln 2 at South Ferriby in 1967. With the post 1973 turn-down, the company adopted semi-wet processes at Rochester and Southam. The small Lewes plant was shut down in 1981 and Chinnor in 1999. In the 1990s, the up-rating of the Rugby plant was planned.
In 2000, the company was taken over by RMC (Ready Mixed Concrete) who were at that time expanding their interests in cement manufacture. They immediately shut down the Rochester and Southam plants while commissioning the up-rated Rugby plant. In 2005, RMC was taken over by the world's No 3 cement manufacturer CEMEX (Cementos Mexicanos), and Barrington was closed in 2008, leaving only Rugby and South Ferriby operational. A large import terminal has been built on the Thames.
John Frearson is preparing an official history of Rugby Cement.