The early history of the plant site is obscure, and various accounts suggest that the plant was in operation before WWI. The Dreadnought Portland Cement Company was probably the most blatent of the fifteen "promoter" cement companies that sprung up between 1910 and 1939. Most of these were under-funded, and many failed until they were bailed out by larger companies, but none more so than Dreadnought. The best available information suggests the following:
In early 1914, Farrow's Bank bought the freehold 152 acre Hill Farm, for £6000. On 2 July 1914, at the instigation of the bank, the "Dreadnought Portland Cement Company Ltd." was floated with a nominal initial capital of £50,000, although only £20,000 was subscribed. Construction began, with Horace Boot & Partners as "consulting engineers". Horace Boot was effectively on the staff and was responsible to the Managing Director (Walter Forder) for construction. Walter Forder had been a colleague of Boot in his work in Kent utilities. Like the Sundon Forders, he came from Hampshire, but I have failed to confirm that he was related to them. However, in Hudson Earle's diary (27/02/1911), George Maxted told him he had heard that "Forders is building another Cement plant - site secret". Although an equipment supplier must have been selected, the identity of the supplier is unrecorded - it may have been Polysius. Horace Boot used them for South Ferriby 20 years later. Boot, who specialised in electrical generating plant, proceeded to build a power house. Various other minor items (see below) were constructed, but activity ceased altogether in 1915.
Activity having ceased, it was hard to re-start during war conditions, but the company obtained permission to recruit workforce in 1917. To build the rail spur from Foxton to the plant, a compulsory purchase order was required, since some of the landowners refused to sell. This required that the project be "in the public interest". On 23 January 1917, an inquiry was held into the application for the order: permission was denied. A second inquiry was held on 26 March 1919, in which much the same ground was covered, and this time permission was granted. A patriotic dog-whistle was employed - it was necessary to let the plant go ahead in order to avoid importing cement from Germany. The construction of the rail spur took place during 1920.
Little news of the project's progress became public, but testimony at the two inquiries throws some light on it. At the 1917 inquiry, Horace Boot said that they "had spent £20,000 already, and there was a large sum in contemplation". They had "built the power house and the contractors thought it best to leave the rest for the present moment". At the 1919 inquiry, Walter Forder said he had "spent on the place so far between £23,000 and £24,000". Counsel for the objectors commented that "they had not spent anything worth talking about since the last inquiry. The £23,000 included the purchase of the land".
Towards the end of 1920, an American potential investor in Farrow's Bank, performing a due diligence assessment, made public his dissatisfaction with their accounts, and on 20 December 1920, the bank "suspended payments" to account holders. Various officials of the Bank were arrested and tried for fraud. The Farrow's Bank failure became a major news story of 1921. Although many speculative ventures of the bank were involved, the Dreadnought company was absolutely central to the fraud. The bank had consistently made losses since 1909, but had disguised these by periodically "re-valuing" their investments by amounts sufficient to show a modest book profit every year. The cement plant, which was launched with a nominal £50,000 capital, and on which less than £40,000 had been spent, had by 1920 a book value of £780,000. The Dreadnought company was essentially owned by the bank, and it was compulsorily wound up on 1 March 1921.
The assets of the cement company were put up for sale on 27 November 1922, and the sale bill gives a snapshot of how much (or little) had been done.
the Valuable FREEHOLD PROPERTY
THE DREADNOUGHT PORTLAND CEMENT
ABOUT 150 ACRES of valuable MINERAL-BEARING
LAND, eminently suitable for the manufacture of
with the substantially-built
POWER HOUSE, BOILER HOUSE, CHIMNEY
SHAFT, 150ft. high,
concrete raft, brick wall, offices, mess-house, lime kiln,
farm buildings, and artesian well thereon.
The Desirable FREEHOLD RESIDENCE,
built for the manager,
containing three sitting-rooms, six bedrooms, bath
(h. and c.), and good domestic offices; garage and
garden, the whole having an area of two acres.
The Valuable RAILWAY SIDING,
about 1¼ miles in length.
connecting the works with the Great Eastern line
(Cambridge branch) at Foxton Station, together with
the land over which it runs, comprising an area of
about 19 acres, and the whole of the
VALUABLE RAILWAY MATERIALS,
of which it is constructed, consisting of approximately
14,900 ft of 75lb. steel rail, 7760ft. of 6-strand gal-
vanised wire fencing with reinforced concrete posts,
bridge with iron girders, and a large quantity of
sleepers, dogs, switches, points, slag, etc.
Possession of the whole, including the manager's house,
will be given on completion.
The attention of Cement Manufacturers, Builders, Steel
Manufacturers, and Speculators is directed to this
sale, as affording a great opportunity for enterprise
in the future.
The property only requires the installation of machin-
ery to make it a going concern, as most of the
spade-work has already been accomplished.
It is fairly clear that, after the small amount of construction had taken place, they "thought it best to leave the rest" because they had run out of money, and Farrow's certainly had nothing to offer them. If they were using German suppliers, the site engineers may have been interned, as happened at other locations. At least, they had built the palatial manager's house, in which Walter Forder had taken up residence. At the sale, evidently there were no takers. Lesley Cook says the East Anglian company looked at it, but they presumably realised that the cost of both the company and the "installation of machinery" (i.e. actually building a cement plant!) was way beyond their means.
Meanwhile, Eastwoods Ltd had been re-constituted in 1920. Horace Boot, who had been their "consulting engineer", became the vice-chairman and managing director of the new company. Eastwoods bought the Dreadnought assets from the liquidator for only £6000 in 1924. In August 1925, they floated "Eastwoods Cement Ltd", and started building the plant. The plant was largely supplied by Vickers, who were not in the cement equipment business before 1920. Start-up was in July 1927, 23 months after the new company floated, and 23 years after Dreadnought floated. Thomas Farrow, managing director of the bank, got four years in jail. Horace Boot got his knighthood. Dreadnought did not disappear: the Dreadnought Investment Trust Ltd (registered 1928, liquidated 1956) was used by Eastwoods to raise capital for various projects, including South Ferriby.