Cement Kilns

Robins

Robins LogoRobinsThree Kilns Brand.

Location:

  • Grid reference: TQ61787488
  • x=561780
  • y=174880
  • 51°26'59"N; 0°19'42"E
  • Civil Parish: Northfleet, Kent

Clinker manufacture operational: 1846-1910

Approximate total clinker production: 690,000 tonnes

Raw materials:

  • Upper Chalk (Seaford Chalk Formation: 85-88 Ma) initially from just south of the plant, then from East Galley Hill (560800,174800 and 560800,174600)
  • Alluvial Clay from the Thames
  • After 1900, slurry was supplied from Bevans

Ownership:

  • 1798-1846 Parker and Wyatt
  • 1846-1847 Maude, Jones and Aspdin
  • 1848-1851 Robins, Aspdin and Co.
  • 1851-1900 Robins and Co. Ltd
  • 1900-1910 APCM (Blue Circle)

This small site has the distinction of having been occupied by both James Parker, the inventor of “Roman” cement, and William Aspdin, the inventor of “true” Portland cement. Parker made Roman Cement from septarian nodules from the Isle of Sheppey at this site around 1790, but as a non-Portland product, it is outside the scope of this work. William Aspdin had been the first to manufacture true Portland cement at his plant at Rotherhithe in 1842. He relocated to Northfleet in 1846. For many years, clinker continued to be ground, as Parker had done, using the ancient tidal water mill at the head of the creek. Parker had also used a nearby windmill. The initial five wet process bottle kilns situated south of the creek were extended to eight in 1847, and thereafter additional kilns were added piecemeal: there were nine throughout the 1860s, and twelve by 1876.

Aspdin was ousted from the company following financial irregularities fairly typical of his business dealings, and amid the acrimony of his departure, he sold his technology to Thomas Sturge, setting up the adjacent Bevans in 1851, and sowing the seeds of the Robins plant’s eventual destruction. The plant was carried on under the management of R. A. Gibbons. A set of four “Gibbons” chamber kilns were installed north of the creek in 1867-1869 . These were intended to be semi-continuous, but evidently did not perform well in that capacity. In 1880 seven standard Johnson chamber kilns were added, and the Gibbons kilns were abandoned, leaving the plant capacity at 475 t/week. A further six Michele kilns were added in 1887, and the bottle kilns were abandoned, leaving capacity of 325 t/week. Most of the rest of the plant, including the washmills were now relocated north of the creek and a new wharf was built, leaving the original site more or less abandoned. The plant used water transport exclusively. Although relatively efficient and innovative in its time, it seems to have been squeezed out by the raw materials acquisitions of the neighbouring plants, and by the time of the APCM takeover, the company had little influence in the new organization. The plant’s operations were coordinated with Bevans, and the kilns were phased out as rotary kilns became available, although the wharfs remained in use. The part of the plant south of Northfleet Creek was absorbed into the Bevans plant. The bottle kiln bank remained an intact landmark until engulfed in warehouse buildings. Some structures still remain, if buried, including an intact and much-restored bottle kiln claimed to be one of Aspdin’s, although it was in fact the last to be constructed in the 1870s. The more modern part of the plant north of the creek was completely cleared and became part of an oil depot.

No rotary kilns were installed.

Sources: Eve, p 19: Francis, pp 115, 161-163: Jackson, p 269: Preston, p 70: Pugh, p 4


© Dylan Moore 2011: commenced 25/01/2011: last edit 02/09/2016.

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Old Maps

Approximate capacity: tonnes per year
Robins Capacity

Picture: ©English Heritage - NMR Aerofilms Collection. Britain from Above reference number EPW017642.
Britain from Above features some of the oldest and most valuable images of the Aerofilms Collection, a unique and important archive of aerial photographs. You can download images, share memories, and add information. By the end of the project in 2014, 95,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 will be available online.
This was taken on 26/4/1927 and shows the remains of the plant from the south. The plant had been abandoned since 1910. The last-operated kilns were on the far side of the creek and had by now been demolished. The original bank of twelve bottle kilns is in centre view. The last-built of these, at the left-hand end, still exists today. View in High Definition.

robins kiln
Robins kiln. This heavily-restored kiln was on the end of the bottle kiln bank and was the last built at the plant. Although often referred to as "Aspdin's kiln", it was built in the late 1860s at the earliest (and probably the early 1870s), long after Aspdin departed. Such kilns rarely survived, because if not regularly warmed up they would quickly collapse.