Robins

Robins Logo RobinsThree 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 eight by 1864, and twelve by 1876.

The locations (1-m grid reference) and dates of the bottle kilns are of importance:

xyapprox. date
15618101748621846
25618031748621846
35617971748651846
45617921748681846
55617851748711846
65617801748741847
75617771748761847
85617741748811847
95617691748831866
105617641748851866
115617581748871866
125617521748901870

The 1864 revision of the OS map shows only kilns 1-8. The positions of kilns 9-12 were at that time a bank separating two slurry backs.

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 (or penultimate) 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