Clinker manufacture operational: 1870 to date
Approximate total clinker production (to 2015): 33 million tonnes (11th)
Approximate capacity: tonnes per year: ✄
Sometimes called New Bilton Works, and in earlier times, Victoria Works. The Bilton plant was in operation as early as 1855, making blue lias lime and at some stage “artificial cements” began to be made, called “Portland” or “Roman” fairly indiscriminately: in any case this was a “quick-setting” cement. Henry Reid visited in 1869 and consulted with the owners on making a true Portland cement, and it would appear that newly-designed plant began making it in 1870, using dry rawmix preparation. The original rectangular brick-kilns used for burning lias blocks and briquetted rawmix were replaced in the mid-1870s with bottle kilns. Although dates are uncertain, the sequence of construction seems to have been:
These were followed by ?seven chamber kilns of total capacity 155 t/week. All these were in place by 1889, with total capacity 505 t/week. With Newbold’s 190 t/week, this made up Davis’ 1907 figure of 700 t/week.
In 1910, the first rotary kiln was installed, and the static kilns were shut down by 1914. Kilns A1 and A2 had common ancillaries and were used alternately. In 1933, the plant reached its nadir, selling only 11000 t of cement, but in that year Halford Reddish took control, and aggressive redevelopment took place. With the development of the Rugby company in the 1930s, this became the “home” plant of the company, and at the same time the inadequacy of the local raw materials emerged. This was solved by import of chalk from Bedfordshire. All the Rugby plants were systematically up-rated, and a relatively large kiln was installed at Rugby in 1968, despite the lack of on-site raw materials. The post-1973 contraction resulted in the shut-down of all but this kiln. The plant made sulfate resisting clinker alongside ordinary clinker from 1956 to 1983. In the 1990s, it was decided to replace it with the largest kiln in Britain - a four-fold capacity increase. The use of chalk slurry as a major rawmix component continued, and the plant can be described as "semi-wet". During the long history of the plant, Rugby town and its satellite villages have gradually surrounded it. The resources of the company were concentrated at Rugby, so that by 2009 it accounted for 80% of CEMEX’s UK clinker output. With more than 140 years of Portland cement production, it is by far Britain's oldest plant, its nearest rival being Aberthaw (commenced 1914).
The plant had no direct canal connection, but had a siding on the L&NWR Rugby to Leamington branch, giving communication with the many lines radiating from Rugby. The tracks were taken up with the construction of the new plant, and now only road transport is used.
In my efforts to preserve the history of the industry, and to describe its evolution, the information that I have available on the earlier Rugby plant is extremely unsatisfactory, particulary with regard to the rotary kilns. Please contact me with any relevant information or corrections. I am particularly interested in firmer dates and statistics, pictures, plans.
Note: technical information on currently operational plants is ✄withheld in the public version of the site at present, except where already published (see references).
Seven rotary kilns were installed:
Supplier: Ernest Newell
Rotation (viewed from firing end): clockwise
Cooler: Rotary beneath kiln: dimensions? about 40' long.
Supplier: Edgar Allen: ex Gillingham A1 with burning zone shortened and enlarged rear section added
© Dylan Moore 2011: commenced 07/08/2011: last edit 11/01/2017.
Picture: Rugby Archive ©2011. This shows the plant viewed from the south in 1865 when the first attempts at Portland cement manufacture were taking place.
Picture: Rugby Archive ©2010. This shows the plant viewed from the south on 8/5/1928, with bottle kilns still in place to the left. Behind them are the banks of lias shale side-cast after extracting the limestone. At the far right is the kiln house with the early Kiln 3 in operation. To the left of the kiln house is the waste heat boiler complete with cooling tower. The stack in the foreground is that of the engine house, by this time no longer used. Behind the kiln house and out of frame to the right is the quarry, extending to the opposite side of the railway.
Picture courtesy of Warwickshire County Record Office, catalogue no. CR4457/RC/3/7/20, © 2016. This shows the "old" kiln house, looking west, probably just after the commissioning of kiln 5 in 1953. The kilns are (left to right) numbers 4, 3 and 5. Kiln 3 is still in its original short form, designed for use with a waste heat boiler. The far end of kiln 3 marks the extent of the original 1910 kiln house, as shown in the picture above. For kilns 4 and 5, the kiln house was extended westward - in the case of the latter, the rear of the kiln hung precariously over the edge of the old quarry. Between kilns 3 and 5 rises the stack of kiln 5 grate cooler. Although considerably modified, kiln 4 shows recognisable features of the Gillingham kiln from which it was constructed. See Gillingham kiln.