Clinker manufacture operational: 1875-1969
Approximate total clinker production: 8.7 million tonnes
A Roman Cement plant - ownership unknown - had existed here in the 1850s and is shown on the 1856 map. Earle’s had been making Roman Cement at a site on the Humber bank (at 508700,427700) since 1821. They first claimed to make Portland cement at that site in 1857, but this product was just a modified Roman cement. The company acquired the Wilmington site with the adjacent land south of the railway in 1866, and the Humber bank plant site was sold to the Hull Dock Company. Three kilns were set up for Roman cement production at the new site. These were small kilns, making together 45 t/week. A fourth was added in 1869, and production of Roman cement peaked in the early 1870s at around 3000 t/year. The Roman kilns were progressively turned over to Portland from 1877 when Roman cement sales started to drop dramatically. Two remained open (without bottle extension) as part-time “Roman” kilns until 1907, although from 1898 there were only two or three Roman cement burns per year. They were then converted into silos.
True Portland cement production began around 1875 with three bottle kilns (122 t/week ) and three more (122 t/week) were added in 1876. In 1882, a seventh (41 t/week) was installed and two of the Roman kilns were provided with bottle extensions, providing a further 54 t/week. The other two Roman kilns, left open, were also available most of the time for Portland, and could provide 41 t/week. This added up to a final bottle kiln capacity of 380 t/week. In 1888, eight Killick kilns were installed, yielding 461 t/week. In 1895, eight Batchelor kilns (208 t/week) were installed and in 1898, twelve Hilton kilns (311 t/week) were installed, bringing chamber kiln capacity to 980 t/week. The surplus dryings of the chamber kilns were used to feed the bottle kilns, allowing removal of the original separate drying flats.
One of the bottle kilns was converted in 1900 into a Schneider-type continuous kiln, output 80 t/week. In 1906, rotary kilns A1 and A2 were installed and the remaining bottle kilns and the Schneider were decommissioned. The plant capacity at this point in t/week was chamber 980 and rotary 860, giving a total of 1840 t/week. Davis’ 1907 capacity estimate was 2000 t/week . The plant’s clinker output was actually 91,450 tonnes in 1907. The Batchelor and Hilton kilns static kilns were finally cleared in 1912 in preparation for rotary kiln A3. The Killick kilns remained in operation until May 1915, after which they were demolished. During WWI, discussion continued on whether further capacity expansion should be at Wilmington or at Hope. The installation of A4 in 1920 was the immediate response to this, but the plant site was already being seen as misplaced, and from then on it became flexible, make-up capacity, with kilns A1 and A2 frequently stopped for long periods during downturns.
The plant continued into WWII, with only one destructive air strike on 17/7/1941, when the rawmills were hit (along with many houses in the adjacent streets), stopping the plant for three months . Following the 1944 downturn, the plant was shut down 7/1944-3/1946. The plant made sulfate resisting clinker alongside ordinary clinker from 1953 to 1969.
Transportation was initially by water using extensive wharfs on the River Hull. From the outset, sidings on the adjacent North Eastern Railway (originally the York & North Midland Railway Victoria Dock branch) were employed, and rail transport became dominant by the end of the nineteenth century. The site was totally cleared and is now a recycling depot and ready-mix plant.
When the plant shut down in 1969, it was an anachronism. It was the only plant (apart from Padeswood) remote from its raw materials, and A1 and A2 were the oldest and smallest kilns in operation. The Heath Robinson sketches of the plant, proudly circulated by Blue Circle, were not entirely an inaccurate representation. The plant’s longevity is a testament to the peculiar status of G & T Earle within the Blue Circle organisation.
Earle’s began in the early 19th century, in typical Hull tradition, as Baltic traders, and their marketing organisation was always more important to them than their production facilities. By 1912, they had a very efficient distribution system throughout the North, and by acquiring Earle’s, the Thames-based APCM obtained the key to an otherwise impenetrable market. At the time of takeover, Earle’s needed to expand, but were out of cash and very weak, and if they had continued independent, they might well have gone the same way as other north-eastern plants. Nevertheless, Earle’s were able to make an exceptionally good deal in the takeover, in preserving a degree of independence, and amassing a mini-empire within Blue Circle, and it thereafter consistently behaved as if it were still an independent company. The procedure of the take-over throws interesting light on this. BPCM first bought Robson’s (Stoneferry ) and Skelsey’s (Barton ). Then Earle’s bought them from BPCM using money borrowed from the BPCM sponsors. Then G & T Earle Ltd was liquidated, and BPCM bought it. Then G & T Earle (1912) Ltd was constituted as a subsidiary. The subsidiary was finally wound up in 1967, but continued in spirit until 1986 as Blue Circle’s Northern Area Office, Hull. It is significant that the last remaining (2009) Blue Circle-built cement plants are Hope , Cauldon , Dunbar and Cookstown – all “Earle’s plants”.
Please contact me with any relevant information or corrections. I am particularly interested in firmer dates and statistics.
The original plant used washmills to wash chalk and clay together on the unloading quay. After the use of Humberside chalk began in 1909, clay landed at the quay was slurried in two 15' washmills, and the slurry was then inter-ground with the hard chalk in ball mills.
Four rotary kilns were installed:
Rotation (viewed from firing end): ?
Cooler: rotary: originally metric 10.00 × 1.000 beneath kiln: this was subsequently modified to 32’1½” long and shared with A2
Rotation (viewed from firing end): clockwise
Rotation (viewed from firing end): ?
Typical Output: 1920-1932 162 t/d: 1932-1941 176 t/d: 1941-1947 167 t/d: 1947-1969 185 t/d
Sources: Cook, p 57: Francis, pp 223-225: Jackson, pp 266, 279, 302: Pugh, pp 12, 19, 28, 53, 55-64, 103, 137: J. R. Heathcote, Earle’s cement, Humberside College of Higher Education, 1988, ISBN 1870001265: The Making and Testing of Portland Cement and Concrete, G & T Earle, 1925
© Dylan Moore 2011: commenced 07/08/2011: last edit 24/10/2016.