Cement Kilns

John Hudson Earle on Harold Anderson

Home About this site About cement List of plants Raw materials Kilns Other technical advances Trends in innovation Sources

This is a sample of John Hudson Earle's diaries, giving his notes on one of several conversations he had with Harold Anderson. Earle was Managing Director of G&T Earle Ltd, a one-plant company based at Wilmington. He had two rotary kilns, and was getting quotes for more, as were many other minor companies and new ventures.

Harold Hilton Drew Anderson (1867-1947) was a member of the Anderson family of Faversham who were involved in the firm of Hilton, Anderson, Brooks & Co Ltd, the second largest firm entering into the APCM amalgamation in 1900. In 1903 he succeeded to his cousin’s place on the APCM board, and became Managing Director for Sales. He also acted extramurally as a technical consultant to other companies, including Earles. APCM’s declared intent was to eliminate competition in the UK, and all APCM directors were charged with canvassing among competitors for the “second wave” amalgamation that led to the formation of BPCM in 1911. At this time, APCM was actively aiming to wipe out the Tyne/Tees industry by dumping product below cost. Earles were APCM’s competitors in that market, but were not averse to seeing their minor competitors destroyed.

This conversation, dated 18 May 1909, gives an interesting insight into the sort of “golf course discussions” that went on behind the scenes, with many of the key characters of the period mentioned and many dirty deeds tacitly admitted. It goes without saying that, in today’s “walls have ears” environment, this conversation would have landed both parties in jail. In such conversations, Hudson Earle’s secret weapon was his ability to make a verbatim record using Pitman Shorthand. Some of the more nefarious shorthand notes are left untranscribed in his diaries.

I have corrected some of the eccentric spellings and punctuation, but not the grammar and syntax.

Martin Earles have stopped their rotaries, and are making two rotaries into one.

Anderson was not keen on rotary kilns – he liked Schneider kilns – and enjoyed recounting the competition’s problems with them. Martin Earles had had sixteen small "first generation" rotary kilns.

The Associated are paying 12/- a ton for coke, delivered at their works, so that the London maker with chamber kilns can make cement, paying the same price for fuel as we pay, at 4/- a ton: as his chalk cost him 4/- a ton of cement cheaper. He has 2/- freight to pay to bring that cement to Hull and put it free on rails.

Earles used commercial Thames chalk at this time (paying apparently 4/- per cement equivalent ton for delivery), but were examining the possibility of using “Local” chalk from the Humber banks – the complication being that this chalk is much harder, and would require extra rawmills at considerable capital cost. This “back of envelope” calculation is probably pessimistic: APCM’s chamber kiln costs for cement landed at Hull were probably similar to, or greater than, those of Earles. Chamber kilns were APCM’s “marginal” capacity.

Plaister, of the Sussex Portland Cement Co., told him that the Associated would beat him this year, as he was going to have a very bad balance sheet. The balance ends June 30th.

SPCC, like G&T Earles, joined the BPCM in 1911/12.

They (APCM) spend £3,000 a year in advertising. Every agent on the coast has the rebate system for the Associated depots; freight London to Newcastle on cement, 2/- a ton. Associated have both the Corporation of Newcastle and the Corporation of Gateshead.

Associated pay their traveller £2,000 who takes the Argentine: says they have ousted the Germans from the Argentine. Opening just now export for the Pacific owing to corn coming across, they are getting cement out for export at 6/- a ton. Found American cement in the West Indies when he was there.

Earles was distinctive among smaller firms in keeping, and making considerable use of, a large sales force. Salesmen were regularly hired and fired, and paid largely on commission. In attempting to acquire Earles, APCM regarded its tightly-knit sales network as its only valuable asset – the Wilmington plant was certainly of little value. It was to ingratiate the Northern customer base that, within Blue Circle, the Earles name lasted long after the company itself ceased to exist.

Pearson and Knowles, Emerson’s friends, are thinking of trying Collos. Some hitch in the Collos patent, and causing delay. Mr Anderson says if the underwriters’ time expires before the settlement of the patent is made, they will withdraw their underwriting.

The Colloseus (1905) and Passow (1901) patents for activated slag cement had revived an interest in slag that had been around since the 1880s, offering the prospect of a cement equivalent to Portland, but at a much lower manufacturing cost. People’s attitudes to it were complicated by the fact that many manufacturers had used slag as an “invisible” adulterant in their Portland product. The Colloseus patent was convincing enough to encourage several firms, particularly in the North, to invest a lot of money in the product. All failed.

Not heard if the new cement works at Manchester are going on.

Earle always referred to the Ship Canal plant in this confusing manner: it is nowhere near Manchester. The Ship Canal project was another worrying challenge to control of the Northern market, although it turned out to be a “paper tiger”. It was one of a long succession of "promoter" projects which attracted investment by the not-unconvincing argument that the existing manufacturers were dinosaurs who could be blown out of the water by a “modern”, “scientific” competitor. It's worth mentioning that, although it did not materialise for another 20 years, Earles were at this time planning to build the Hope plant.

Mr Anderson says they have closed all the Newcastle cement works practically, that I. C. Johnson’s thousand tons a week works are not only closed, but they have ceased shipping rotary clinker to Newcastle, and that the Union cement works, to which Sir James Joicey has lent some money, are finished: that Charles Potter’s works are also just about closed, that the three Wear Cement Works are all on the point of closing, i.e. Hiltons (sic), Grimshaws and another: that Casebourne is just on the point of closing. I said “Surely Trechmann is going to survive” and he seemed to think he might. Says with regard to Skelsey, Skelsey has been up to see them, but did not tell me what about, but I imagine it would be to see if they would buy his concern, or possibly to ask them to recommend somebody to put their works in order, as Mr Anderson won’t act for them out of loyalty to us. He says he won’t last long. With regard to Robson’s, Hull, he says that Robson can’t last much longer, that he considers he is a weak man.

These comments referred to a period in which the market was shaky, and these firms were not necessarily out of business. It was common practice to lay off workforces and shut down during periods of slack trade. I. C. Johnson were doing OK, and had a policy of concentrating production at their much cheaper Greenhithe plant. Union never recovered. Sir James Joicey was a Durham coal magnate. Potter's failed shortly afterwards. The plants on the Wear did not recover, although the South Hylton plant may have lasted until 1915 due to its self-sufficiency in raw materials. Casebourne’s were certainly doing fine. As for Trechmann, he had a "war chest" – see another document. Skelsey's and Robson's both joined BPCM, but were not developed, and shut down in the late 1920s slump.

He says they generally quote higher in the first instance and it is other people’s prices that make them come down. Thinks the cement trade may be better as the Government are opening graving docks along the coast. Asked him what price cement could be made at; he said he thought the Saxon people had written they had made it at 10/6. Says they are contracted for coal and recent rises have not affected them. Expects to get his coke same price in the autumn as at present.

Says the gas companies are alarmed at the advance in the rotary. Says they are wishing now they hadn’t put their rotaries down, as Amme, Gieseke & Konegen’s Schneider kilns with up cast and down draught are better. Told him he needn’t fear them: the quality would not be right. He said he tested for two years and it was showing increases. I asked him how and he replied “tensile” and I said he had left the main test out. Thinks compression tests should be introduced in the British Standard.

Anderson spreads the idea that installing rotary kilns was not a competitive strategy. People were not persuaded by this line of argument.

Oxford cement works practically closing, owing to bad management – modern works with rotaries. Mitcheldean closed – modern works with rotary – owing to bad raw material. Premier cement works – modern works – closed. Davis, manager of Saxon, is not liked in the trade.

Once again, Anderson is spreading alarm about apparently “modern” competitor firms – with rotary kilns - now in trouble. These three were all fairly shaky speculative ventures. Earle was always keen to know people’s opinions of A. C. Davis. In fairness, he probably only recorded the negative ones, but these were numerous enough.

Apparently the Associated’s policy is to close all works outside of London by dumping. Says they have a special line with their agents, and that if the large Manchester works open, they will at once reduce their Liverpool agent from 19/- a ton to 15/- delivered.

Even on average manufacturing costs, 15/- would have meant a considerable loss for APCM.

Batchelor, new manager for Martin Earle, was with them (i.e. APCM), under agreement not to start with anybody else, but as he was not one of their best foremen, they gave way and let him go. He had £400 a year with them; gets £600 a year with Martin Earle. The first thing he did was to discharge twelve foremen and four engineers.

If A. C. Davis was universally regarded as the “Prince of Darkness”, the Martin Earles company was seen as a music hall comedy act. The chairman, Edward John Vavasour Earle (1851-1912), was heavily involved in promoting the valueless Colloseus slag patent. Martin Earle also joined BPCM in 1911.

Says Associated can make two or three hundred thousand a year more if they open their works. Had a block of Saxon shares offered to them last year, which would have given them the controlling policy, 10/- each; says they are now worth 15/-. Says he (Anderson) is reducing his expenses and closing his house, as he put all his money in the Associated, being an old family.

Sob – Anderson had several up-market residences.

Mr Hopkinson, Pearson’s agent at Hull, says the Wouldham Cement Co, which belongs to them (he means Pearson’s, but APCM had a large interest), turning out 150,000 tons a year, didn’t earn their preference dividends for December 31, 1908.

Wouldham also joined BPCM in 1911.

Original content © Dylan Moore 2013: last edit 10/04/16.

Return to Writings