Cement Kilns

Lyme Regis Cement Company 1899 Prospectus

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The following is an edited transcript of the Prospectus for the launch of the limited company, to be found in the Glasgow Herald, 6 March 1899, p 4. I have also included a description of the ropeway that was used to bring limestone up from the southwestern end of Monmouth Beach.

The Lyme Regis plant was one of many plants using Blue Lias limestone for which the date of commencement of Portland cement manufacture is uncertain for a number of reasons. The Blue Lias was used to make hydraulic lime from early times, and had a good reputation for use in engineering masonry construction, including Smeaton's lighthouse. With the arrival on the scene of the vastly superior Portland cement, many suppliers of Blue Lias lime chose to add the new product to their product range. A few went to considerable lengths to make a genuine Portland product, but most assumed that something like Portland cement could be made by minor modifications of their lime product - mainly consisting of burning a bit hotter. The resulting product, which might class as an inferior Portland cement, or might not be Portland cement at all, was often sold successfully in limited local markets that were remote from the "Portland cement heartland" in southeast England. Until the British Standard was produced in the early 20th century, and some sort of rational definition of the product was written down, the term "Portland cement" was indiscriminately applied. This, of course, makes the study of the early history of the product and producing sites difficult.

The Prospectus issued in 1899 represents a re-writing of the history of the Lyme Regis plant, which had for a long time claimed Portland cement as a product. A similar plant at Charmouth Harbour a few miles to the east differs only in that it never went on to make a genuine Portland cement. The prospectus is of interest because it contains a technical report on the site by David Butler.


This company has been formed to acquire a leasehold property consisting of 40 acres or thereabouts, situate at Lyme Regis, in the county of Dorset, abutting on the sea, and containing practically an inexhaustible supply of blue lias limestone, interstratified with the natural marls, from which, according to expert's opinion, the finest quality of Portland cement can be made, as has been proved by tentative work on the property.

The present lease expires in 1910, the minimum annual rental being £150 and £180 as a maximum. There is, however, an agreement for the granting of a new lease for the term of 50 years, from the 25th March, 1898, at the existing rents. The Vendors have received an offer to lease a portion of the property for quarrying purposes only to persons who are willing to pay a royalty therefor, not to exceed £500 per annum.

There are situate on the property certain works, plant, and machinery which have hitherto been used for the manufacture of hydraulic lime, and which can be utilised, and it is proposed to erect large additional works and plant which it is anticipated could be working and turning out cement within four months of commencing to erect same.

There is a harbour adjoining the property which affords every facility for shipment, and vessels can be loaded direct from the works, thus saving cost of railway carriage and extra handling (Note 1).

The exceptionally high price to which Portland cement has risen, viz., 40s per ton (Note 2), and the enormous demand therefor, proves that the present is a most opportune time to acquire this property. This demand, which has always been great commercially, is not only daily increasing on account of the new and varied uses to which Portland Cement is being constantly applied, but is also prospectively greater than at any other time, in consequence of the increased demand necessitated by the very extensive works, fortifications, &c., in course of construction at Devonport, Stonehouse, Dover (Note 3), and other places, both home and abroad. The directors are informed that cement manufacturers have now contracts booked for several years in advance, and contractors and others are experiencing great difficulty in getting the supplies requisite for their business. This will be understood when it is remembered that cement has risen within the past few months from 28s per ton to 40s per ton, and everything points to a further rise in the near future (Note 4).

The quality of the Blue Lias stone on this property is well known to engineers and contractors, and hitherto it has been used more particularly for the manufacture of Blue Lias hydraulic lime (Note 5).

The Directors believe that in acquiring this property they have secured the whole outcrop of the Blue Lias limestone in the district, and will therefore have practically the monopoly of the manufacture there (Note 6).

Samples of the stone on the property have been analysed by Professor Henry Thomas Jones, of the Chemistry Department, Aberdeen University, and his analysis (Note 7) is as follows:—

University of Aberdeen, 15th November, 1898.
Analysis of a sample of Blue Lias limestone from Lyme Regis, Dorset. It was found to contain 100 parts:—
Ferric Oxide4.25
Alkalis, principally Potash1.95
Sulphuric Acid1.97
Carbonic Acid3.26
Insoluble Siliceous Residue1.17
This sample is an excellent Hydraulic Lime, produced from the Blue Lias Limestone Quarries at Lyme Regis in Dorset, and will, without doubt, be highly appreciated by engineers in the construction of docks, harbours, &c.
HENRY THOMAS JONES, F.I.C., late Asst. Prof. of Chemistry University of Aberdeen; Lecturer on Chemistry, Gordon's College, Aberdeen.

As evidence of the valuable nature of the Blue Lias Lime and natural Cement (Note 8) on the property, it has been distinctly recognised by the most eminent engineers as one of the best known, having been used in the construction of Westminster Bridge; by the Engineers for the docks in London, Plymouth, Southampton, Grimsby, Sunderland, the Channel Islands, Portland, Fleetwood, Hull and Leith, and for the fortifications at Inchkieth, and also throughout the construction of kindred undertakings throughout the kingdom (Note 5 again).

The property has also been inspected by Mr D. B. Butler, of Messrs Henry Faija & Co., of London, the well-known Cement Experts, and whose report thereon is as follows:-

Portland Cement Testing Works and Laboratory,
41 Old Queen Street,
London SW.
November, 1898.

In accordance with instructions, I visited Lyme Regis on 25th October last, and inspected the Blue Lias Stone Quarries on the foreshore east and west of the town. I also examined the existing Lime Works, and the site for the proposed cement works adjoining the harbour.

There is practically an inexhaustible supply of raw materials for cement making purposes. In addition to the rights of quarrying under some forty acres of land immediately behind the western quarry, which I understand is held on lease, and where the workable Lias Stone and Shale deposits above foreshore level are some 20 ft thick (Note 9), I am informed that the right has also been acquired of getting stone from the foreshore for a very considerable distance further westward, without taking into consideration the extensive foreshore quarries on the east of the town (Note 10). The stone from these eastern quarries, however, would only be used in case of emergency, owing to the extra cost of handling and transport to the western works.

The existing Lime Works adjoin the western quarry, and are situated at the foot of the cliff, about 200 yards west of the harbour. They consist of the usual limekilns, four pairs of 4ft. millstones in a four-storey mill-house, together with a lime-store and other buildings. The buildings are substantially constructed of stone, and with some modifications and repairs to roofs, &c., could be adapted and utilised for cement-making purposes, such, for instance, as the grinding and mixing of raw materials in the first stages of manufacture.

The site for the proposed cement works is a flat, triangular piece of land, about two acres in extent, situated at the foot of the cliff, well out of the reach of the tide, between the existing lime works and the harbour (Note 11). I would suggest that the cement-grinding mills and warehouses should be erected on that portion of the site nearest the harbour, so that if the existing lime works were enlarged and converted into a raw material grinding plant, and the kilns arranged between the two mills, the materials would pass direct from the quarry, through the successive stages of manufacture, and eventually be delivered into the warehouse close to the harbour ready for despatch to the consumer. In addition to the facilities which would thus exist for ready and advantageous transport of the manufactured material, the close proximity of the harbour would be an incalculable advantage for obtaining supplies of fuel, &c., for calcination purposes. Roughly speaking, half a ton of coal and coke is required to manufacture a ton of cement, so that this is a matter of no small importance (Note 12).

I have carefully considered the matter of cost of erection of works, and I estimate that the cost of converting and adapting the existing works, and erecting and equipping cement works to turn out 20,000 tons per annum (Note 13), would be about eighteen thousand five hundred pounds (£18,500). From figures supplied to me as to the cost of getting raw materials, price of fuel, labour, &c., I estimate the cost of production to be nineteen shillings and fivepence per ton, which figure includes an allowance of ninepence (9d) per ton royalty on the raw material used, or roughly one shilling (1s) per ton of cement produced, but inasmuch as the maximum royalty payable under the lease is £450, the actual royalty would be reduced to 5½d per ton of cement upon an output of 20,000 tons per annum, and would be still further diminished in proportion as the output increased (Note 14). If the maximum royalty of £450 is diminished by £300 (the estimated royalty to be derived from the sublet eastern quarries) the royalty for an output of 20,000 tons of cement per annum would be 1.8d only, or say 2d per ton. I understand that the present selling price at Lyme Regis is thirty-six shillings (36s) per ton, f.o.b., which, in view of the immense activity of the cement trade, I should consider to be within the mark.

At the foot of the cliff, behind the proposed cement works site, there is a large sloping bank of blue clay (Note 15), which, from samples submitted for my inspection, can be made into first-class bricks, tiles, &c. There is also a circular brick kiln on the site, with roofed drying racks arranged around it, so that bricks for the erection of the works could be made on the spot. As the lime also can be produced on the property, the necessary buildings could be erected under advantageous circumstances, and if this course were adopted, no doubt a considerable saving could be effected on the estimate of cost of erection above quote.

your truly

(signed) D. B. BUTLER.

The present issue of 50,000 shares will suffice to purchase from Mr Cotton, who is selling the same to the company at a profit, the lease, buildings, plant, &c., at the price of £25,000, payable up to £4000 in cash and the balance in cash or Shares, at the option of the Directors of this Company, thus leaving £25,000 available for the erection of additional plant, and the provision of working capital, &c. The balance of 25,000 Shares to be issued as occasion may require.

As regard the profits to be earned, the plant proposed to be erected should give an output of 20,ooo tons per annum, and as cement can be manufactured at from 18s to 20s per ton, this would leave at the present price a clear profit of 20s per ton, but assuming the profit to be only 12s per ton, the profit would amount to £12,000 per annum, which would be equivalent to 24 per cent. on the Capital of £50,000 now being issued.

The Cement Business is now one of the most prosperous in the country, and the present issue offers to investors an exceptional opportunity to acquire an interest in a sound home industry with prospects of large dividends, and also in the near future a very appreciable increase in the value of the Shares. The Directors have all personally inspected the property, and find that in addition there are large deposits of brick earth, which lie above the limestone over a considerable portion of the property, and from which bricks of the best quality can and have been manufactured (Note 16).

- o - O - o -

The Aerial Ropeway

I found this description in The Engineer, CXIX, 09/04/1915, pp 352-353. Read The Engineer at Grace's Guide. It's part of an article entitled Aerial Ropeways No IV, devoted to ropeways designed by Bullivant & Co.

Fig. 3 - Single Cable Ropeway, Lyme Regis Cement Company. This gives a view from the far (southwest) end of the ropeway, towards the plant and the Cobb. The second and third OS map revisions were before and after the existence of this equipment, but the intermediate pylon is tentatively show on the 1925 1:2500 map. The dimensions given here allow them to be plotted with reasonable accuracy.

A general view of a second single cable ropeway is given in Fig. 3. This line was erected for the Lyme Regis Cement Company, and is employed for conveying limestone picked up at low water from the sea beach to a neighbouring kiln. The ropeway has a length of 1507ft. and in plan is straight. In profile it consists of two spans, one, the nearer in Fig. 3, being of 467ft., and the other of 1040ft. The rise from the shunt rail at the shore end when this rail is in its loading position to the shunt rail at the kiln is about 64 ft. The gauge of the line is 7ft. and the rope employed has a circumference of 2½in.

The line has a normal capacity of 15 tons per hour, although, we understand, this rate of working at times is often exceeded (Note 17). Thus with twelve carriers in use the capacity of the line can be raised to 20 tons an hour. For normal working the carriers are spaced apart on the rope at 360ft. distance. Each carrier has a net capacity of 4cwt. An engine of about 5 horse-power is used to drive the rope at a speed of 450ft. per minute. This may be considered a fairly high speed for a single cable ropeway, but the capacity per hour, it will be noticed, is not very great.

Fig. 4 - Terminal Trestle, Shunt Rail Lowered. This is the normal position for loading the buckets. Fig. 5 - Terminal Trestle, Shunt Rail Raised. The shunt rail was parked in this position when not in use, to keep it above high tide level. Fig. 6 - Discharging Terminal.

Of the trestles, the intermediate one has a height of 60ft. and at high tide its base is well covered with water. The terminal trestle on the beach is the most interesting feature of the installation. As shown in Figs. 4 and 5 it is provided with a counter-balanced shunt rail which can be elevated through a total distance of 15ft. by means of a hand winch (Note 18). In this way the gear is removed clear of the water at high tide, when, of course, the ropeway has in any event to cease working. The arrangement, we are informed, has satisfactorily withstood the test of several very severe storms. The discharging terminal, as shown in Fig. 6, is built against the kiln (Note 19) into which the limestone is tipped direct. The tensioning arrangement shown in the engraving consists of a 7-ton concrete block suspended from a 7ft. diameter pulley round which the running rope is led. This system of tensioning the rope ( . . ) can only be adopted where the line is short and the terminal platform at such a height above the ground as will give sufficient room for the weight to hang clear at all times and under all conditions.


Note 1. Lyme was finally linked to the railway in 1903, but because of the steep coastline, the terminus was located at the top of the town and rail did not reach the harbour. At this time, it was entirely natural to assume that all cement product would be despatched by sea. The Lyme Regis plant was one of the many English plants that were driven out of existence by the blockade of coastal trade during WWI. Later, the plant hauled product up the 75 m climb to the station by steam wagon, and were sued by the Borough for the resulting damage to the roads.

Note 2. This is £213 per tonne in 2013 money!

Note 3. Pearson's had the exclusive contract for Dover, and had bought the 870 t/week Wouldham plant to supply it.

Note 4. This up-beat assessment was not shared within the industry. From 1885, the industry had had a long period of sustained growth, faltering briefly in 1895, but averaging 6.5% per annum. This peaked in the boom year of 1898, but by the spring of 1899, the market started to turn, and in 1900 production was 10% down. In the event, naturally prices were extremely volatile. While the plant might have been well-placed for supplying dock works such as those at Plymouth, if the directors had an option on such work, they would surely have mentioned it. Government work was never sourced on the spot market.

Note 5. This specious argument was regularly used - the suitability of the limestone for lime manufacture is no indication whatever of suitability for Portland cement.

Note 6. I'm not sure that a monopoly of the West Dorset market is a license to print money.

Note 7. This is the analysis of a hydraulic lime, which presumably was sourced from a single "floor" of the deposit. There is no doubt that, in combination with lower-lime stone, or some clay, it could be made into Portland cement, but there are no superlatives here, and to modern eyes, the level of alkalis is hair-raising. Because of the similarly high level of sulfate, most alkali would evaporate from a chamber kiln with hard burning.

Note 8. Although "Natural Cement" might be a term for a harder-burnt hydraulic lime, this probably refers to "Roman"-type cement made from concretions that occur in the clay layers of the Blue Lias.

Note 9. The Blue Lias outcrops at the toe of the cliff, and is overlain by 50 m of Charmouth mudstone, so the inland reserves were only viable if a use could be found for this massive overburden. The Blue Lias occupies more of the cliff further west, and beyond Seven Rock Point, Rhaetic White Lias appears at the base, perhaps offering a source of "sweetener" material.

Note 10. The lias-bearing parts of the foreshore here are all in private hands. The Crown Estate owns the foreshore in front of the town, but this is all Charmouth beds.

Note 11. The site now largely comprises the Cobb car park. The suggested layout seems to have been adopted.

Note 12. A tramway had existed between the plant and the end of the Cobb, but seems to have been removed before the new plant was built. The fuel consumption assumed is for bottle or chamber kilns: if shaft kilns had been used, fuel consumption would have been half this amount.

Note 13. Fourteen chamber kilns would be sufficient for this.

Note 14. In fact, if the output increased to infinity, the per-ton royalty would be zero. But the plant as proposed never made much more than 5000 tons a year.

Note 15. The Blue Lias dips below sea level around the Cobb, and this is the overlying Charmouth clay.

Note 16. The clay, and an existing brick kiln, was mentioned in Butler's report. A further 40'×40' brick kiln was constructed.

Note 17. Given the nature of the tides, the working week was probably 25-30 hours, so a weekly capacity of 375-450 tons of limestone is indicated. The plant cement capacity was only 120 t/week, requiring about 200 tons of stone. It could be that an equal amount of hydraulic lime was also being produced, or the plant was further upgraded after 1907.

Note 18. The highest spring tide range at Lyme is about 4.9 m, or 16 ft. The maps indicate that the pylons were located at the "mean low tide" level, about 3 ft above lowest springs. Fig. 4 shows the gear perhaps 8 ft above this level. So with the gear raised, it was about 10 ft (3 m) above highest water.

Note 19. Is it a kiln? If so, it's a lime kiln, or the company have reverted to burning unground rock. More likely, it's a three compartment storage hopper, necessary in view of the intermittent supply of stone. A rotary kiln may have been off to the right.

Picture: ©Dylan Moore 2010, and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The western "quarry": in fact, the beach at low tide, from which the successive layers of limestone, a few cm thick, and separated by layers of soft shale, were peeled back by hand labour, leaving the characteristic "onion skin" pattern on the beach. A similar technique of quarrying the foreshore was used at Aberthaw and many other coastal lime works. The wall of the Cobb is on the left.

Original content © Dylan Moore 2015: last edit 29/12/15.

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