Cement Kilns

About this site

Today a vibrant cement industry is a marker of a developing nation’s dynamism, and world production is dominated by China and India. Meanwhile, the transition from a “cheap-energy” economy to today’s high energy costs and concerns about CO2 emissions have caused a massive decline in the industry in the USA, Western Europe, Japan and Russia. The industry first arose in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the progress of cement manufacturing technology in Britain and Ireland exemplifies the factors that encouraged or suppressed innovation.

The purpose of this site is to describe the historical geography of the Portland cement industry in Britain and Ireland, from 1895.

Its historical aspect addresses the progress of innovation, particularly in the field of pyroprocessing that is unique to the industry. Its geographical aspect stresses the way in which the industry’s development is controlled by its geographically-variable natural raw materials: it also addresses the topic in terms of industrial archaeology.

The website is educational and entirely non-commercial, and contains no advertising. No statement should be interpreted as an endorsement of any organisation, company or individual.

How History is lost

A while back, I contacted an old colleague, in order to get detailed information about some cement plants that he had known well. "It's a pity you didn't contact me a few weeks ago", he said. "I've been having a de-clutter, and threw lots of old files and notebooks out." In a contracting industry, old cement plants are closing down all the time. Not unnaturally, those who had been the guardians of the plant's history, lovingly conserving old photographs, ancient plans and ledgers, now find themselves made redundant. They come in to work on their last day, and say "You know what? - I don't care any more! Let's take it all up the quarry, throw some diesel over it, and strike a match."

In my career, I have seen this more times than I care to recall. Don't imagine that such acts of destruction are about "preserving commercial confidentiality" - the details of how a steam engine was coupled to a row of flat-stone mills has nothing at all to do with a modern business. Even twenty-year-old material has mostly ceased to be of any commercial sensitivity. It has a lot more to do with the "Attila the Hun" syndrome: "If I can't have it, no-one's going to have it!"

Sometimes historical material is preserved, but it is placed in the hands of a proprietorial individual or institution who jealously hide it from public view. This, of course, is no more useful than the quarry bonfire. I'm fairly proprietorial myself: I have a huge library of cement industry historical material, and it's MINE! But before I myself decide to "de-clutter", I am trying to make as much as possible available to everybody. I was prompted to draw together all the information I had by this and by a dissatisfaction with the accuracy and technical validity of the existing historical sources. In formalising my own data, I filled gaps and extended its scope by what was, I hoped, a relatively disciplined programme of historical research.

The hope was that the project could be used as a clearing house for historical information on the industry, using the convenient connectivity of a website rather than the restricted circulation of a printed book. Since "nature abhors a vacuum", it was expected that the obvious lacunae in detail would be rapidly filled by public contribution. However, during the period 2008-2015 the content has been refined mainly by gradual acquisition and refinement of information already in circulation. A huge amount of information remains in private hands and there is every indication that it will stay there until it falls victim to time. The current project will continue until the rate of acquisition of new data is insufficient to justify the expense of maintaining the website.

Scope of the Project

The project aims to describe all sites making Portland cement clinker in the period beginning 1895. Outside its scope (although they may be touched upon) are:

  • Sites making "pre-Portland" cements such as Roman Cement and various forms of lime
  • Sites making other minor sorts of cement, such as calcium aluminates, sulfoaluminates, super-sulfated cements, oxychlorides, "geopolymers" and so on
  • Grinding plants making Portland cement using clinker sourced elsewhere.

Criticism might be aimed at the accounts (particularly of individual plants) given here because where hard information is lacking (or at any rate, I have failed to find it), I have given accounts which are to some extent conjectural. Historical discipline would require that I should simply say "not known" under these circumstances. However, the objective of the project is to give a quantitative account of the entire industry. At the heart of the project is a set of databases (invisible to the website) that completely describe the period of study, and from which can be derived general statements about progress and innovation. These databases, in order to be quantitative, have to have non-zero entries for every entity in the industry believed to be active. This requires that for each plant and each kiln, a "narrative" has to be established. This may involve over-confident interpolation and extrapolation from isolated snippets of data, or even more wild surmises (but hopefully based on informed guesswork) where data is entirely lacking. Where the informed reader encounters glaring (or tiny) errors in these accounts, I can only apologise and urge them to contact me and suggest corrections, which I will be delighted to receive and incorporate.

Why start in 1895? The starting date of 1895 is chosen because the successful use of rotary kilns in Britain started shortly after that date, so the development of that technology is completely covered. Because “Portland cement as we know it” dates from the 1840s, an earlier start date is desirable, but reliable records from the pre-rotary period are extremely patchy and constitutionally inaccurate, and the objective of this work is to list all operations in order to produce a quantitative account.

There are now (2015) only fifteen operational cement plants – with seventeen operating kilns – in Britain and Ireland. This site discusses 179 plants that have operated since 1895 and attempts to describe their 340 (or so) rotary kilns while at least mentioning over a thousand static kilns. The resulting body of information makes it possible to derive a reasonably accurate account of the rate and nature of technical change throughout the period.

Privacy and Confidentiality

The information presented here is sourced from the public domain, published material, and from the expert application of personal experience. Great care has been taken to ensure that commercially sensitive information is not given. In particular, data concerning the output of plants is presented only in terms of typical capacity, readily available in the public domain, and "actual" production is not stated, except in very general historic terms in order to compare the relative importance of plants. Plants currently in operation are described only in outline in the public version of the website.

The website contains pages specific to the history and geography of the British and Irish cement industries. It also contains pages conveying more general background information about cement and its manufacture. The latter are intended to provide a reliable aid to understanding for historians, geographers and industrial archaeologists. They are not intended to function as a Cement Technology course, and should not be used as such.

readership

In the following statements, "this website" means "www.cementkilns.co.uk" and its associated files. "The user" means any individual, organisation (including providers of search engines), robots, crawlers, spiders and any other entity whatsoever that connects to this website through the Internet.

Copyright Status © Dylan Moore 2010

The original content (text and/or graphics) of each and every page in this website is protected by English Copyright law as extended internationally by the Berne Convention whether or not it contains a statement to that effect and may not be reproduced or adapted without permission except where reproduction falls within the definitions of Fair Dealing listed in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and its subsequent amendments.

Care is taken to ensure that the copyright status of images is correctly assigned. Where no statement is made, it is believed that copyright of the original image has expired. However it is the responsibility of the user to establish the status of any image downloaded.

Disclaimers

This work consists of a website containing a number of pages and the following applies to each and every page. This work is a treatise on history and is not intended to be used for any purpose other than historical or geographical interpretation. The information in the website is provided on the understanding that the website is not engaged in rendering advice and is not to be relied upon when making any related decision. The information contained in the website is provided on an "as is" basis with no warranties expressed or otherwise implied relating to the accuracy, fitness for purpose, compatibility or security of any components of the website. For the convenience of the user, the website contains hyperlinks to websites operated by third parties. Such links are supplied on the understanding that no responsibility is accepted regarding their content, and no endorsement of views, statements or information in third party sites is implied.

Recent Developments

These have been few. Occasional snippets of information received continue to be promptly added. Those familiar with the site will know where to look for additions, and the sitemap is a convenient way to check the site's current scope. The article on Dunstable is now more or less complete. I've recently obtained copies of Geoffrey Martin's 1925 and 1932 works on kiln technology, and have been occupied with reviewing them.

Acknowledgements

My warmest thanks go to the following individuals from whom I have received much help and encouragement in the preparation of this work.

  • My greatest mentor, the late Len Hillsdon, who began my interest in industry history.
  • Alan Collier, my long-time Blue Circle colleague, for help with Tunnel.
  • John Frearson, who manages the Rugby archive, and is writing the official history of Rugby, for much history, images and data on the Rugby plants.
  • David Baird, who shared his collection of Blue Circle material with me.
  • Paul Meara, who manages the Catalyst museum archive.
  • Edwin Trout and the staff of the Concrete Society information section.

My thanks are also due to the staff of the many libraries and archives that I have consulted, listed in Sources.

Although much of the information on these pages is indisputably correct, some descriptions of plants have been tentative due to the paucity of evidence available. I welcome all suggestions for corrections: please contact me with these.

© Dylan Moore 2010: commenced 25/12/2010: last edit 07/04/17.