Meldreth Cement Company Summoned for False Trade Description, 1901

The site of the Cam Portland Cement Works
Ordnance Survey, 1956 (provisional edition)
Portland Cement Clinker - an essential ingredient of Portland Cement
Clinker store at Barrington in the early 1960s
A preserved bottle kiln from Robins, Kent, probably similar to the ones that were in operation at the Meldreth site
Raymond Course skating at the lime pit behind Cam Farm in 1942 - some of the industrial buildings are still visible
Photo supplied by Raymond Course
The flooded lime pits, now privately-owned as fishing lakes, as they look today

In a case before Mr Horace Smith at the Westminster Police Court in 1901, the Cam Portland Cement Company Limited, of Meldreth was summoned at the instigation of the Blue Lias Lime Burners’ Association, of Medway Wharf, Westminster. This was for an alleged offence under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887, of unlawfully applying with intent to defraud, the false trade description of “blue lias lime” to ordinary ground hydraulic lime. The Cement Company was represented by Mr Horace Avory, King’s Counsel.

According to the Royston Crow report of 8th February 1901, ‘Mr Willis, on behalf of the prosecution, stated that for the purposes of this prosecution, and not in the ordinary course of business, four tons of lime were bought of the defendants which was described in the invoice and on the bags as blue lias lime. On behalf of the prosecution it was contended that the lime was not made from blue lias rock, a geological formation unknown in Cambridgeshire, and generally running from the borders of Dorsetshire and Devonshire in a north-easterly direction to the northern part of Yorkshire. It was no part of his case to go into the matter of the chemical composition of the utility of limes from different deposits, in various localities up and down the country.

It was not a question of quality or composition, but of whether it was a false trade description. A large amount of technical evidence was called and they generally agreed that blue as applied to lime has a definite signification, and was not a general term for hydraulic lime (which sets under water) as was produced in Cambridgeshire.’

The complainants argued that the term “Blue Lias” was unknown in the county and was generally confined to the Midlands, where Rugby was a main centre of production for Portland Cement from the 1870s. However, the Royston Crow reported further on March 22nd 1901, that Mr Horace Smith, giving judgement, ‘held that “Blue Lias” was a generic term accepted by merchants, architects and engineers. There was no fraudulent adoption of the name of a particular locality to the article sold. If the defendants had called their lime “Warwickshire” hydraulic lime, a conviction might have followed. As it was, the summonses would be dismissed without costs.’

Blue Lias is present in the cliffs around Lyme Regis and Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. It exists there in layers of limestone interspersed with softer clay. It has a reputation as a particularly high quality material which is not shared by products from Cambridgeshire. The Cam Portland Cement Company of Meldreth changed its name around, or shortly after, 1900 to the Cam Blue Lias Lime and Cement Company, though Blue Lias was never used as a raw material at the Meldreth site. It was presumably this change of name which prompted the legal action, though the original name of the company (without the Blue Lias reference) is the one used in the court proceedings. An alternative explanation is that the company was marketing its products as if they contained Blue Lias in order to gain some commercial advantage and that, when the case against it for using a fraudulent trade description was dismissed, it decided to change its name formally to include the Blue Lias reference, knowing that this was unlikely to be challenged.

In fact the Company produced Portland cement clinker, an essential ingredient in the production of Portland cement. Between 1891 and 1934, when this clinker manufacture was operational, a total of around 210,000 tonnes was produced; in 1907 it was said to be 50 tonnes. Clinker was used in cement production at a number of other local works, including the very large one at Barrington.

At first ‘bottle’ kilns were used to process the chalk marl as the main raw ingredient. None survive on the site of the works in Meldreth but a preserved example from a similar operation in Kent is shown here. From around 1901 six chamber kilns were installed for the production of Portland cement.

The plant was directly sited beside the Great Northern Railway for ease of transport and remained under independent ownership. It struggled to make a profit and failed during the depression in 1934. A detailed account of the importance of cement and concrete in the construction of Meldreth buildings and their production locally appears elsewhere on this website: What are Meldreth buildings made of?

Some lime production evidently continued on a spasmodic basis until 1948 after which the site was abandoned and the quarries were flooded. None of the previous industrial buildings remain and there is no access to the site from Meldreth (but see its development as a fishery below). Ken Winter of the Meldreth Local History Group remembers as a boy of ten or eleven skating on the ice when the flooded lime pits froze over. He recalls that he and his friends would skate there by moonlight and that sometimes there would be a sound like a pistol shot, echoing around the quarry, as the ice cracked under the weight of the skaters who quickly made for the sides. He also remembers that they rode on the disused railcarts that ran down narrow gauge rails to the edge of the quarry, jumping off before they reached the water.

The flooded lime pits have now been bought and established as a fishery by a commercial company, Nash Lakes. The larger of the two lakes, covering 4.75 acres, has been named Wood Lake and is described as having various features including plateaux and gravel bars with depths down to 25 feet in places. It has been stocked with carp to supplement the existing ones and fish of over 30lb in weight have been caught there. At 4 acres, Kingfisher Lake is slightly smaller, long and narrow in shape, widening at the easterly end, and is said to be shallower with depths of 6 to 15 feet. It is also a carp fishery with stocks of other fish such as pike, roach and rudd. It is a ‘members only’ facility with access from the A10.

With thanks to Linda Clarke, Kathryn Betts and Ken Winter for their help in researching this page

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.