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Chinnor Cement Works

In 1908, Mr William Elijah Benton a mining engineer from Acton, founded a small business to manufacture lime on the southern edge of Chinnor. This eventually consisted of five Beehive Lime Kilns producing lump lime for use in both construction and agriculture. In 1919 he added a small cement plant which used Flare Kilns (that had to be loaded and unloaded by hand).

By 1928 the business had grown and the first rotary kiln was commissioned and following progress and development, the Chinnor Cement & Lime Co. Ltd was formed in 1936 and further investment followed, with kiln No.2 being installed in 1938. A further kiln No.3 was added in 1958 and the Company had also grown, becoming Chinnor Industries Ltd; by 1962, the original rotary kiln had been replaced by a new No.1 inclined rotary kiln and the site extended to almost 200 acres. On 1 January 1963 the ordinary shares were acquired by Rugby Portland Cement and the plant became one of only six major cement factories operated around the UK.

In latter days, with its 175 ft. high concrete chimneys as landmarks, the factory could be seen from far over the Vale of Aylesbury. Chalk, which was the main raw material, was being quarried at the amazing rate of 400,000 tonnes a year to make 225,000 tonnes of cement. The output of the factory was distributed in a fleet of tangerine-painted bulk delivery road vehicles. But it was the inward coal and gypsum traffic that also fed the thriving Chinnor Cement Works, that so fortunately saved the branch from being lifted after its passenger services had ceased in 1957. The heritage line of today is thankful that it happened, for without such traffic, there would be no CPRR now! For example in 1979 over 76,000 tonnes of these minerals were passing over the branch annually: 61,000 tonnes of coal, arriving as washed slack from Bolsover Colliery in Derbyshire, was moved in 3,900 wagons of 16 or 24 tonnes capacity (the fuel fired the inclined rotary kilns at 2,650 deg. F); 15,000 tonnes of crushed gypsum rock (sulphate of lime) came from shallow mines at East Leake near Nottingham and were moved in 1,000 wagons (gypsum is used as an additive that retards the setting rate of the cement).

But changes within the construction and minerals industries meant that things could not continue and the factory ceased production in 2000. The buildings and kilns remained in a derelict state until, in 2006, the land was purchased by Taylor Wimpey for longer term redevelopment as housing. The works were finally demolished in 2007/8 and the only remaining building is a Grade 2 listed Beehive Kiln, dating from the earliest years (built 1908).

Social comment: There was once an old adage or country-folk saying that train and time wait for no man, but William Elijah Benton, founder of Chinnor Cement Works, a frequent passenger on the Chinnor branch, was probably one exception. He had the habit of announcing his train journeys by whistling from his office door across to the station and be it noted, no train driver dared to leave without him. Norman Molyneux Benton, who succeeded his father as Chairman & Managing Director, was wont to arrive at the booking office window and say ‘my piece of cardboard please’; his destination was always made known to the station staff in advance.

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