Cocking Lime Works
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What: Lime/chalk works and quarry
Where: Cocking, West Sussex
Built: c. 1830s-1980s (continuous development)
Last Known Condition: Derelict
Page Updated: September 2015
The earliest known reference to chalk quarrying at Cocking Hill is from 1768, when a chalk pit there was marked on a map of the Cowdray Estate. In September 1833, an earthquake caused a rockfall in a chalk pit hereabouts, killing a Mr. William Marshall who was working there, and the 1861 Census reported that
'James Bennett, a tramp, slept in lime kiln' near the village.
By 1874, lime production was concentrated at a quarry near the top of Cocking Hill and at a site next to the Midhurst road.
In 1906, 8th Earl of Egmont, owner of the Cowdray Estate, granted a lease of both sites to Pepper and Sons of Amberley. Pepper's produced industrial grade lime in two wood-fuelled kilns in the lower quarry and laid 2' gauge tramway to transport lime from the chalk-face to the kilns. In 1921 the lease was given to Frederick Searle and shortly afterwards to his brother Eli who went into
partnership with Robert Dunning, owner of the Midhurst Brickworks. Dunning and Searle built six new coal-fired flare kilns and made further improvements including an aerial ropeway connecting the two quarries, an overhead crane for loading and unloading and the conversion of the existing draw kilns to flare kilns. These developments allowed the partners to produce cleaner lime, which they used for making sand-lime bricks ('Midhurst Whites'). In 1926, the company, now trading as the Midhurst Brick & Lime Co. Ltd., was acquired by Benjamin Cloke for £6,000. Between 1926 and 1938, the company excavated approximately 3,200 tons of chalk annually, all of which was used for brick production, averaging 13.7 million bricks p.a.
In 1938 the works, now consisting of two batteries of kilns, began production of agricultural grade lime at the behest of the Ministry of
Agriculture; an intermediate crushing plant was installed at this time to produce the finer mixtures needed for spreading on fields.
In 1955, chalk extraction reached a peak of 36,000 tons with the use of explosives in the upper quarry, much to the dismay of local residents, who often complained of cracked ceilings and broken windows.
By the end of the decade, the northern kiln battery had been demolished and the overhead crane was dismantled, replaced by a dragline excavator and mobile conveyor. The aerial ropeway which connected the upper and lower sites was also dismantled and replaced by road transport using trucks.
Production of sand-lime bricks ceased at Midhurst in
1985 and in later years production at Cocking concentrated on 'Calco', a patented mixture of lime and powdered chalk, and plain powdered chalk marketed as
'Nurslim' for use in gardens and nurseries.
By the end of the 1980s, the works had assumed its present plan; chalk was brought by lorry to the primary crusher and thence onto a conveyor belt into the intermediate crushing and screening plants, after which it was sent to the kilns, fired and mixed before being distributed by road.
The final operator, Dudman Chalk & Lime Ltd purchased a lease on the works in 1993 but ceased all operations there in 1999. After an unsuccessful application to use the upper quarry for an inert landfill site, in 2012 the Cowdray Estate published proposals to redevelop the lower site as a campsite for walkers and cyclists using the South Downs Way, requiring the demolition of all of the buildings except for the lime kiln battery.
The Derelict Miscellany: website and all content © D. A. Gregory unless stated to be otherwise.