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Cocking Lime Works

What: Lime/chalk works and quarry
Where: Cocking, West Sussex
Built: c. 1830s-1980s (continuous development)
Architect: Various
Abandoned: 2000
Listed: No
Visited: 2010, 2013
Last Known Condition: Derelict
Page Updated: December 2013

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, killing a William Marshall who was working there and the 1861 Census reported that 'James Bennett, a tramp, slept in lime kiln.' By 1874 (the time of the first 25" Ordnance Survey map of the area), lime procuction was divided between the upper quarry near the top of the hill and the lower quarry next to the road to Chichester.

In 1906, 8th Earl of Egmont, owner of the Cowdray Estate, granted a lease 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 who also acquired the Midhurst Brickworks. Dunning and Searle built six new coal-fired flare kilns and made further developments 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 in order to produce cleaner lime for making sand-lime bricks ('Midhurst Whites'). In 1926, the brickworks and lime works, now trading as the Midhurst Brick & Lime Co. Ltd., were 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 and the site is now derelict. After an unsuccessful application to use the upper quarry for an inert landfill site, in 2012 the Cowdray Estate published proposals to redevelop the site of the lime works as a campsite for walkers and cyclists using the South Downs Way, necessitating the demolition of all of the buildings except for the lime kiln battery.

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The Derelict Miscellany: website and all content © D. A. Gregory unless stated to be otherwise.