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What: Brickworks, laboratories,
cottages, decontamination plant and lagoons.
Where: Cranleigh, Surrey
Built: Cottages c. 1850s; Chemical Works
1937-1980; brickworks and decontamination plant
Abandoned: Cottages c. 1950s, Chemical
Works 1989, Brickworks 2003
Last Known Condition: Slowly being buried as part of remediation works.
Page Updated: April 2017
In 1937, the Steetley Chemical Company purchased a former fuller's earth and refractory clay works at Baynards near Cranleigh in Surrey. A large factory was built and was linked by private siding to the nearby Horsham to Guildford branch line.
Steetley used the site chiefly for agrochemicals but other lines included polishing compounds, batteries and munitions.
In 1989, Steetley ceased its chemical operations at Baynards, deciding instead to exploit the rich clay seams present on the site for brick and tile manufacture. A large factory was built to the south of the former chemical plant, which was subsequently demolished.
By this time the land around the factory had become contaminated with a potentially deadly mixture of zinc, ammoniacal nitrogen, organo-phosphates, potassium bromide, cadmium, mercury, lead and dieldrin (an organochlorine insecticide now banned in the UK). In 1990 the site was declared biologically dead.
To avoid further polluting local watercourses, Steetley opened a treatment plant near the northern perimeter of the site to decontaminate an estimated 80,000 cubic metres of poisoned water standing in the old quarry and lagoons. Steetley was taken over by Redland Plc in 1992 but the Baynards site was disposed of and became a private concern trading as the Cranleigh Brick and Tile Co. Ltd. In 2003 it was proposed to extend the firm's mineral license to March 2047 but this was not realised and the works closed soon after for reasons unknown.
In 2005 an American investment company submitted proposals to decontaminate the site by treating contaminated water, removing soil to a purpose-built secure landfill,
to be funded through a housing development on part of the site. Planning permission was granted by Surrey County Council in 2005 and a completion date was set for 2008. Unhappy locals demanded a public enquiry and the Secretary of State overturned the council's decision.
Hailed as "great news" by anti-housing campaigners, in reality the ruling was an environmental disaster in the making - all cleanup efforts ceased and the site was abandoned. Abnormally high levels of zinc have since been found in nearby streams, algal blooms cover the surface of the lagoons and even the broken-down decontamination plant now leaks caustic soda and sulphides, polluting the site yet further. If Baynards brickworks is ever to be made safe it will be a gargantuan task.
In June 2015, after numerous rejected applications, a solution for the site was finally approved by Surrey County Council. This scheme involves burying the entire site in a layer of imported clay to form an impermeable 'cap'. A small area will be used to build nineteen houses, while the rest will become a nature reserve. By Spring 2017, most of the buildings had been demolished and the factory was undergoing decontamination to remove hazardous refractory fibres. The layer of clay covering the chemical factory site was already several metres thick, though it was expected that work might take more than five years to complete. It is to be hoped that this will mean the end of one of Surrey's most polluted sites.