Laporte Earths Copyhold Works
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What: Fuller's Earth Plant
Where: Redhill, Surrey
Visited: 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016
Last Known Condition: Derelict, partially demolished
Page Updated: March 2016
After fire, flood and twenty years of dereliction, Copyhold Works now looks like something from the hellish world of some dystopian sci-fi. It is dark, dirty, cold and dangerous. Thick grey dust blankets every surface, turning to mud wherever water filters through the holed roof and a baffling labyrinth of pipes, silos and hoppers towers overhead.
The cavernous spaces below are filled with sound, almost as if the aging structure is complaining to itself about the injustice of its fate. The sound of the wind as it tears at loose sheeting and whips around corners is strangely distorted by the tangle of machinery into a cacophony of groans, sighing, whistles and knocking. Twice I thought I heard footsteps or coughing, but on calling out received no reply.
A greyish, mineral-rich clay, fuller's earth is well-known for its absorbent qualities and has many uses ranging from powder cosmetics to 'mud' used for drilling oil wells. Its best known use however is as cat litter, of which millions of bags are sold every year. Most of this is now imported from the Americas but until recently, fuller's earth was quarried from the Lower Greensand strata at Woburn (Beds.), at Baulking (Oxon.) and at Redhill (Surrey).
On the Redhill deposit, the most successful quarry operating at the turn of the century was the Copyhold Works of the Fuller's Earth Union Ltd, established c.1860-70. Epilogue
Initially supplying the woollen trade, demand later shifted to the growing chemical and commodity sector with customers in the 1920s-40s including the Southern Oil Co, British Glues and Chemicals and Price's Patent Candle Co.
In 1954 the works, now employing 780 men, were bought by chemical company Laporte Industries, although the works continued to be referred to as 'The Fuller's Earth' by workers and locals.
A large quarry existed to the east and in the 1970s this strange landscape stood in for various alien worlds in the BBC's Doctor Who series. In the 1980s, the Copyhold site was sending loose earths and packaged cat litter around the world.
By 1995, however, due to falling profits it was announced that Laporte would close 10% of its 100 plants. Copyhold fell victim the following year and the company was later broken up with the majority share sold to an American private equity firm trading as Rockwood Holdings Inc. After the production lines were switched off, the 119 acre pit was purchased for use as a landfill site by Biffa Waste Services and continues in this use today. The factory warehouse was initially used as a waste transfer station but this too was abandoned c.2004 and the whole complex is now deserted.
On a hot Summer day in 2013 I headed back to the old Fuller's Earth to see what had changed. The first thing I noticed was that the labs, gatehouse and fitters shop had been bulldozed. A large section of roof had been removed from the warehouse and part of the factory building, letting bright sunlight in for the first time in nearly half a century.
The second thing I noticed just as I was about to step out into the yard: on-site security. Just in time, I hid myself in the dusty void underneath a conveyor belt, crouching out of sight while the guard excercised her large German Shepherd Dog and talked on the 'phone for what felt like half an hour before returning to her cabin. I assumed this meant the beginning of the end for the place, but it's still there in 2016, three years on.