The history of Romsey’s chalk pits and the creation of the lakes
Romsey Town was really created in countryside to the east of the city in the years after the railway came to town. Before then it was countryside with a few farms and larger dwellings for the landed class. It was deemed so far from the city that it was also became home to an isolation hospital (Brookfields).
Once the railway came it all changed, house were built for rail employees and Great Eastern Street still bears a railway name.
Soon a satellite village grew as the Victorian developers build streets of terraces for rent or sale. A great many of the first occupiers were trades people who wishes to escape the slums and filth of the cities worst areas. Many new houses had their own taps!
It quickly developed its own identity: Romsey Town was born.
It was also isolated, only one road to the city and just rough paths west to Cherry Hinton.
Southern England’s is crossed by a diagonal line of chalk deposits that run from the south coast through the Chilterns, passing south of Cambridge, heading off towards the north Norfolk coast. The same deposits show on the Lincolnshire coast, also creating Yorkshire’s Wolds and the cliffs at Flamborough Head . The Gog Magog hills south of Cambridge are an escarpment of this chalk.
It was this geology created the chalk spring’s at Nine Wells (near Addenbrooke’s) which, in turn, gave Cambridge the City’s first un-polluted water supply – Hobson’s Conduit . Like Cherry Hinton Brook it starts its life as a chalk stream – naturally alkaline and clear. Actually this is not common, there are only 210 chalk streams in the world, and 160 of those are in England!
The other property of Chalk and Chalk Marl (a type of clay) is the one that resulted in our Lakes.
As with limestone, it is used to make cement.
“Portland cement is by far the most common type of cement in general use around the world. This cement is made by heating limestone (calcium carbonate) with small quantities of other materials (such as clay) to 1450 °C in a kiln, in a process known as calcination, whereby a molecule of carbon dioxide is liberated from the calcium carbonate to form calcium oxide, or quicklime, which is then blended with the other materials that have been included in the mix. The resulting hard substance, called ‘clinker’, is then ground with a small amount of gypsum into a powder to make ‘Ordinary Portland Cement’, the most commonly used type of cement..”
The fields to the east of Romsey Town provided a rich source of Chalk Marl which is incinerated to make ‘clinker’, an important component of mortar and Portland cement.
Further, Romsey Town’s Marl fields are adjacent to a handy rail link.
Our Cement Kilns
Before the Cement industry arrived in Romsey we already had local experience of both mining (opencast!) and processing. Coldhams Common was just one site where Coprolite’s were mined but we know there was a Coprolite Works to the east of what is now Brooks Road (west of the Brook).
- Our first cement kiln site was north of Mill Road, next to Brookfields Hospital, just across the road from Hobart Road and now the site for a potential new housing development!
It operated from 1892-1915 as Romsey Town Cement and Lime Co.
They probably used marl from a pit where the TA Lake is now. They were also processing locally mined Coprolite into fertiliser, though this probably finished by 1900.
- The second was kiln site was roughly where the Army Reserve centre (TA) is now
This operated from 1900-1928, first as Saxon Portland Cement Co. Ltd. then from 1911 as BPCM (Blue Circle). They probably used marl from northern (TA Lake) pit as well. It is also possible they also sourced from other quarries too. If you know more let me know…
- Our final known kiln site was the Norman works. This was to the north of the Railway line further east along Coldhams Lane. The site now hosts the David Lloyd’s Cambridge leisure centre.
This ran from 1904-1984, firstly by the Norman Portland Cement Co. Ltd, then by BPCM (Blue Circle) from 1911. The site sourced marl from pits to the north of the new rail line (mostly now land-filled) and from the two new pits south of the Tins, along the Snakey Path, our current Lakes. They also sourced Chalk (Grey Chalk & Middle Chalk) from the quarry off Lime Kiln Road, Cherry Hinton.
The route of the branch line from Cambridge to Newmarket and beyond (Great Eastern Railway and later LNER) originally ran directly west from the new station area. In doing so it passed south of Argyll Street and along Marmora Road, towards Cherry Hinton to the south of the Norman works where sidings were constructed.
Later this line was rerouted to leave the main north/South lines north of the station. To cross Coldhams Common and rejoin the old route near the Tins. The rerouting may have been due to a need to expand the station’s sidings and cater for increased traffic.
It is hard to imagine a request to build a railway across Coldhams Common being well received today. Perhaps it was controversial then too?
Cement kilns http://www.cementkilns.co.uk/images/chalk_other.png
Cambridge geology & cement kilns http://www.cementkilns.co.uk/images/chalk_cam_1.png
And now the new lakes
It is worth remembering there were no pits or lakes in the 1886, and a map from 1925 shows only three northernmost pits :
By 1950 little else had changed, save that the TA pit was now filled with water, our first” lake”.
The two pits north of The Tins were worked for longer and at least one was used as landfill for the City’s waste, some of it considered somewhat toxic by today’s standards.
Both the southern pits were both started after 1950 and were worked out in no more than 30 years. The last local lime kiln (The Norman) closing in 1984.
With a couple of years these newest pits were also flooded and the last two lakes had arrived!
The more recent history…
Over the years the land to the north and south of the railway had changed hands.
The Army had taken the area next the northern lake and this is now the TA centre. At the north, adjacent to Coldhams Lane, there were new developments: a hotel, leisure facilities and more.
But the main body of land at the north, much of which was previously landfill, was not developed.
To the south the two lakes were now leased to the Cherry Hinton and District Angling Club. The club worked hard, alongside the landlords, at maintaining the lakes and restoring it from a former industrial site to a part of our local, natural environment
Sadly, over the years the lakes had become notorious as an irresistible attraction to local youth for swimming in hot weather and the occasional picnic or party. It is hard to find a local who doesn’t have fond memories of the lakes. This meant trespass onto what was private property and as the area became more residential and built up the lakes its security was enhanced in an “arms race” with local youth. Noise and litter became a nuisance to anglers, local householders and the increasing number who saw this as a great wildlife resource.
Most of this land north and south of the rail (except a portion at the south that had passed to the City Council) was now in the hands of Andersons.
In 2011 Steve Turvill realised that the lakes had the potential to become an ‘urban park’ that would serve wider local interest while protecting those of Anglers and wildlife buffs alike. He quickly gathered a support number of like-minded folks, and the Lakes campaign was born. Enthusiastic support from Kilian Bourke, then Romsey’s County Councillor, helped raise the profile with the press. Exactly who came up with the popular, but somewhat misleading, idea of “Romsey Beach” should remain a mystery.
Making it happen
The big question was, as is always the case, how can this be arranged so that everyone wins, including the landowners.
As it happened the next few years provided an opportunity. The City was developing its new Development Plan, a document of planning policies that will direct new development across the City for the next decade or two. Local City Councillors, land owners and other groups lobbied the planners and a consensus started to appear.
Between 2012 and 2014 the then LibDem-run City Council drafted policies that would designate much-needed development land on the north side of the railway and use that gain to create the urban park envisaged. Local knowledge helped here as then Romsey Town councillor, Paul Saunders, was Vice-Chair of both the Environment Scrutiny and the Development Plan Scrutiny Sub-Committee. The draft Development Plan has now been submitted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate which is still ongoing (as at July 2015). We see no reason why this part of the plan should not get approval.
The project has wide cross-party support in the City and when in 2014 new councillors were elected and the City moved to Labour control, it gained enthusiastic new supporters. Cllr Dave Baigent (Romsey again) has become Chair of the East Cambridge Urban Park initiative. This has been created to involve and consult stakeholders in taking the project forward and, of course, the CamLakes campaign is represented!
Such is political interest that our lakes even got a visit from Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, during the recent by-election.
Paul Saunders, 8 July 2015
My thanks to the Mill Road History Project for reviewing the content. If you want to know more about the Mill Road History Project see Facebook www.facebook.com/millroadhistory ; Twitter @millroadhistory ; or contact Becky Proctor on firstname.lastname@example.org .
NOTE : As part of the Mill Road History Project, a detailed history of the cement plants which gave rise to the lakes, is being prepared and will be made available on the project’s website.