Geology Site Account
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Shire Hill Cement Works (site of), SAFFRON WALDEN, Uttlesford District, TL548374, Historical site only
Site category: Chalk sites
Site name: Shire Hill Cement Works (site of)
Grid reference: TL 548 374
Brief description of site:
On the Thaxted Road, on the left hand side as you leave Saffron Walden, is the site of the former Shire Hill Cement Works. Chalk was excavated from large quarries adjacent to the works and mixed with boulder clay (till) brought in from a pit nearby. It was visited by several geological parties in the early twentieth century who reported that there were a remarkable number of fossils and glacial erratics in the till.
The Shire Hill Cement Works (known as Dix, Green and Co. Cement Manufacturers) was founded in the 1880s using chalk from quarries on the site and mixing it with boulder clay (Anglian till) obtained from a pit on Shire Hill about two thirds of a mile away and transported to the works by tramway. The cement works was unique in Britain in using boulder clay for cement manufacture which was known locally as ‘blue gault’ (not to be confused with the gault clay of Cretaceous age used for cement making in Kent).
Of particular interest was the pit on Shire Hill were the boulder clay was obtained. This pit and the works was visited by the Geologists’ Association in July 1911 and the Essex Field Club in May 1914 and April 1922. The report of the Geologists’ Association’s visit (Maynard & Morris 1911) is very informative. It describes the chalk pits as having ‘a fine section through the Upper Chalk, showing numerous flint bands, but containing practically no fossils’. The section of boulder clay in the pit on Shire Hill was apparently very fine and up to 30 feet thick. The clay was described as typical chalky boulder clay, full of rounded and ice-scratched boulders – testimony to the boulder clay being deposited at the base of a great ice sheet. Numerous rock types were apparently represented including Carboniferous limestone, quartzite, basalt and granite, together with septarian nodules and Jurassic fossils such as ammonites and belemnites from the Midlands. When freshly dug the clay was said to be a purplish blue colour but soon weathering to a brown shade. Salter (1914) states that boulders up to 3 feet in size were present.
The boulder clay pit was at TL 5585 3755 and is recorded as a separate site on this database (see Shire Hill Clay Pit). This pit was in existence as a lake for many decades but in recent years has been filled in. The route of the tramway is now a footpath/bridleway.
The remains of two remarkable 19th century limekilns, cut into the chalk hillside, were still in existence up to 2005 when they were inexplicably destroyed by redevelopment of the site. The site is now occupied by the Council’s recycling centre, an office and residential development and a new supermarket.
Shire Hill boulder clay pit in 1911
Shire Hill boulder clay pit in 1911 showing numerous erratics
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Reference: Christy 1907 (p. 493), Maynard & Morris 1911, Salter 1914 (p.197), Osorne White 1932 (p. 69), Gumbrell 1992 (p. 43-48), Holman 1996 (p.20-26), Ball 2019.
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