History of Gravel Extraction in Wivenhoe
From a talk given by Alex Stanmore to the Wivenhoe History Group on Wednesday 24th February 2016.
Edited and page created by Peter Hill
The first days of Wivenhoe Sand Stone and Gravel Co. Ltd
The Wivenhoe Gravel Pit is located where we know it today. It started extracting gravel on a commercial basis around 1920.
Frank Pertwee owned the gravel bearing agricultural land at Wivenhoe which he wished to exploit, and William G. Loveless (confusingly, his son who followed him into the business, was also named Bill but was more usually known as Mr Bill). W.G. Loveless who, since ending his military career, had gained experience in gravel extraction in the school of hard knocks, was recruited by Frank Pertwee to manage the new mineral working for him.
Success followed which required new capital investment in order to expand. This came from 3 sources: Edgar Lilley, a Colchester merchant; William G. Loveless who, by way of personal borrowing, raised capital to buy a third share, and Frank Pertwee.
In 1925 the Wivenhoe Sand Stone & Gravel Co. Ltd was formed.
Some Interesting Facts
- The Colne Valley contains a number of glacial gravel deposits laid down in the Ice Age. These vary in quality with the best material located at Wivenhoe and Alresford.
- The parish boundary of Wivenhoe and Elmstead was marked by a stream that ran through the fields that became the gravel workings
- A water mill existed on this stream on the Mill Field near Bobbits Hole on the outskirts of Wivenhoe which at that time was much smaller.
- Quarry legend spoke of small ballast barges using this stream to load at Ballast Quay. The remains of one of these small ballast barges was discovered in the gravel workings some years ago.
- Ballast Quay Farm – hand dug gravel workings were located on the land between Millfields School and towards Park Road.
Note: Two flint flakes were discovered at Wivenhoe Gravel Pit in the interglacial sediments that may have been worked by humans. If they represent a period of human occupation at Wivenhoe it will be the earliest evidence of humans anywhere in Essex and over 500,000 years old. They would be about the same age as the human tools and remains discovered at Boxgrove in Sussex, which are thought to represent occupation by Homo heidelbergensis, a species of human that is probably a direct ancestor of the Neanderthals. For more information, see this web page: http://www.essexfieldclub.org.uk/portal/p/Geology+Site+Account/s/Wivenhoe+Gravel+Pit+SSSI/o/Wivenhoe+Gravel+Pit+SSSI
Early workings at the Gravel Pit
The original working known as “The Pit” had 17 staff and was around 10 acres in size on land bordered by Rectory Road, Alresford Road and Keelars Lane.
The mineral was initially dry-dug by hand and the sand and gravel produced was transported by horse and cart.
A washing and screening plant was introduced followed by a larger second unit that remained working into the 1960s – see picture.
A new washing plant was introduced much later which stayed until the 1960s – see picture.
Delivery of sand and gravel progressed from delivery by horse and cart to Foden Steam Waggons and then on to Bedford trucks.
Note: By Alex Stanmore’s estimation, one of these steam lorries could take about 2.5 tons of material. This was all loaded by hand, and then unloaded by hand when the driver reached his destination, as these lorries didn’t have a tipping mechanism.
Lorries going through Tendring District had to go up Pump Hill at St Osyth. When fully laden, they needed to go up the long hill with nothing else on the road. A man with a red flag would signal that the road was closed because of the sand and gravel lorry. Hence the pub at the top of the hill was named The Flag.
The company began investing in O model Bedford trucks from the 1940s onwards. These trucks were supplied by Spurlings of Colchester. They could carry 5 cubic yds of sand.
The driver of the truck in the picture on the right is believed to be Edgar Fisk.
The dragline excavator driver, generally accepted as the most skilled person in the Pit, was David Coppin.
The picture on the right is of a Priestman Wolf face-shovel being operated by Alex Stanmore’s father-in-law Arthur (Bill) Gladwin.
Added value was achieved by the introduction of two Asphalt Plants and a Concrete Block Plant in the 1960s. The person in the photograph on the right is Vernon Pryke.
Changes in Senior Management
WG Loveless continued as Managing Director until around 1945. His ‘ senior man in the office’ (Quarry Manager) was Jack Glozier at that time. The Pit farm was acquired around this time to allow expansion in quarrying activity.
For reason of civic duties and health, WG handed over daily responsibility to his son Bill around 1945. Mr Bill as people referred to him as continued in daily charge until he sold the Pit to follow his calling to join the Ministry of the Church in 1960. The sale value was never disclosed but alleged to be £62,000.
Note : WG Loveless was elected Chairman of the Wivenhoe Urban District Council a total of 6 times in 1938, 1948,1949, 1952, 1953 and 1963
Jack Glozier left soon after Mr. Bill joined, and Walter Wix was promoted from the office to take his place as Quarry Manager, Dennis Green was recruited and Basil Button transferred from lorry driver to become Quarry Foreman.
In 1960, the Tilbury Group acquired the Pit
Alex joined Wivenhoe Sand & Gravel in 1962, with the office being then run by Walter Wix, Dennis Green, Vera Cottee and Basil Button. In 1969, Alex was promoted to management where he stayed for the next 35 years, leaving the company in 1996 to become a consultant in the sand and gravel industry.
The ‘new’ Washing Plant in the 1970s and a Parker-Starmix 7 asphalt plant, which was ‘state of the art’ at the time, was also added – photos.
It was this period that mechanisation was increasingly introduced and the Quarry achieved 1,000 tonnes of material for the first time.
An O-model Bedford truck which carried 5 cubic yds of sand. The trucks were supplied by Spurlings of Colchester. The driver of the truck is believed to be Edgar Fisk. The dragline excavator driver, generally accepted as the most skilled person in the Pit, was David Coppin.
A business experiment in Nigeria
Around 1980, the Company followed a growing trend at that time to pursue business opportunities in Nigeria but withdrew from that enterprise after a couple of years .
Staff numbers and pay in the early years
The earliest staff screened the ballast by hand and were paid by result. Under Wivenhoe Sand Stone and Gravel Ltd progress was made. Mr Bill recorded that when he became Company Secretary (circa 1945) the average salary was £1:5s (£1.25) per week. Staff numbers had increased to around 30 plus casual workers at this time.
When Tilbury took over the business in 1960, National salary scales and pensions were applied.
In 1966, the combined total pay for the 29 Wivenhoe quarry workers was around £420 per week.
Wivenhoe Sand & Gravel was a ‘good’ employer
One of the ways to retain staff, the company used to run an annual outing. This one, on Saturday 17th September 1960, was a complete day out visiting first Southend Pier and at ending up at a Show in London at the Palladium Theatre to see Stars in your Eyes. Various stops for food and drinks were made along the way. The coach left Wivenhoe at 7.15am and returned after midnight at around 1.30am!
See picture of the programme for this company outing to Southend Pier.
The Company also owned some houses locally which they let to staff at discounted rents.
The Wivenhoe Sand & Gravel Company float ‘Mississippi’ which won 1st prize every local Carnival in which it entered. The Company often entered floats in the Colchester Carnival and won prizes (photographs taken by Alex Stanmore)
Continued progress and major contracts
From 1960 to 1985, the business flourished and an additional 54 acres of land was purchased from C.P Harvey. New digging methods were introduced to reduce costs.
See the picture of the Quarry site in 1973 taken by Alex Stanmore from MD Gordon Pryor’s aeroplane.
Rigid and articulated tipper vehicle fleets were purchased for use at the Wivenhoe Quarry. New trade practices were introduced as ‘Just in time delivery’ and a ‘muck away’ business flourished. An important part of the business also included landfill to help restore those parts of the Quarry to agricultural use.
Plant and transport workshops were commissioned under Walter Mayhew, and a development engineering base was established under Jerry Shepherd and Mike Course; a new laboratory established under Mike Newton.
In the picture (right) are the following people:
Back row: Michael Course, Alex Stanmore, Peter McVey, Gordon Pryor, Mike Newton, Michael Puxley, John Philibrown
Front row: Walter (John) Wood, Basil Button, Tony Hemmings, Derek Sillit, John Ball
Digging out Culver Square
Lion Walk shopping precinct was opened in Colchester in 1976 and the Culver Street shopping precinct followed later with 47 shopping units built by the Carroll Group and was opened in 1987. Tilbury’s won the contract to remove the unwanted soil for all the construction works.
Walter Wix retired in 1984 – seen here receiving a retirement gift from the then MD Michael Ayton.
1985–1993 Redland Acquisition
In order to raise capital to expand its construction arm overseas, the Tilbury Group sold Tilbury Roadstone Ltd (the East Anglian business) to Redland plc for £15 million.
With the new Redland ownership, came a new policy and direction. No longer was it just about shifting sand and gravel, and measuring success by the amount of tonnage sold, but about profit margins. This change in emphasis meant that Redland recovered the purchase cost of the Wivenhoe Pit and all the locations in the whole of the East Anglia area in just three years.
It was during this period that the Pit expanded to digging on the other side of Keelars Lane under an arrangement negotiated with the Dutton family who owned and farmed the land.
Note: In 2015 it was estimated there was 4 million tonnes of extractable sand and gravel on the Sunnymead Farm site which would allow continuing processing works there until at least 2030.
After the Redland era
Redland was eventually bought by Lafarge in 1997 and the name outside the Wivenhoe Pit changed again. It changed again when Lafarge merged its UK operations with Tarmac in 2013 to form Lafarge Tarmac and then in February 2015 the business was sold to CRH plc and the business was rebranded as Tarmac.
Archive footage of Home Guard activities at the Wivenhoe Quarry
The Wivenhoe Platoon of the 17th Essex Home Guard practising their skills on 16th May 1943.
In this archive footage available in the East Anglian Film Archive (see link below) members of the Wivenhoe Platoon of the 17th Essex Home Guard are seen giving a third Birthday parade and demonstration on 16th May 1943. It was taken at the Wivenhoe Pit which was used as a training ground.
The demonstration of their skills includes target practice, with the targets arranged in the gravel pit. They practise signalling as well as giving demonstrations of mortar fire, machine gun practice and sniper fire. In the final sequence the medical corps undergo a drill whereby they search out and treat the ‘wounded’
This archive was made by the East Anglian Film Archive and is available from their web site, with grateful thanks:
Also see these pages: