Wednesday 6 November 2019

Nicholls Limeburners of Charlton and Whyteleafe


By Paul W. Sowan

Barbara Ludlow’s short item (A unique site at Charlton: Nichols's lime kilns, later the Crown Fuel Company and Greenwich Pottery) in Greenwich Industrial History 4(3), May 2001, page 1, is of considerable interest to me, as in 1997 I collected some information on E.G. (Fred) Nicholls' two limeworks in east Surrey.  This was summarised in a short article (E.G. Nicholls' Whyteleafe limeworks) published in the Bourne Society Bulletin 170 (November 1997). pp. 15 - 17.  The Bourne Society concerns itself with the local history of a number of east Surrey parishes centred on Caterham and Coulsdon. I had also identified the Crown Fuel Company as being involved with the Riddlesdown or Rose and Crown limeworks. Barbara Ludlow's note tells me much more about the Nicholls family (despite the variant spellings, they are evidently all the same family) and the Crown Fuel Company.

Charlton and Greenwich readers may like to have the following east Surrey details to complete their picture.

The two Surrey limeworks with which the family were concerned were the Riddlesdown (or Rose and Crown) limeworks, of which the large chalk pit remains a conspicuous feature on the east side of the A22 at Whyteleafe; it is best seen from trains crossing the viaduct on the 'Oxted line' between Riddlesdown and Upper Warlingham stations. This pit appears to have been commenced in or about 1824 (a date taken from some 20th century company letterhead), and was already a major obstacle to the construction of the railway from 1865 onwards, hence the viaduct.  The part of the pit east of the viaduct is now operated as a closed nature reserve by the City of London, although I recall visiting the limeworks when they were still a going concern in the 1960s. The much smaller and shorter-lived Whiteleafe (or Whyteleafe) limeworks was also on the east side of the main road and railway line, about a mile further south, south of Upper Warlingham station. The Whyteleafe works are not shewn on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey large scale maps and plans, surveyed in 1867; but they do appear on the contract plans and sections for the railway, dated 1880 (the railway was commenced as the Surrey & Sussex Junction Railway, but failed, and was completed later as the Croydon, Oxted & East Grinstead Railway which opened in 1884). The site is now occupied by modern houses and a small recreation ground off Hillside Road. The latter pit had a standard gauge rail link, but such a link was impossible from the viaduct high above the kilns at the larger pit.

As a result of the Quarries Act, 1894, all open pits for mineral working over 20 feet deep were subject to inspection and regulation. Both pits fell into this category. The Act came into effect on 1 January 1895, but it took HM Inspector of Mines and Quarries for the North Wales & Isle of Man District (which district included Surrey.) a few years to identify, list and visit the large number of open pits added to his workload. Data for the two pits is published from 1897 onwards, and I have ready access to figures for this and the three following years. Nicholls' local manager was one A.E. Mead, and the men employed 'inside' and 'outside' the two pits averaged 15 and 4 for the smaller pit and 11 and 2 for the much larger one. No accidents or prosecutions are on record for either pit for the period 1897-1900 (Clement Le Neve Foster was an enthusiastic prosecutor of quarry operators who failed to observe the requirements of the Quarries Act and of the Factory Acts (he was also Inspector of Factories).  As far as limeworks are concerned Surrey directories show Nicholls still in possession of both pits up to 1924 but that for 1927 represents him only as a coal merchant. By the 1930 directory neither Nicholls nor the Whyteleafe limeworks are listed. Clearly reading as wide a range as possible of local society newsletters might well lead to a lot of jigsaw puzzle pieces being fitted together.

this article appeared in the September 2001 GIHS Newsletter

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