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Shipton on Cherwell cement works, Oxfordshire

The Cement Production Process

Courtesy: Wikipedia

An abandoned cement works and quarry in rural Oxfordshire.

Shipton-on-Cherwell cement works is as its name suggests, an abandoned cement works and quarry in rural Oxfordshire. It was the subject of a plan for an eco-town that failed to make the shortlist for development in the spring of 2008. This visit was in the company of BadgerLad and KingRat.

Cement is manufactured from pulverised limestone by mixing it with other minerals to provide the required chemical composition and heating it in a rotating horizontal kiln to 1400°C to form a sintered clinker which is ground to make the cement powder you can buy from your builder's merchant. Or so says Wikipedia.

A basic understanding of the cement manufacturing process is useful to the urban explorer because it is conveniently linear and all its stages are laid out just as in Wikipedia's diagram to the right of this page. This means that when faced with a site like Shipton-on-Cherwell the main structures can easily be identified from their place in the line once the purpose of one of them has been ascertained.

Anyway, to the site. Once access has been gained to the quarry its size becomes obvious as you are faced with a long walk over broken rock to the buildings in the distance. It is a feature of quarries I have observed in more than one that they seem to attract the most bizarre assortment of debris even when like this one they are in a relatively isolated location and not easy to drive a car into for fly tipping. This one had the usual piles of rusting scrap metal, several televisions, a photocopier and weirdest of all on its own in the middle of a carefully graded section of loose rock, a Lionel Ritchie CD. If there had been a sagging armchair somewhere in the mix I'd start to suspect that someone was planting stuff for explorers to find.

The first building we encountered was the top end of the conveyor belt that brought the stone from the quarry floor up to the level of the adjacent cement works.

This building would have housed the drive machinery for the conveyor, as well as the base of another conveyor. Roofless and gutted, it's pretty sparse inside.

At the end of the second conveyor would have been the rock crushing plant. This building has been demolished, however there is a water filled machinery pit in a building base which was probably its site.

Visible behind the pit in the picture above is the raw mixture processing plant. A tall building with several silos that once contained the various mineral additives. Sadly the upper floors are inaccessible.

Inside the raw mixture plant, some of the machinery survives.

The basement of this building bears an uncanny resemblance to a level from one of the Quake series of games. Fortunately there is no chaingun wielding mutant waiting round the corner.

From the raw mixture plant another now-demolished conveyor would have carried the powder to the top of a set of six huge silos which can be seen in the site overview shot further down this page. Holding the camera at arms length through a small opening, here's the view up the inside of one of the raw mixture silos.

The next surviving structure in the line is the chimney. This is a North Oxfordshire landmark, being visible from many miles away.

The cement process at Shipton on Cherwell involved the raw mixture being mixed with coal as a fuel and fed into the hot end of the kilns, an almost horizontal rotating tube with just enough slope to ensure that the cement moved through it at a constant rate. Now the chimney stands by itself, hovever when the plant was open it would have been surrounded by the flue machinery required to separate the hot gasses and allow the safe feeding of the kilns.

The kilns themselves were held in a long shed which is now missing most of its cladding and full of the rubble or the immense concrete plinths that once supported them. It's an imense space that dwarfs the explorer clambering like an ant over the wreckage. The scrollable panorama below should give some idea of the space.

On the left hand side of the panorama you can see the clinker silos in the background. These are a block of six covered cylindrical silos with the remnants of the machinery that once emptied them in the passages beneath them and an inaccessible gallery on their roof.  The passages are extensive but the picture below is typical of what lurks in them.

Inside the silos is a unique atmosphere with the acoustics of a cathedral and lit only by the shaft of sunlight through the one low opening. My camera could not do it justice due to the low light.

An overview of the plant area before moving on to the offices shows from left to right the raw mix silos, the chimney, kiln house and clinker silos. The raw mix plant is out of sight behind the trees on the left.

The office is pretty trashed as you'd expect from a building that has stood open to the elements for several years. Parts of it have succumbed to small fires and what remains of the rest is not in much better shape. Still, this adds to its atmosphere and provides some good photo opportunities.

From the offices our next destination was the quarry itself. Past this diesel pump and down the rock face.

Standing on the edge, this view gives an indication of the size of the site.

Far from the pollution you might expect the lake contains crystal clear water, home to these swans.

On the bank between the quarry and the cement works is a pump house and water tower.

Shipton-on-Cherwell cement works is a good explore for a sunny weekend. It may not be the most hardcore thrill-ride but there's plenty to see and you won't come away disappointed. 

 When we visited this site we had it to ourselves, there was no security presence. However that is not to say that this is always the case. 

This is a hazardous site. From deep water to structurally questionable derelict buildings it would be foolhardy to say otherwise, there are no doubt any number of interesting ways to get hurt here. However it has the advantage that all the hazards can be avoided with a little common sense so keep your eyes open and use your skill and judgement if you choose to explore here.

The Flash Earth link to the site is here: