A Guide to the Industrial History of Reigate and Banstead Borough
by Derek Stidder 1996 £5.00
The Reigate & Banstead district is dominated by the residential areas of Redhill, Reigate, Merstham, Honey and Banstead and, because of the continuous housing and commercial development, many industrial sites and premises have been lost in recent years. Of particular note were the remains of the Reigate Brewery, south of the High Street, Standing as they did on prime building land, the former brewery buildings were demolished in 1993/94 to make way for a new supermarket and, unfortunately, this is not just an isolated case. There are some important sites still to be seen, such as the remains of the Surrey Iron Railway which ran south of Croydon, passed through the Merstham gap in the North Downs, and terminated at the Merstham firestone mines. This railway was intended to reach Portsmouth, to counter the threat to shipping in the English Channel by Napoleon's forces. When this threat receded, the necessity for the railway diminished and the new steam railways ended the existence of the first public railway in the world. The firestone mines at Merstham provided a very popular and well known building stone that was used in the construction of many famous buildings, such as Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey. When the demand for firestone diminished, the softer hearthstone became popular for whitening stone doorsteps and many of the old mines were re-worked. All remains in this area have been destroyed following the construction of the M23. Railways feature prominently in the district, and played an important role in the development of the Borough, and areas such asTadworth, for example, owe their existence to the railway. The Crawley to Reigate road was the first authorised turnpike in Surrey, although the ascent up Reigate Hill caused problems early on.
The geology of the area attracted several types of extractive industries, in the Redhill, Reigate and Merstham areas in particular. The Upper Greenland at Merstham yielded hard calcareous building stone and later the softer hearthstone, Sand extraction took place in the Folkestone Beds which outcrop in the Redhill area especially, and although fine glass making sand is still extracted at Holmethorpe, deposits will soon be exhausted here. Likewise with Fullers Earth, which occurs within the Sandgate Beds between Redhill and Bletchingly. Over centuries this non-plastic clay with absorbent properties has been obtained in great quantities, using open cast mining techniques, and although it is not used for fulling any more, its uses now range from cat litter to processes in the oil industry. Finally, the chalk pits at Reigate and formerly at Merstham, provided vast amounts of hydrated lime used extensively in the building trade. The lack of water power in the district resulted in twelve windmills being erected within the district, with Reigate Heath Post Mill being the most accessible of its type. Most of the small industries that flourished throughout the district have succumbed to housing and commercial development, but the British Wax Refining Company, at Earlswood, still purifies and bleaches crude beeswax using plant and machinery installed in 1917.
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