Cement Works

Tunstead cement works (c) Jason Hawkes

Britain from the Air - Cement Works

Cement was first mixed to form concrete by the Romans. 

The cement used in ancient Rome was a lime mortar, formed by heating pure limestone to very high temperatures then mixing the powder with sand and water. The Romans used it to build aqueducts, bridges, baths and other important buildings. They even had a way of treating it so that they could build under the sea.

Modern cement came into use in Britain around the time of the Industrial Revolution, as a cheap and quick alternative building material to stone. Cement is made by combining limestone or chalk with clay or sand. The mix is then heated to an incredibly 1,450°C - hot enough to melt steel.

Nowadays, the cement industry brings in almost £1 billion a year to the UK economy. There are 14 plants around Britain that between them produce 12 million tonnes of cement a year.

Growing demand

Most cement is used to build houses. Between 1990 and 2008, the number of British households increased by around 3 million to a total of well over 26 million. 

Increased pressure on housing comes from the changing demographics of our nation, more people are choosing to live alone; couples are marrying and having children later; and there is high divorce rate.

We are also living longer, so population is rising too. By 2037 the number of people in Britain is expected to increase by more than 14 million, bringing the total to nearly 78 million.

860,000 homes

Demand for housing is highest in the already densely crowded south east of England. Up to 1.25 million homes are planned over the next two decades. However, despite much concern expressed at the time, many new homes have already been accommodated in recent years, with little detrimental effect.

We have built on old industrial sites, filled in spaces in existing villages and people have sold off parts of their gardens. Debate continues as to whether the region can sustain continued development without causing damage the environment and to residents’ quality of life.

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Location: Tunstead Quarry, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 7JA
Grid reference: SK 09727 74130

Britain from the Air - Cement Works credits

Thank you to -

Jason Hawkes for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Cement made from lime mortar was used in Britain until the 19th century. To fill the panels in timber framed houses, lime was often mixed with horsehair, straw and even blood!