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History of site

Landuse History

water meadow
Up until the 1930's the landuse of the site was largely water meadow, similar to that still present adjacent to the River Great Stour at Whitehall Meadows local nature reserve approximately 1km upstream of Canterbury city centre. Water meadows provided excellent grazing with the constant flooding of the site improving the soil's fertility, as fresh silt was spread over it with each flood event.
However it was river bourne material from an earlier age that was to lead to the next stage in the site's landuse history. During glacial times, Canterbury would have been too far south to be covered by permanent glacier ice. However, the conditions must have been similar to those currently found over much of Alaska. The ground would have frozen solid during the cold winter months, but with the warming summer sun, the ice would have melted to give great torrents of flood water down the Great Stour. The power of these would have been sufficient to carry enormous quantities of gravel downstream.
As the floods abated, the gravels would have been deposited on the river bed and adjacent flood plain to a depth of several metres. This gravel was to be of great interest to Robert Brett, a local industrialist who had a small business extracting this material from areas around Fordwich during the 1930's. The realisation that good quality deposits were to be found in the area between Broad Oak Road and Sturry Road soon led to the focus of his activities being moved to this new site.

Gravel is an essential ingredient of concrete, being mixed with water, sand and cement to give an excellent artificial building material. A large amount of the current Broad Oak Nature Reserve soon ended up all over East Kent, from Manston Airfield to Kent County Cricket Ground and the Thanet Way to the sea defences at Dover.

In the early days extraction of concrete was carried out by manual labour, picks and shovels, with assistance from steam and deisel powered cranes, lorries and drag lines. Photographs taken of the Robert Brett and Son's Riverdale Road Quarry during the 1930's, illustrate the nature of the workings. The Broad Oak Nature Reserve quarry was part of this complex, with extracted gravel transported by bridge across the Great Stour to the washing and storage facilities shown in the photographs.

The Processes Involved in Extracting Gravel (1930's)
Historical Photographs provided by Robert Brett and Sons
(click on selected photograph for enlargement, close window to return)

a) The top soil was removed and moved elsewhere, probably to form islands in the lake(lagoon) that was left behind after the gravel had been removed.

b) The crane then removed the gravel to a depth of
several metres using a dragline (photo 7), loading it
onto narrow gauge railway trucks.

The crane and trucks can be seen towards the top
of photograph 1. above. They can also be seen
standing on the pier to the right of photo 3.

Aerial View of Nature Reserve, Quarry, Great Stour and Canterbury (from North) - 1990's

c) A small engine (also visible in photo 3.) then took the trucks laden with
gravel to the pier (seen in the middle of photo 1.).

d) The trucks then tipped their contents out.
f) To wash the gravel, water was sucked out of the lake (lagoon) by a pipe.
e) A second crane (visible in picture 2) transferred the unwashed gravel into washing 'bins' ready for washing. g) In photo 1. you can see the pipe which takes water from the lagoon by the floating hut next to the pier. This floating hut can also be seen in photos 3 and 4.
h) This pipe carried water to the washing 'bins'. In Photo 1. you can see the reflection of this pipe, which makes it look as though there are 2 pipes.
i) The lagoon water was then pumped over the unwashed gravel to remove any impurities (soil, clay, sand etc.). The apparatus for this is shown most clearly in the poster illustration in Photo 8. 3. View NW from Sturry Road across to Barton Down
j) The water and impurities were carried away down a pipe which emptied back into the lagoon. If you inspect the picture closely, two outlet pipes can be seen discharging water into the lagoon in Photo 1. If you look carefully the one nearest the pier has deposited mud to form an island.
It is possible to see the difference in water colour where this pipe empties into the lagoon. Here the faster moving water carries the mud away, depositing the mud all over the rest of the lagoon. Photo 4. shows the lagoon bed after it has been exposed by draining.
k) Once the gravel had been cleaned it was transferred by a third crane (see Photo 1. and Photo 2.) to storage piles. These piles can be seen in Photos 1., 2. and 5.
l) Lorries were then loaded up with gravel by crane. See Photo 2.

m) The lorries transported the clean gravel to be mixed with water, sand and cement, to be made into concrete at the building site.

6. Crane being towed away on the back of a lorry

7. Dragline Crane

9. Robert Brett - Founder of Robert Brett and Sons

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