His­toric Wark­worth

First ce­ment works on Wil­son Road

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The town of Wark­worth is seeped in early pi­o­neer his­tory. Down by the Mahu­rangi River next to the swim­ming hole at the end of Wil­son Rd is the re­mains of the first ce­ment works in New Zealand. Nathaniel Wil­son, who mar­ried Florence Snell whose par­ents had set­tled at Snells Beach, be­gan mak­ing hy­draulic lime on the site by the Mahu­rangi River in 1866. By 1883 he was ex­per­i­ment­ing with mak­ing ce­ment and in 1884 had pro­duced sat­is­fac­tory test batches. He in­stalled ma­chin­ery to make the ce­ment and it went on the mar­ket as Wil­sons Port­land Ce­ment in 1885. It was the first com­mer­cially pro­duced quan­ti­ties in the south­ern Hemi­sphere. By 1894 the works were pro­duc­ing 100 tonnes per week and a sim­i­lar quan­tity of lime and em­ploy­ing 180 men. Trans­port was by ship and the river was very busy by the turn of the cen­tury. The lime quarry, which is now a deep swim­ming hole, was worked to a depth of about 15.24 me­tres or 50 feet and had to be pumped to keep it dry. In 1918 Wil­sons amal­ga­mated with two other com­pa­nies and the ce­ment man­u­fac­ture was shifted to a new up-to-date works at Port­land, Whangarei, The man­u­fac­ture of hy­draulic lime, how­ever con­tin­ued at Wil­son Rd un­til 1929 when the plant was fi­nally closed down and the ma­chin­ery ei­ther shifted to Port­land or bro­ken up for scrap. Sadly many of the his­toric kilns and most of the build­ings were de­stroyed or dam­aged by prac­tice de­mo­li­tions by the home guard and the United States forces dur­ing World War Two. The big two-storey con­crete house on the cor­ner of Wil­son Rd and Hep­burn Creek Rd was built by Nathaniel in 1903 and was known as Rive­rina. He lived there un­til his death in 1919. In­for­ma­tion from Mahu­rangi River, Its Story, edited by H J Keys and pub­lished by the Friends of the Mahu­rangi.

PHOTO: Alexan­der Turn­bull Li­brary, cour­tesy of Jade River, A His­tory of the Mahu­rangi, by R H Locker.

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