The greyish, mineral-rich clay, called fuller’s earth is well-known for its absorbent qualities and has many uses ranging from ingredients incosmetics to ‘mud’ used for drilling oil wells. Its best known use is as cat litter, of which millions of bags are sold every year to adoring pet owners. Fullers earth is now imported from the Americas, but the UK had three main quarries, they were:
- Lower Greensand strata at Woburn (Beds.)
- Baulking (Oxon.)
- Redhill (Surrey).
On the Redhill deposit, the most successful quarry operating at the turn of the century was the Copyhold Works of the Fuller’s Earth Union Ltd, established c.1860-70. Initially supplying the woollen trade, demand later shifted to the growing chemical and commodity sector. In 1954 the works, by now employing close to 800 men, were bought by chemical company Laporte Industries. Production was stepped up to meet increasing demand and a large factory consisting of kilns, granulators, silos and transit systems on several floors was built. In the 1980s, the Copyhold site was sending loose earths and packaged cat litter around the world.
By 1995, however, due to falling profits it was announced that the company would close some of its 100 worldwide plants. The Copyhold works fell victim the following year and the Laporte Group was broken up and sold to an American private equity firm trading as Rockwood Holdings Inc. After the production lines were switched off, the 119 acre pit was purchased for use as a landfill site by Biffa Waste Services and continues to take waste from across Surrey. The factory was for a while used as a waste transfer station but this too was abandoned at some time in the last four years and the site is now derelict.