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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989

(g) W. L. Lawry Limited

(g) W. L. Lawry Limited

This company's production of crushed agricultural lime has been the largest in the County to date. My father, W. L. Lawry, first manufactured lime-sulphur, a spray material, on a commercial basis in 1923 and, as noted earlier, became involved in the burning of lime a few years later. Quarrying for limestone for the kiln first commenced in the Lee Valley, in the deposit of Maitai limestone, in 1936. In fact, the first road to open a quarry passed over the site of George Williams' old kiln and filled it in. The quarry was at the bottom of the hill, and heavy overburden soon diverted attention to some large outcrops higher up the hill. A road to these outcrops was built in the same year, and quarrying commenced to supply stone for the Port Lukins kiln.

It was not long before substantial quantities of small stone accumulated. The decision was made to purchase George Hall's Stoke plant and convert this waste into crushed lime. The plant, which included a small jaw crusher originally used in the Roding Copper Mine, a pulveriser and air compressor, was all relocated up the hillside, near the site of the present works, in 1937. Foremen in the early years of operation were Bertram A. Ching of Stoke and Clarence L. Andrews of Brightwater.

In 1945 I joined my father in the business and, in 1946, we decided to split the operation, retaining a primary crushing plant at the quarry site and building a new pulverising plant in the railway yard at Brightwater, with its own private siding. At this time there was no reticulation of electricity in the Lee Valley, so it was advantageous, for this and other reasons, to shift the power-consuming pulverising operation to Brightwater. All the lime used in the Rai Valley at that time was loaded directly from bagging machines, straight into railway trucks, for despatch to Nelson.

One of the more unusual consignments at this time was to rail a scow-load of 60 tons of bagged lime to the Port for shipment to various private farm jetties in the Marlborough Sounds.

Bulk lime and a bulk sowing service, using a wheel tractor and trailer, were first introduced in 1950, with a consequent great saving in hard labour. It was not long before farmers recognised that, while machinery was covering a farm, it was just as easy to spread fertilizer at the same time as the lime. As a consequence, the Brightwater works soon became a very sophisticated lime and fertilizer despatch plant. With the continuing development of thousands of acres of Moutere hill country in the 1950's, the sowing service proved popular. Thousands of tons of lime were spread from trailers drawn by a crawler tractor. Finally, truck spreaders were introduced to cover flat farms.

Meantime there were developments in the quarry. A new primary crushing plant, including a much larger jaw crusher, was built on the present works site in the Lee Valley. Early quarrying was about 400 feet above the valley floor, but it was not long before the quarry face became dangerously high. In the 1950's a progressive programme of benching was introduced, so that quarrying proceeded from the top of the deposit downwards. A total quarry height of 400 feet was operated with a series of eight floors. Access by road to all floors ultimately required quite a network of roads on the hillside.

It was quite a delight that, in the 1957 Mines Statement to Parliament, it was noted that "the page 9development of a very high hillside by W. L. Lawry Limited into benches … could very well be copied to advantage by a number of other quarries in similar ground."

In 1978, the company was sold to Irvine's Freightlines Limited. Total production of crushed agricultural lime, from when the works at Brightwater commenced operating on 19th September 1946, to the end of 1982, was 350,790 tons, at an average of nearly 10,000 tons per year.

Lime from the Brightwater plant was always a little more costly than that of competitors, partly because transportation costs, for the five mile haulage from the Lee Valley, was included. On 1 January 1948 the price was raised to 27/6 per ton and, on 1 February 1961, it had progressed to 35/-.