There’s talk that the old cement works on the road to Steyning might be turned into an Eden Project-style eco village nestling in the South Downs.

You know the place. First the site of a chalk quarry in 1851, it rose to employ hundreds of cement workers spreading its footprint to both sides of the road.

A secret tunnel under the tarmac joins the two parts.

At 118 acres it was so big and so important to the local economy that it had its own railway sidings.

As with all these things, large-scale cement production moved to cheaper places abroad and work ceased in 1991.

Dudman Group use part of it today but the buildings, chimneys, and kilns that churned out concrete for more than 150 years, seven days a week, are still there.

In this very spot yesterday my esteemed colleague Adam Trimingham opined that the works were hideous and should be demolished forthwith.

I rarely disagree with the Sage of Sussex but on this occasion I’m going to have to.

I think the buildings are beautiful. The whole place is a deconsecrated cathedral to a bygone manufacturing age.

There’s an ethereal quality to the site with its smashed windows, polythene flapping in the breeze, corrugated iron rising to the skies. Inside the kilns and conveyor belts wait forlornly to be fired up again.

You can almost hear the shouts and curses, the grindings and clankings of production past as you drive by.

The ghosts of generations of cement workers are still there on their endless toil to produce the powder with which this country’s foundations are built.

Just like the wreckage of the Titanic lying serenely at the bottom of the Atlantic I think we should leave it undisturbed.

Let the landscape on which it imposed itself 164 years ago slowly and inexorably reclaim it.


I make no political point at all here; just an observation about how history quickly gets rewritten into easy black and white narratives of winners and losers.

Take the recent General Election. The Tories triumphantly swept the board.

Er, actually nearly two thirds of voters did not vote for them, a fraction that rises to three quarters if you take in the electorate as a whole.

Labour had a meltdown. Well more than nine million did actually vote for the party and, despite what you might think, even down here in the south.

In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party could hold the Conservatives to account with their eight MPs. But hang on; they got 190,000 votes.

Meanwhile, the tide of nationalism north of the border is an unstoppable force with the SNP noisily filling Parliament with 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.

But wait a minute. Almost 50 per cent of Scottish voters did not vote for nationalism.

The poor old Lib Dems were wiped out. So how come more than two million people voted for them?

They would argue still, I think, that proportional voting would have given them about 50 seats on that share of the vote and perhaps avoided the political obituaries.

And of course the Ukip fox is finally shot. Is it? With 4 million voters and in third place by share of the vote it would surely be foolish to think so.

This is not so much an impassioned plea for electoral reform but a reminder that we should treat the cheers of the victors, the tears of the vanquished and the analysis of the instant historians with a large pinch of cynicism.


A trainee journalist was despatched by his editor to interview a man of the cloth whose vicarage had been ransacked by burglars. The vicar was very accommodating, showed the reporter around the house, sat him in the study and went to make tea for the both of them.

While he was out the reporter spied on the mantelpiece a picture of the veteran comedian Ken Dodd, trademark bog brush hair and buck teeth to the fore.

When the vicar returned, to keep the conversation going, the youngster enquired of the picture: “How did you get to know Doddy, reverend?”

The room turned several degrees colder and with a face like thunder the vicar replied: “That is a picture of my wife.”

You can feel the mortification of the kid from here, can’t you? I told this story at an after-lunch speech in Brighton I gave the other day.

I’ve been using it for years after a Scottish editor told me it actually happened to one of his reporters.

It always gets a titter. But this time a guest sidled up to me and suggested the story was apocryphal.

He’d heard it before. I was taken aback.

Was it true or had I been using so often it has assumed a life of its own, on a never-ending orbit of after-dinner speeches. Does it matter?

Has any reader heard it before and if so where and from whom? I might try to compile its history.