Potted history of Colgate & Gray (chalk, whiting & ice merchants)

By Violet Godfrey (nee White) & John Hills

  Colgate & Gray started business in 1882 when they acquired land and chalk pit from the Earl of Sheffield which also included the railway line from the chalk pit to the 3 landing stages on the river (see map below), near to the stage where the RNLI Newhaven lifeboat is moored today.

They primarily exported chalk which was mainly used as ballast, in the early days, for the sailing ships that unloaded their cargo at the port. They also traded a derivative of chalk called "whiting" which was used in the manufacturing process of linoleum a type of floor covering. 

The firm also imported ice which was a seasonal trade during the spring and summer months and delivered by ship from the Baltic Sea region in the form of large blocks, which were stored in the quarry in "ice houses", before being cut up and delivered to local traders and hotels in the Sussex area. This trade ceased before 1914.

The "whiting" was made from chalk which was blasted from the quarry, then loaded into small skips and taken to be crushed. Then ground up and mixed with water to form a slurry and left to settle in large troughs. After being left to dry it was broken up and put in drying racks to harden.

The chalk and whiting was carried in trucks drawn by a single horse to the waiting ships, the trucks unique design was to be hinged at the front.

To load a vessel the horse would gallop to the loading stage pulling a single wagon, it would then be released by pulling a cord which uncoupled the wagon. The wagon then moved forward at speed under its own momentum until the wheels of the leading axle entered the U shape depression in the rail. At this point the wagon body would tip forward, discharging its load into the hold of the ship by means of a drawbridge type chute. At the last moment before the wagon body upturned a safety catch was hooked on the wagon to stop it dropping into the ship's hold. 

On one occasion a loaded wagon in the charge of Arthur White was deposited complete with its load into the hold of the vessel! 

The very last shipment from the quarry was on 3rd September 1939.

Photo:Colegate and Gray workers 1932

Colegate and Gray workers 1932

Violet Godfrey

Workers of Colgate and Gray pictured c 1932.

Back row left to right:-

Alf Dunstall, Len Medhurst, Fred Cousins, Arthur White (father of Violet Godfrey nee White), Ned Hoad.

Middle row left to right:-

Charlie Funnell, Harry Beard (foreman), "Micky" Gray (owner), Harry Breeds, John (Jack) Everest.

Front row left to right:-

Harry Hillman, Horace Eastern, George Baker, Ted Chilman.


Photo:Reverse of photo with names

Reverse of photo with names

Violet Godfrey


Photo:Harry Breeds with trucks of chalk

Harry Breeds with trucks of chalk

Old postcard


Harry Breeds leading a horse pulling at least 6 or 7 trucks full of chalk from Meeching Quarry, down to the landing stages on the west side, with the Sheffield Arms Hotel in the background, which now houses a Co-op Store.


Photo:Earl of Sheffields tramway

Earl of Sheffields tramway

Map showing the route of the tramway from the Quarry to the landing stages.

Photo:Ship moored on Ice stage in 1920

Ship moored on Ice stage in 1920

Ship moored at the landing stage which Colegate & Gray imported Ice from the Baltic region.

The Tramway from Colegate & Grays works in the quarry to the 3 landing stages can clearly be seen in this picture from 1920.

This page was added by John Hills on 07/03/2020.
Comments about this page

This is such a coincidence. My granddaughter, Rosie Finn, has recently become interested in her family history and asked me about my great Grandfather Breeds. I remembered that he worked for Colgate and Gray and decided to see if I could find out more about the company on 'Our Newhaven' and, lo and behold, what did I find on the front page but this potted history of the company with two photos of my Great Grandad! Amazing!

By Janet Finn
On 07/03/2020

I too, would like to find out more, about Henry (Harry) Breeds, my Great, Great Grandfather. I have got a copy of his death certificate, which states he died in 1956, but this is at great odds, with the recollections of living members of the family (my mother, Joan, my Uncle Frank, myself, my brother John, all of whom visited him in 1962) - the purpose of the visit was to be part of a rare point in history, being that not many people, ever get to visit a living great, great grandparent. How could I forget that visit, after being ushered from the house, by my grandfather and grandmother, Frank and Flo, because us kids were irritating the old boy, we went out onto the nearby recreation ground, where I almost accidently killed my younger brother Peter, by catapulting him off the see-saw on the recreation ground and knocking him unconscious (Peter was not born until late 1957). If would be most helpful, if anyone could recollect, the year of Henry's death, and/or where the funeral took place, and whether or not, he was buried or cremated?

That aside, I see from the photo of the workers of Colgate & Gray, that there is a Ned Hoad, and bearing in mind that Henry Breeds married Elizabeth Hoad, I suspect that Henry and Ned were related via his marriage. My mother recollects that there was a (great?) Uncle Ned that lived with Henry at some point, perhaps this is the same Ned Hoad in the photograph?

By Roy
On 26/02/2021

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