IF YOUR house was built between the 1840s and 1940s, the chances are, it was built with cement made at the Cement Mills at Dodnor.

Long since gone, all that remains today are the remnants of some kilns alongside the Newport to Cowes cycle track.

Traffic to the mill had to cross the Cowes to Newport railway line ­— something that was always bound to end in tears, as it did in 1909 when young Harry Blow tried to cross with an empty horse and cart.

He said afterwards that he definitely looked up and down the line to make sure there wasn’t a train coming.

Well, maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t, but the end result was that while he was half way across, the train from Cowes came hurtling toward him.

Harry jumped clear but the horse stood frozen, thinking what a nice day it had been so far.

The engine ploughed through the cart, smashing it to smithereens, but miraculously the horse was left unscathed, with the remains of the shafts hanging from its halter.

If Harry didn’t need counselling afterwards, the horse probably did.

In 1924, the same thing happened again, this time with a lorry load of cement.

Caught in the same dilemma, driver Charlie Maxwell also took a flying leap, leaving the lorry straddling the rails.

The train driver did his best to stop but it was a lost cause and he ploughed into the lorry, completely wrecking it.

The collision created a mushroom cloud of dust and the engine, carriages, and passengers turned white.

As the County Press put it, “they presented a novel appearance on the train’s arrival at Newport.”

A word here about cement making.

It was a filthy process, sending dust and smoke into the air for miles, even reaching Osborne House, leading the Queen to complain about it.

Those who want to know the full ins and outs should head for Alan Dinnis’s excellent book West Medina Cement Mill.

Suffice to say, cement is made by heating a mixture of clay and chalk, adding water to the end result, drying it and then pulverising it into a fine powder.

Everything was sourced locally, the clay came from pits on site and the chalk came from Shide Quarry, today the Nature Reserve, which was served by a branch line from nearby Shide Station.

In August, 1937, the Southern Railway Magazine waxed lyrical about the line.

It said: “If a prize were presented for the neatest train on the Southern Railway, it would be won by the Isle of Wight cement train.

“With its little green ‘Terrier’ locomotive and string of yellow and blue trucks, this train is the most pleasing sight in the Island, for like all Island engines, the ‘Terrier’ is spotlessly clean, and the wagons no less so, their contents of chalk, seen in the midday sun, are as white as a newly washed sheet.

“This little train confines itself to the two miles between the pits at Shide and the mills on the Medina river.

“The mill consumes 50,000 tons of chalk each month, conveyed in some 6,000 wagon loads, working three trips each day.”

The mill closed in 1944 and the site became a distribution centre for the Blue Circle cement company well into the 2000s.

The County Press report of the closure shed a little historical light on the mills.

“Known as Black Mills, the cement works are believed to have originally been corn mills.

“The name ‘Black Mills’ is believed to have arisen from the fact that the buildings were once used as a barracks for black troops.

“Cement making was started there around 100 years ago.

“For a long period the business was owned by the Francis family.

“The business was acquired by the Associated Portland Cement Company about 40 years ago.

Mr J R Wise, of Hunnyhill, writing to the County Press in 1918, said: “There is a 93-year-old man in the Workhouse who often calls at my stores.

“When he was in last week he told me he could remember when black soldiers were quartered at the Cement Works.

“It appears they were in bad health and were placed there to recuperate.

“The ship which brought them in was lying at Cowes.”

There was talk of re-opening the mills in 1946 but it came to nothing.

At a Chamber of Commerce meeting that year, Sir Vere Hobart said: “It was a monstrous thing that one of the major industries of the area should be closed.

“At one time the mills employed 100 men, many of whom, now returning from the war, were without employment.”

The mill remained closed.

Finally, a word about the colour photograph accompanying this article.

It has not been ‘colourised’.

It is a genuine colour photo dating from the 1930s or ‘40s, and is part of a collection of nearly 100 rare colour photographs of the Island by local photographer C A White of Medina Avenue, Newport.

They were taken on ‘Dufaycolor’ film ­— an early colour film first introduced in 1935.

If any reader has any information regarding C A White, I would love to hear it.