Smoke has billowed from the iconic chimney of Westbury Cement Works for what could be the last time after the plant shut down yesterday as a result of the recession.

In February, Lafarge announced that all manufacturing at the plant, which was opened by Blue Circle in September 1962 and taken over by Lafarge as part of a £3.1bn merger deal in 2001, would be suspended as a result of increasingly difficult cost and market conditions.

A 17-man team will remain at the plant, in the shadow of the White Horse, to deal with cement coming in by railway and out by lorries, as well as a land and planning team.

Of the 76 workers left at the plant, 30 have been relocated to other Lafarge plants or take on new roles at Westbury works, another 30 are of pensionable age or have been supported with retraining or have found employment elsewhere, and the remaining 16 are not yet sure on their future plans.

Ken Stevens, 56, from Westbury, was the packing plant and shipping manager and has been at the cement works for 29 years. He said: “I came out of the Marines to join Blue Circle. My brothers, uncles and father have all worked here as well.

“When I first started there were 22 men on a shift and at the end there was only two; high tech machinery has been put in place to replace people.

“As a child I used to come to the company’s Christmas party and at the last two Christmas parties I have been Father Christmas, so I’ve come full circle.”

The former Westbury Rugby Club captain is a registered carer and is thinking about going back into the care industry.

Heather Mullins, 55, from Marston, has been the plant’s human resources officer for 13 years and has seen hundreds of employees come and go. She said: “When I came here there were 297 employees and I’ve had to make them all redundant either voluntarily or compulsory, which is not nice, but I’ve also been responsible for all the recruitment here.”

She said her lowest point at the plant came in 2005 when it was discovered there was a high level of Alkali in the cement produced at the Westbury site. She is most proud of the sustainability project Lafarge ran with Matravers School at the plant’s lake in 2005.

Lafarge were recognised for their environment performance by winning a top environmental prize at the Business in the Community Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 2007, which was presented to them by former US Vice-President Al Gore.

Mrs Mullins, whose two children had work placements at the plant before attending university, plans to take some time out before setting up her own human resources and health and safety consultancy.

Keith Macfarlane, 49, was the area manager for production and joined Blue Circle at the age of 19. The Westbury man will return to Lafarge with his new employers Workman, a property management firm which will be responsible for the site.

He said: “The biggest change I think I’ve seen is in the environmental and health and safety regulations. Health and safety was just a phrase years ago but now you cannot be seen around the plant without the correct safety gear.

“I can’t see a wet works in Westbury again. We have found it very hard to compete with other alternative fuels.”

Jim Cross, who has been manager at the plant for three years, has been relocated to his native Canada with Lafarge. He added: “We are mothballing so we don’t want to send out the message that this is a permanent closure.

“If market conditions and cost conditions improve who knows what will happen? We were working flat out a year ago and now we’re being mothballed.

“I’ve been very pleased to be part of this great team and I’m very proud of the improvements we’ve made here.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time in England, my roots are here. My grandmother was born in Steeple Ashton and lived in Great Cheverell, which is where my great grandparents are buried.”

Cement from the plant has used to build landmarks such as Cribbs Causeway Shopping Centre, near Bristol, which was completed in 1998, and Dorset County Hospital in the same year.

The plant, which has two kilns, recorded its biggest output in 2002 when the plant produced 823,000 tonnes of cement.

Now the cement plant has closed for what appears to be the final time, the door has also closed on a number of local charities the firm has helped over its 47-year history.

The factory forged a strong relationship with both the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, who used donations from the plant to carry out conservation work, and the Swan Rescue Sanctuary near Wimborne, Dorset, a link which was began after an 18-month-old swan landed in a slurry mixer at the plant.

Another charity which has benefited from Lafarge’s generosity is VINE for PAT, which aims to provide a hostel for homeless, pregnant, and abused teenagers.

The charity, in Fore Street, Trowbridge, was founded by Pat Penny in 1989, and she said: “When we took on these old Ushers buildings they had fibreboard in them and this needed to be changed to plasterboard.

“I don’t know how Lafarge heard about our dilemma but one day we had a phone call to say that a delivery of plasterboard was being made. When we needed more they helped us again and we got all the work completed for free.

“I know Lafarge have had a bad press concerning the environment but they have done an awful lot for the community.

“I hope they reopen the plant in the future or otherwise charities like ourselves will lose out.”

The closure of the cement works will bring an end to one man’s 15-year campaign to protect the environment from pollution.

David Levy, 56, of Chapmanslade near Westbury, began campaigning in 1994 for Westbury Cement Works, which was then owned by Blue Circle, to clean up its act.

Mr Levy, who chairs The Air that we Breathe group, said: “I started the campaign because I felt that any improvement made at the plant had to be for the benefit of the community – someone had to make a stand.

“Every meeting I’ve organised there has always been 200-plus people and we had 500 people turn up for a two-mile walk to the plant when they wanted to burn solvents there. This plant has pumped out hundreds of thousands of toxins into the environment by burning waste.

“The Lafarge chimney is a significant polluter in Westbury and although in 1992 they installed some filters, they were never designed to trap the most chemically active dust particles.

“Since the takeover Lafarge has been much more professional in dealing with the community but it’s still a failing industry and it’s totally unsustainable.

“The plant won’t reopen again. The councillors want to leave it in a mothballed state.

“I expect people will be saying ‘what is David Levy going to do with his time now Lafarge has closed?’, but I stand on three national executives.

“I campaign on these issues because I think it’s vitally important.”

Mr Levy is active with the UK Without Incineration Network (UK WIN), OSPAR, which protects and conserves the north east Atlantic and its resources and MARINET, a campaign to protect the UK’s marine environment.