Amwell Lime kiln

By Dick Dixon


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LIME KILN DISCOVERY

by Dick Dixon


We have been contacted by Elizabeth Hawkins, of the Ranch House, Amwell Hill, Great Amwell, practically on our doorstep, who reports that she has a limekiln on her property in its original condition and kindly offered us the opportunity to photograph it. l therefore visited her and took the accompanying photos shown here.

    Mrs. Hawkins’ email to us told an interesting tale. Next to her property is the Water Board Pumping Station and an area of woodland. When the Hawkins heard that the Water Board wished to sell a small parcel of woodland, they bought the plot and then noticed a large lump on it, overgrown with greenery and brambles. Mr. Hawkins, who is a builder, cleared the vegetation and discovered beneath it was buried an ancient brick limekiln.  This I can describe as tulip shaped, with a wide globular shape at the base and a narrower waisted area above it. It is about 18 to 20 feet from top to base and has three apertures in the base, presumably where the quicklime was extracted.

    At its base it can be entered through an archway, where inside were found some corroded parts of a metal grating.  Inside it is quite commodious and is well constructed. The brickwork is in very good condition, although repairs to it can be found, showing long usage.  David Perman, Ware historian, has visited the site and believes the bricks to be locally made Ware bricks. I would describe them as yellow stocks.  It is difficult to date the kiln which was mentioned in Kelly’s Directory of 1874, but it could be much older.

      But Mrs. Hawkins story does not end there. Some time ago a lady from Hastings who was a wartime evacuee in the 1940s at the Ranch House, paid an unexpected visit to her old wartime home. The Hawkins were not at home at the time so the lady left a letter explaining who she was. Later it transpired that she had photographs and a plan of the grounds, which overlooks the New River, showing that it used to have huts there and a caravan, as it was a roadside tea-room, a refreshment stop for cyclists and other travellers  She  commented about the limekiln, ‘I see you still have our old air-raid shelter.’ One photo shows the limekiln with the property owners and next to it was an unexploded bomb!    We hope eventually to obtain copies of these.

    In Stanstead Abbotts, in Cappell Lane, is a path near the Wilberforce Cottages leading up to Easneye which was known as Limekiln Lane, leading up to a chalk quarry. It is believed that limestone was once dug here for use in a limekiln, but no trace of this remains.


LIMEKILNS

Limekilns were used as ovens in which limestone was burnt in order to reduce it to a powder known as quicklime, which had more than one use. The process is a chemical one known as calcination, converting calcium carbonate to calcium oxide. The use of quicklime is very ancient, when wood was very cheap and plentiful, but most limekilns of the 19th century used a mix of wood and coal to produce the heat required to complete the process. It could take a whole day to load the kiln with layers of fuel and limestone and a day to unload it, with a complete ‘burn’ taking a whole week.

     Early civilizations used quicklime as building mortar and for stabilising mud floors.    It was also later used in agriculture as a fertilizer, correcting the acidity of soil, but this use only became possible from the late 13th century when coal became cheap enough. Small-scale manufacturing such as this Amwell kiln was for local use only as transporting coal on the terrible road conditions of the early period made this impossible. In its heyday, St. Margarets station had sidings for the import and unloading of coal.

D.D.