The Pickworth Lime Kiln

Last year Eric Robinson provided the Leicestershire Industrial History Society (LIHS) with information about John Clare and Pickworth, following which the LIHS carried out some exploratory works with a view to doing some restoration this summer. Now the 19 acre site of the lime kiln and disused quarry has been leased by Rutland District Council from Burghley Estate for a peppercorn rent of £10 per year, to be turned into a tourist attraction on a John Clare theme.

Clare first turned his hand to 14 hour days of lime burning at Casterton, near Stamford, in the Spring of 1817 and it was not until Autumn of that year that he worked at another of Mr Wilders' lime kilns at Pickworth. While at Casterton, Clare used to drink at The Flower Pot (still exists as a house) at nearby Tickencote, and it was thus that he first saw Martha Turner (Patty) as she walked home to Walkherd Lodge. She was 18 and John 24.

The LIHS investigation yielded the following report on the kiln, which was passed to me by Eric:

“Pickworth lime kiln lies not far from the Al just to the west of Pickworth, about 4 miles or so north of Stamford. It is built into a sloping bank on the east side of the limestone quarry so that a ramp was available for loading the kiln from the top. The kiln itself is an intermittent flare kiln with a single draw-hole: it would have been filled with layers of limestone and a space left underneath for a coal fire. Once lit, the kiln would have been left for a period of 10 days or so before being drawn and the draw-hole temporarily blocked off to reduce the draught. Burnt limestone was greatly valued in the late C18 and C19 for agricultural use, particularly on newly cultivated land.

The kiln is shaped like an inverted bottle, 3.85m high, 1.84m diameter across the top and .91m diameter across the circular base. It is built of stone but lined with brick: there are seven brick courses forming the hearth at the base but above this the brick is badly burnt and eroded, indicating considerable use. The floor of the hearth is of brick now sealed with burnt limestone. The draw arch is lofty, about 1.85m in height and 2.2m in depth from front to back. It is constructed of stone flags, but the most unusual feature is the wooden lintels across the front arch, three in all. There would not have been excessive heat this far from the kiln, but it is a feature LIHS has not previously encountered in lime kilns. Substantial draw arches, however, were quite common because of the need to keep burnt lime (quicklime) dry: blind tunnels for the same purpose were constructed at Calke Abbey [near Ashby de la Zouch south of Derby].

Of the draw-hole itself, only the base has survived. When excavated it was covered by a flat stone flag which sloped outwards, enabling the kiln contents to be raked out over it. This is also a feature not observed elsewhere, and may date from re-use of the kiln subsequent to its being fired for lime: the kiln above the hearth level was full of domestic rubbish, including C19 bottles and pottery, and may well have ended its life as a local incinerator. When the flag covering the base of the draw arch was removed, the arch itself was constructed of moulded bricks laid to create a curved edge. This was done to prevent damage that would have occurred when raking out a space with sharp edges and comers.

The exterior of the kiln has suffered damage from tree and ivy roots and needs urgent consolidation. The top of the kiln should be protected by a grille and the draw arch fully cleared and consolidated. Otherwise the kiln is in good condition and is an interesting example of a structure very common in the mid-nineteenth century. An interpretation board indicating its function would enhance the value of the picnic site: this has been carried out very well by Derbyshire County Council at lime-kilns in Millers Date and at sites in the Pembrokeshire National Park.”

Prof. Eric Robinson
JCS Newsletter No. 30 (December 1990)