Limestone Burning

During the eighteenth century lime was much in demand for both agricultural and industrial purposes; being used not only as a fertilizer to neutralise acid soils, but also as a constituent in mortar, soap, leather tanning, sodium carbonate for textile bleaching etc.

Lime is obtained by calcining limestone in a kiln at a temperature of between 900° and 1100°C, thus reducing the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to calcium oxide (CaO) through the elimination of carbon dioxide (CO2) which is expelled as a gas. The calcination of pure calcium carbonate under well-controlled conditions will produce a maximum ratio of 56% CaO and 44% CO2. The calcium oxide (quicklime, or burnt lime) may then be either used in its existing state or crushed to a fine powder (ground burnt lime). It may also be hydrated (slaked) by the addition of water to produce calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), also known as lime putty.

The most common type of kiln in general use after 1750 was the continuous burn, mixed-feed kiln, enclosed within a substantial stone cladding and rubble infill which provided both strength and insulation. The shape of the combustion chamber, oval in section, and circular in plan, was designed to encourage the consistent downward flow of lime by maintaining a combination of high temperature and an economic use of fuel. The lime settled at the base and was drawn-off with iron shovels through adjustable iron bars, loaded into barrows and wheeled out through the draw tunnels. The resulting lime ash was dumped at convenient points around the complex.

Four batteries comprising a total of nineteen kilns are known to have been constructed at Bugsworth Basin, probably between c1800 and c1830. The Brookside battery of three kilns stood adjacent to the Middle Basin Arm and, although no surface remains now exist, the site is marked by a grass embankment. Two well- preserved draw-tunnel arches, built into the north retaining wall of the Middle Basin are all that now remain. The remains of the Gnat Hole (west) battery, although partially collapsed, still stand on the south bank of Middle Basin; note also the three surviving draw tunnel entrances from the now demolished east battery. The New Road battery was located to the north of the Blackbrook, opposite the Middle Basin Arm. It is known that the Gnat Hole Kilns were worked by Thomas Boothman during the 1830s, and Joseph Heathcote during the 1880s. The New Road Kilns were operated by Joseph (and later, Robert) Satterfield during the 1830's, and later by William Pitt Dixon from c1870 until 1892. The kilns were finally taken over by the Buxton Lime Firms' Co in 1891-92 and closed during the 1920s.

New Road limekiln
From an original illustration by Peter Whitehead