Lime kilns were once common features of rural landscapes, and along the canal in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Unfortunately most have been destroyed or faded into the landscape.
Lime kilns were structures in which limestone was heated to a high temperature to produce quicklime.
The most common type of lime kiln consisted of an egg shaped burning chamber constructed of brick or stone with an air inlet at the base, caleed ‘the eye’.
The limestone to be burnt had to be broken into fairly uniform pieces, about the size of a man’s fist (by hand or by using a hammer) beofre they were transported to the site by barge, horse or wheelbarrow.
The burning process began with the laying of an iron grating over the eye at the base of the chamber. Then alternating layers of limestone and fuel (wood. coal, turf) were built into the kiln chamber on top of the grate bars.
When loading was complete, the kiln was kindled at the bottom, and the fire gradually spread upwards through the eye into the chamber, burning the limestone and fuel in succession. When burnt through the quicklime was cooled and raked out through the base, while the fine ash dropped out and was rejected along with the riddling (larger waste materials).
Because the lime kiln was filled from the top, and could also be unloaded from the top, access to the top was necessary. Therefore kilns were geberally constructed on either a rock face or earthen bank to allow this. Ramps were also sometimes built to allow access.
Quicklime (also known as burnt lime) was used primarily on agricultural land to improve the quality of the land by breaking up heavy clay soil, neutralising highly acidic soil or sweetening the grass for livestock. Other uses included:
As a mortar in building
For whitewashing house walls to make them waterproof
As a paint to brighten and disinfect the interior of houses and outhouses
To prevent foot rot in livestock (heaps were a common sight at field gates)
As a medicine
For removing hair from hides in leather making
As a slug or snail repellent
To kill ants and other unwanted insects
As a frost protection for stored potatoes
To disinfect walls
To prevent disease on fruit trees
As a worm drench for pigs
As a rooting powder for cabbage plants
Giving to poultry that were producing eggs, to strengthen the egg shells
There were several lime kilns along the Garstang and District stretch of the canal, with single kilns near Greenhalgh Castle Bridge and Nateby Hall Bridge.
Two kilns near Catterall Bridge had a single draw tunnel. The tunnel is now flooded and the remaining kiln tops have been incorporated into the garden of the house next to them.
Ratcliffe Wharf lime kilns are Grade 2 listed buildings, and were constructed in 1797.