Lime Kilns



Ron Martin 
From Sussex Industrial History 27, 1997, by kind permission of and Ron Martin

This article is the result of the beginnings of a survey of lime kilns in Sussex and will be complemented by a further one when the research is completed. I have started with some general remarks about the uses of lime and finished with the description of three lime kilns which have been surveyed.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries lime was one of the most wide spread non-food manufactured products. Although used in many different manufacturing processes, the two principal uses in Sussex were for agriculture and in building.

In agriculture lime was used as a "manure" on the heavy soils in order to make them more open and friable, to improve drainage and to make the land more easily worked to a good tilth.1 Lime is an essential plant food and its presence is essential in fair quantity to produce good crops. To correct soil acidity lime has a beneficial effect which converts the organic matter of the soil into soluble plant food.

Lime has been used in building since Roman times. Mortar for laying masonry was made by mixing lime with sand, and to make concrete the lime was mixed with an aggregate such as crushed or natural stone. Plaster had backing coats of a similar mix to mortar, with a neat setting coat of neat lime. Lime putty was used to set fine brickwork and masonry. Lime white is a mixture of lime and water and was used for whitening walls, the traditional "whitewash".

The material from which lime is derived is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) which occurs naturally in Sussex as limestone or chalk, although there are other sources throughout the world such as coral and shells. In Sussex, the most common source is chalk from the South Downs. Chalk from the Holywell Pits at Beachy Head was shipped in sloops to Bexhill, Rye and Hastings 2 but most was obtained from the north face of the Downs. The only limestone used in Sussex was Sussex marble, commonly known as "winkle stone" and extensively used decoratively, but this was mined by the Earl of Ashburnham.3 When calcium carbonate is burnt at a temperature of 900C, carbon dioxide is driven off and the calcium oxide is left. (CaCO3 = CaO + CO2). This is known as quick lime due its violent reaction when mixed with water (slaking). The resultant product is calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) or slaked lime. For agricultural purposes the quick lime was applied directly onto the fields, but for building purposes the lime was slaked in large vats and stored for several months to mature. In use it is then mixed with sand to produce "course stuff" for mortar or rendering coats for plasters.

Early lime kilns in Sussex fall into two categories. On the heavy Wealden clays it was found necessary for most farms to have their own lime kiln and many of these would have been in existence in the eighteenth century. In one area looked at in Northchapel, in an area of 15 square kilometres there were no less than 20 kilns. From the few surviving examples it would appear that these were probably flare kilns similar to the one at Ebernoe described later. The practice would have been for the farmer to collect the chalk from the Downs, a distance of up to 12 miles. Young in 1813 4 gives a detailed breakdown of the cost of liming in Northchapel, the chalk being obtained from Duncton. It is significant that the two greatest items of cost were cartage and fuel.

The second category of kilns are the ones on the South Downs, mostly occurring at the foot the scarp face. Most of these are mid-nineteenth century kilns and were in the nature of lime works providing burnt quick lime as a finished product. These were mainly in the form of shaft or bottle kilns and would have probably been used as continuously burning mixedfeed kilns. Many of them are associated with the means of transport, with river or canal navigation or rail connections as at Chichester, Houghton Bridge, Offham and Southerham. Most of these sites had multiple kilns with for example at Houghton as many as 16 kilns in addition to the De Witt kiln which was erected in 1903. The example described later at Goat Farm in Streat does not seem to fit into either of these categories. It is a single kiln on a farm site, located on the South Downs, but it is an excellent example of its type.


The lime kiln is situated at the south edge of Ebernoe Cricket Field at SU 972278 on flat ground and earth had been built up to form a ramp at the east side for access to the charging platform. The kiln probably dates from the eighteenth century and was restored in 1996.

The pot is circular on plan with an internal diameter of 2.8 m (9'2") at the top and 2.6 m (8'6") at the bottom, widening out to 2.95 m (9'8" about 1 m (3'3") from the top. Around the bottom is a brick shelf 250 mm (10") wide and 300 mm (1'0") high. The total height is 2.7 m. (8'10"). The inside of the pot is vitrified to a height of about 1 m (3'3") above the shelf . At the north side is the firing hole, 1.1m (3.7") long, 0.70 m (2'3") wide and 0.84 m (2'9") high to the springing of a semi-circular vault. The floor of the firing hole is paved, partly with bricks laid flat and partly on edge.

Along the north side of the kiln is a retaining wall, total length about 9 m (29'6"), and splay recessed at the firing hole. At the east end this retaining wall reduces in height to follow the fall of the ramp to the charging platform.

MATERIALS - The pot is built of tapered bricks laid flat in header bond. These measure 120 - 130 mm (4" x 5") wide and are 180 mm (7") long. This is interesting as normally bricks are 112.5 x 215 mm (4" x 8") and this has possibly been done so that the volume of the brick is similar to a standard brick which might assist firing of the bricks in a kiln with some standard and some kiln bricks. They were almost certainly made locally in the brickworks on Ebernoe Common which is still extant. The retaining wall is built of sandstone random rubble, probably from the Pulborough area.

FIRING - A flare kiln was loaded by first building a rough dome of chalk on the shelf around the base of the kiln on a timber centre. Lumps of chalk of about fist size were then filled in on top to the top of the kiln. The fuel comprising furze or faggots was fed in through the firing hole as long as required to burn the lime through, a total duration of about 72 hours.


This kiln is located at the foot of the scarp face of the South Downs in a chalk pit at what was formerly known as Goat Farm (now The Cote) in the parish of Streat at TQ 348131. This is an excellent example of a shaft kiln typical of the sort found in Sussex. It probably dates from mid-nineteenth century.

The pot is lined with brickwork laid in header bond., 0.8 m (2'8") diameter at the bottom and 2.7 m (8'10") at the top and 8.4 m (27'6") high. The upper 2 m (6'7") has nearly vertical sides and has been rebuilt. At the bottom of the pot is the draw hole which is 0.6 m x 1.1 m (2'0" x 3.7") which is spanned by a segmental brick arch. There is a 50 x 50 mm (2" x 2") iron bar across the top of the draw hole below the arch. The tunnel which leads to the draw hole is 1.85 m (6'1") wide and 3.3 m (10'10") long with brick walls containing two panels of flint rubble. The vault over the tunnel is brick two-rings thick and semi-circular. The tunnel is paved in bricks laid flat.

The retaining wall is 6.8 m long and stands to about 6.3 m (20'8") high, returning to the front about 2.5 m (8'2") at each end and is built of field flint rubble incorporating some "bungaroosh", a term used to describe a mixture of flint and old bricks often laid diagonally. The ends of the walls are quoined in red brick as are also the internal angles between the front and return walls. Small sloping buttresses have been built at the front of the draw tunnel and at the end of the northern retaining wall.

There is evidence of the remains of a shelter to protect the lime workers and the lime when being drawn out of the kiln.

CONDITION - The pot is in nearly perfect condition as a previous owner has had the foresight to cap the pot with a concrete slab. As a result there is no filling or rubbish inside the pot. There is some cracking of the vault of the draw tunnel at the back of the retaining wall. The wall itself has the upper part slightly eroded and vegetation has damaged the outer face of the flintwork over a considerable area.

FIRING - This type of kiln was probably a mixed feed kiln loaded with alternate layers of chalk and fuel. It was presumably an intermittent feed kiln as there is no evidence of poke holes which are normally found in the case of running or draw kilns.

COMMENT - It is interesting that this kiln is located on a farm whereas most of the kilns in similar locations are commercial lime works. This was for small scale production and may have been used on the farm. Further investigation might reveal an explanation for this.


The kilns are situated in the scarp face of Duncton Down at SU 961163. Access is from the bridle path about 140 m from the foot of Duncton Hill on A285 which was the original track by which the lime was carted away. This track then doubles back on itself and connects to the track at the top of the kilns where charging took place. Above this is the pit from which the chalk was dug and there are various heaps of finings containing the chalk not suitable for burning.

DESCRIPTION - Kiln No.1 as originally built was a draw kiln, the pot being circular in plan and fairly evenly tapered from 1.2 m (3'11") at the bottom to 2.6 m (8'6") diameter at the top with a height of 6.8 m (22.4"). The pot is constructed of brickwork only a half brick 115 mm (4") thick and is a mixture of bricks laid-flat, bricks laid-on-edge and bricks laid-on-end. At the foot there is a draw hole 1.2 m (3.11") wide and 1.26 m (4'1") high to the springing of a segmental arch and across the top of which are two iron bars 75 mm (3") below arch springing level, the inner one 80 x 125 mm (3" x 5") and the outer one being- 60 x 15 mm (2" x ') on which it is presumed the draw bars were supported.

The wall in front of the kiln is located only 610 mm (2'0") from the kiln side which is unusual, Normally with this type of kiln this wall would be several metres away and the access to the draw hole would be by a tunnel. In this case the wall is 4.28 m (14'0") long and connected at right angles at each end to retaining walls supporting the ground at each side. Springing from, and spanning between these retaining walls, are two semi-circular brick vaults, the lower one springing from 0.47 m (1'6") above bottom of kiln and projecting between 1.8 and 0.9 m (5'11" and 2'11") and the upper one springing at 1.67 m (5'6") above bottom of kiln and projecting a further 3.4 to 1.9 m. (11'2" to 6'3") Above the upper vault the wall continues to the top of the kiln.

In front of the kiln is a loading platform 1.53 m (5'0") wide paved in bricks laid flat with a bull-nosed edging. Although the ground has become filled almost up to the platform level it seems likely that there originally was an upstand at the front of the platform of about 0.9 m (3'0"). Centrally in this upstand is an opening with a segmental headed arch, 1.2 m (3'11") wide giving access to a chamber about 1.2 m (3'11") deep and 0.9 m (3'0") high. The front is partly bricked up and the void filled but there is evidence of ash in the fill. There appears to be no access to this void from the base of the kiln or to the loading platform. There is no obvious reason for this chamber unless it was for the temporary storage of ash to clear it away from the loading platform before lime was being emptied from the kiln.

MATERIALS - The pot is of brickwork, heavily vitrified, and it is impossible to determine the type of bricks. The wall in front of the kiln and the retaining walls are of sandstone, probably from the Pulborough area, both the yellow variety and the dark brown carstone. There may be some clinch but is so heavily lichen encrusted that it is difficult to be sure. Most of the stone is roughly squared and laid in courses and with brick dressings. The area immediately over the draw hole, and a patch at the north end of the east retaining wall, is laid in field flints roughly coursed. The top of the front wall has been repaired with brickwork and there is some repairs flanking this in concrete blocks. There are two recesses in the retaining walls 4 m (13'1") from the draw hole of No.1 kiln and about 2 m above ground level which might have supported a beam carrying a temporary roof. This night have been necessary as the working area might have been a bit exposed compared with the normal tunnel access pattern.

There appears to have been a subsequent alteration to add two additional kilns to the original one. These were located east and west of kiln No.1 and are much smaller in diameter, No.2 being 0.71 m (2'4") diameter at the bottom less than 1 m (3'3") in diameter for most of its height and No.3 being 0.68 m (2'3") diameter at the bottom and 1.8 m diameter at the top. The sides of the pots (of No.3) is 215 mm (9"), of bricks laid flat. The draw holes have been cut through at the internal angles between the No.1 kiln wall and the flanking retaining walls, the soffit supported by iron bars. Across the draw holes are iron bars, very rusty, presumably to support draw bars. In the bottom of the draw hole of No.2 kiln there is extant a sloping iron grating 660 x 1060 mm (2'2" x 3'5") with a 25 x 25 mm (1" x 1 ") frame and 12 x 12 mm (" x ") bars at 30 mm (1") centres hinged at the top.

CONDITION - The kilns generally are structurally in good condition. Kiln No.1 has some chalk or lime remains in the bottom. No.2 has a plug of lime at about 3 m (9.10") above the bottom and earth fill above. No.3 kiln is filled from the bottom to within 0.6 m (2'0") of the top. The loading platform and the ground in front are heavily silted up and there is quite a bit of vegetation on the walls. There is some deterioration to the walls and some cracking to the front edge of the lower vault and to the east retaining wall. The north end of the west retaining wall has fallen away.

This group of three kilns is a most interesting and due to the wide and deep vaults over the draw holes which give it a very monumental appearance, a feature unusual in Sussex. They were probably built in the mid-19th century, No.1 as a mixed-feed draw kiln probably being operated as a running kiln. Nos. 2 and 3 kilns were possibly built at a later date to produce lime for mortar. The fuel may have been wood or coal, although the small remains of ash suggest the latter. The fact that No.1 kiln has walls only half brick thick suggests that this was for short term use, however the presence of the other two later kilns belies this.

1. Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. Leaflet No. 170, p.2 (1907, Revised 1918)
2. Rev. Arthur Young, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Sussex, (1813) p.203
3. Ibid, p.205
4. Ibid, p.201

Lime Kilns

Lime Kilns are usually on Private Land, may be in poor condition and can be dangerous to inspect.
Obtain permission from the owner. Any visit is at your own risk!

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