Today’s Treasures – Llanymynech Hill
LLanymynech Hill was once an impressive iron age or possibly late bronze age hillfort – one of the largest in Britain. Archaeological excavations have revealed part of an iron age roundhouse and coins dating between 30 BC and 161 AD were found in the cave known as the Ogaf on top of Llanymynech Hill. There is evidence of copper and lead mining dating back to at least Roman times. Lime putty mortars were used by the Romans and the use of lime as a fertiliser may date back to the medieval period.
The site is now a significant industrial heritage area. From the early 19th Century to the end of the first World War limestone was quarried here – on both the Welsh side and the English side – eventually linked by a railway tunnel. The Montgomery Canal was specifically built for the transportation of limestone from the hill and reached Llanymynech by 1786. The opening of the Ellesmere Canal with connections to Birmingham and Liverpool greatly increased the market for Llanymynech limestone.
Originally, limestone would have been transported from the quarries to the canal by horse and cart. In 1806 a tramway and incline were constructed to transport limestone to a new wharf on the canal. In 1863 the Llanfyllin branch line, part of Cambrian Railways, opened and eventually took much of the lime trade from the canal although quarrying and lime burning continued until 1914
As well as abundant lime, Llanymynech was also near to sources of coal from the Oswestry, Chirk and Ruabon coalfield.
Limestone was burnt in a kiln to make quicklime and spread on fields to improve acidic soils; some was used in building mortar and some would also have been transported via the Montgomery Canal to the blast furnaces of Staffordshire as flux, cleaning the impurities in iron ore.
Built in 1899 and working until 1914, the lime kiln in Llanymynech village is one of only 3 remaining Hoffmann lime kilns in the country and the only one with its historic 42.5 metre tower intact.
Being a more modern version of the old ‘inverted bottle’ type kiln, limestone was loaded through the arches – not from above – from trucks on temporary rails. Iron rods were held in position through the holes in the roof so that packers beneath could build a stack of limestone rocks around them.
Coal was poured into the kiln through holes in its roof by the firers. Each section through its respective arch was packed and fired in succession rather than every section packed and the whole kiln fired, the fire never goes out as it is transferred from one chamber to another. All chambers connected to the single chimney shaft.
Standing in the now derelict kiln shaded by a leafy canopy, it is difficult to imagine the working conditions that the men must have endured, the heat, the dust, the rumble of trucks, the smell of burning, the long hours and tiring manual labour entailed.
Thanks to a conservation project managed by the Llanymynech Heritage Partnership the site has been restored and opened in 2008. www.llanylime.co.uk
Written for the Bronington Bugle