Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Ah, Shropshire - Llanymynech!

Ah, here we are again - continuing my Summer of Shropshire with a slightly incongruous entry, with a trip to the Llanymynech Heritage Area. I can get this into a Shropshire blog because Llanymynech straddles the England-Wales border, so at least half of it belongs in this mini-series extravaganza. Onwards! 

Llanymynech, meaning "church of the monks", is on the border of Shropshire and Powys - the border actually ran directly through The Lion pub, so that when pubs in Wales were closed on Sundays ('dry'), only two-thirds of the pub could serve alcohol. It also has the only golf course in the country to straddle two countries. But you probably don't want to know about that! 

^ the village and surrounds from the quarry.

The reason I visited is as follows. Llanymynech has one of three surviving Hoffmann Kilns in the UK, and the only one to have a chimney still standing. This is a very important site, which I shall explain in the fullness of time...

Llanymynech is rich in history dating back possibly to the late Bronze Age, with one of the largest hillforts in the UK (now largely taken up with the aforementioned golf course). There is also a Roman copper mine and numerous moated sites dotted around. Nobody can tell exactly when limeburning began at Llanymynech, although a reference from 1754 states there were "a great number of limekilns" here. The nearby limestone quarry, together with an abundant supply of coal from the Ruabon, Oswestry and Chirk Coalfields made it a hive of activity during the second half of the 19th century - it was the increase in use of Portcastle Cement at the end of the century that most likely contributed to Llanymynech Kilns closing down in 1914, a story repeated up and down the limeburning country.

Prior to the Montgomery Canal being constructed between 1794 and 1821, lime would have been burnt on a small scale. With the canal network opened up a massive new market and so the kilns at Llanymynech grew accordingly. 

^ the canal wharf at Llanymynech.

The limestone quarry is now Llanymynech Rocks nature reserve, a very pretty place that put me in mind of the beginning of Indiana Jones 3, when the scouting exhibition is going through Utah or wherever they are. It's quite a staggering site, to climb the track incline and suddenly have the eyes assaulted with the mass of jagged quarry workings, particularly on a sunny day, with the rock almost glowing and dramatically set off by the blue sky. Yes, I'm waxing lyrical.

Eternally mindful of the dangers of disused quarries, I nevertheless wandered around with unabashed awe (to the extent that, nearly five hours later, I've still got neckache from craning up to look at the rugged tors of rock... ahhh, there I go again).

The whole site just looks so impressive, doubly so because it hasn't flooded like a lot of other quarries tend to, being as it is halfway up a mountain, rather than at the bottom of it. Very impressive, anyway!

I succeeded neither at finding the Roman copper mine or the hillfort, from where Caractacus was meant to have made his last stand. Instead, I found the most incongruous site I could think of, rounding the corner from scrubland and thorn bushes growing from the dislodged rock and muddy footpaths was Llanymynech Golf Course, mentioned above. All manicured green grass and flying balls, why anyone would want to play golf at such altitudes I don't know - what if you hit your ball too hard and it plunges to the bottom of the cliff? Do you halt play for the next hour or so while you try to find it again? Bleah. 

Anyway, I found the whole experience of wandering the edges of the outcroppings a little vertiginous to say the least, so I wasted little time in retracing my steps into the quarry and back to the Heritage Area around the Hoffmann kiln...

^ The kilns surviving at the edge of the quarry workings.

While the quarry itself contained lime kilns, a pair of trackways was constructed in 1837 which brought the lime to the kiln bank ready to be transported by canal. Each of these trackways had at its head a Drum House to control the descent, and so as more of the quarry was worked new Houses would have been built to decrease the transport within the quarry. 

^ one of the drum houses, I think it might be the western, or "Welsh", one.

^ the restored eastern, or "English" drumhouse.

At the foot of the incline, before the carts got to the Limeworks, there was also a Weighbridge built at Tally House, presumably to get figures for the production of lime at the Works.

The whole area here is criss-crossed with old rail tracks, often confusing the issue as to where the carts were going:

Llanymynech Limeworks began on the large-scale with two massive vertical draw kilns. I've visited kilns dotted around the place that are fairly large, and indeed there is a bank of draw kilns at Minera that are fairly extensive, but these two at Llanymynech are monsters, particularly given how the entire building is just one kiln. As was usual, they are top-fed with a draw-hole at the front for slaking out the lime.

The Hoffmann Kiln was the last construction at the site, sometime around 1900. The Hoffmann Kiln was patented in Danzig, Germany in 1858 by Friedrich Hoffmann, and was designed for baking bricks. The idea was for having a continual fire inside (the design is sometimes referred to as the "Hoffmann Continuous Kiln") and pallets of bricks were placed inside each "room" and baked as the firing wagon passed. They were then removed and re-stocked while the wagon baked some more, and so the process went. 'Non-developed' countries still use the design for brickmaking, with kilns in Iran on a continual fire for 35 years (according to our friend, Wikipedia).

It wasn't long before the design was used for burning lime, with the English Patent by Humphrey Chamberlain filed in 1868, shortly after which he built a kiln at the Meal Bank Quarry, in Ingleton, North Yorkshire. The first kilns were round as per Hoffmann's initial design, but later an elliptical rectangle was used, as the Llanymynech kiln was. 

Size was dependent on the strength of the industrial area: Llanymynech has 14 chambers, so that at any one time: one was empty, one was being filled, five were pre-firing, two were being fired, four were cooling and one was being emptied. 

To the left of the chamber doorways are flues to feed the firing course within the kiln, all of which lead to the 42.5m chimney.

The Hoffmann Kiln as designed in Germany fed off petroleum or natural gas, but coal was still used to channel the fire around the kiln: when one chamber is sufficiently fired its flue was closed and the next opened, with the coal bringing the fire into the next chamber. 

There were holes in the roof where the charcoal was fed ("charged") into the kiln, and so it was covered with a corrugated iron roof. The original roof has long gone but a new covering has been provided when the Heritage Area was created by the local authorities and CPAT. Marvellous!

^ no, that's right, there really are lots of 'metal men' dotted around the site - this one in particular really freaked me out when I first came back and saw him!

I must admit, I have no idea how many lime-burning Hoffmann-style kilns there were in Britain during the industrial heyday, but now there remain just three: at Staylittle, in Yorkshire; at Minera, near Wrexham; and here at Llanymynech (as stated above, however, Llanymynech is the only one with the chimney intact). 

Despite the exhausting climb to the top of the quarry, and the battering winds that threatened to blow me the entire 225m back down to sea level, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and can heartily recommend going to Llanymynech to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me!

Bottom line: it's a free day out - winner! 

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