Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society
SANDON LIME KILN & MILLS
On January 17th 2001 representatives of our society were invited to visit the Limekiln and other industrial sites
by the canal at Sandon, with a view to a possible restoration project.
The limekiln is situated about 70m west of the canal bridge at Sandon on the B5066, with its steep loading ramp running from the canal towpath.
Mr Selby of Burston had instigated the meeting as he wished to see the kiln preserved. David Wilkinson, Stafford Borough Archaeologist, and his assistant were also present, and gave the project their nominal support. Richard Thompson from the Staffordshire Community Council was present to give advice on possible funding via some form of Lottery Grant. The site is in the ownership of the Harrowby Estate who are willing to see it restored.
The front of the limekiln is currently reached via a small private road in front of the later mill and other cottages. The main body of the kiln is brick-lined and unusual in that it has a shoulder, instead of being a simple funnel shape. A complex of brick arches leads to the draw hole, which has a rectangular side chamber, which is also atypical.
About 6ft depth of rubbish would need to be removed from the entrance area. The front wall is of sandstone and partially covered with ivy. The top of the kiln is covered with sycamore and other trees, as well as more ivy which are causing some damage. Removing this would expose the masonry and brickwork and they would need to be professionally restored. Some rubbish would need to be removed from the bottom of the main body, probably up to 6ft in depth. A new public access from the canal via a field at the side of the kiln would probably be needed. It was also hoped to provide a display board by the canal.
On a later site visit with Jeremy Milln, both limestone and flints were found on the loading ramp, suggesting that the kiln could have been used for both burning lime and calcining flint. In 1781 a new corn and flint mill was built of brick and slate having two large undershot wheels for grinding corn, flint, and colours. The mill is the prominent building near the road, and has been converted for residential use.
On the side of the building nearest the river, the position of the sloping roof covering one of the millwheels, and the position of its central axle can still be identified. A flint mill is shown on the adjacent site in 1795. David Wilkinson has found accounts from 1832 mentioning limestone, flints and Cornish stone coming to the site, with £1100 earned from grinding the flint and stone.
The enigmatic remains of a much earlier mill are much nearer the river in a small group of trees. John Wilkcocks has traced the leets to both this earlier mill, and the subsequent extension to the later mill by the canal. A further apparent leet leading to the base of the kiln has been identified as the source of water for slaking the lime after burning. Barry Job of the West Midlands Mills Group, visited the site while the foot and mouth restrictions were in force. He could only make a limited inspection from a distance and was unable to give any further information about the mills. It is hoped that he will be able to visit again for a closer inspection. The Harrowby papers may also provide further details. The other interesting industrial building on the site is a blacksmith's shop at the side of the kiln, now used as a garage, and a probable coal yard and wharf by the canal lock.
Jeremy Milln from our society, arranged a site visit with Stafford Holmes, a conservation architect from Leamington Spa, and committee member of the Building Limes Forum, to advise on restoration and consolidation of the kiln. Jeremy then proposed an initial action plan for restoration. This was discussed at a meeting at Sandon Parish Room, when a constitution for the Sandon Lime Kiln Project was adopted to enable Richard Thompson to apply for grant aid. Mr Selby of Sandon has contacted British Waterways who have agreed to support the project. Insurance cover has been arranged, and some preliminary clearance of trees and shrubs has started.
Jim Andrews (Chairman SIAS)
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SANDON LIMEKILN & MILLS
The kiln is of an unusual design with a particularly ornate frontage or portico, possibly reflecting its position on the Sandon Estate, rather than just belonging to a local farmer. The trees and ivy have now been removed from most of the kiln mound.
The drawhole has an L-shaped chamber leading to it. These chambers at the base of the limekiln have been cleared down to their brick floors. In addition to the entrance passage, there is a larger storage chamber at the same level (forming the L-shape), and then a drop of about a foot to the innermost chamber with the draw holes and poking hole. According to a local informant, this area was used to house pigs some years ago and is thought that the brick floor was relaid at this time at the same level as the ground outside, with the innermost chamber with the draw hole and poking hole being bricked off, and the stone feeding trough by the entrance added . This change in floor level appears to have been confirmed by a trial excavation in the corner of the L-shaped chamber, which shows that the walls extend some two courses below the present floor level. Finds in this area included pieces of Chert paver or runner used for grinding flint.
The top firing chamber of the kiln, or pot has now been cleared of all rubbish, including some harness leather, unglazed pottery wasters, enamel kitchen ware, shooting clays, various medicine bottles, wine bottles, sauce bottles, meat extract bottles, beer bottles, mineral water bottles, stone jam jars & hot water bottle, and ink bottles. We have also relocated numerous small frogs to the canal-side. Large quantities of broken glass with some crown glass centres were found at a deeper level. We have now reached the residue of burnt lime at the base of the pot and cleared the draw holes and poking hole. Only the single central bar of the original metal grid at the base of the kiln remains. We are leaving the residue in the back half of the kiln base as evidence of how the kiln was used.
We opened up trenches on the west and east sides of the kiln running down the slope from the pot. Because of the slope we had to use terraces. We have successfully located the lower courses of the stone boundary wall of the kiln in the west trench, with some accumulated rubble immediately behind it. This wall joins that on the front corner of the kiln portico which extends to the east side of the kiln.
We have identified the pebbles and sandy soil used to make the mound, which probably came from the depression in the adjacent field.
At the top of the west section is a very prominent, thick limey layer containing mainly lime with a little coal and calcined flint. This was exposed before excavation began. It was suggested (Stafford Holmes) that this layer might have been deliberately spread over the top of the mound in order to stabilise the mound surface above the stone facing walls. However, on the east side this layer was not as obvious.
There was no evidence in either the west or east trench of a horizontal track surface, which would have been expected if there was a spiral track for carrying materials to the top of the kiln. The only evidence for a track was a layer of large part burnt coal in the bottom corner of the bottom west trench. A track could have passed at the level of the top of the east boundary wall, below the lowest level of the east trench. Another possibility is that materials were taken up from the canal by a drag line using a horse on the towpath to provide the power.
All trenches show a mixed, humous rich surface soil, which developed since the kiln ceased operation some time before 1880. Below this were layers with varying relative amounts of limestone, Calcined flint, Lime, Part burnt coal, and soil. These all appear to reflect episodes when the kiln had to be partly emptied from the top due to an incomplete firing or the need to remove a contaminated charge when the kiln switched between burning flint and limestone. Limestone was usually loaded in pieces of 4-6 inches diameter or 75-100mm, in order to preserve a good draught through the kiln. Most of the limestone found in the sections was much smaller than this, which may have been the debris left after charging the kiln with the larger stones.
The East Trench is much more complicated with at least four different limey layers all containing lime with substantial amounts of calcined flint. This could have been contaminated lime when the kiln was changing from burning flint to making lime, or it could have been the result of burning chert present in the limestone, although this was not evident from the samples of limestone in the excavations. It is interesting that the last charge of lime left in the base of the pot also appears to contain some calcined flint.
Alternatively if the lime was being deliberately spread over the top of the mound to stabilise the surface, calcined flint could have been added as aggregate.
The East Trench shows two components which do not appear any significant amounts in the West Trench on the other side of the kiln: Cinders and Bricks & Brick Dust. The cinders appear in a layer mixed with part burnt coal below the top limey layer and its underlying limestone layer.
The bricks appear to be the result of a kiln rebuilding or repair activity, with the old bricks being discarded down the east side of the mound. This is likely to have occurred soon after the kiln changed ownership in 1831, when Jeremiah Ginders had sufficient capital to invest in his new business, unlike the previous owners. There is no evidence that the height of the kiln pot was extended after it was originally built around 1793. T his would have been expected to show up as a definite line in the inside of the pot. The bricks discarded appear to have been ordinary red bricks, rather then special kiln bricks or engineering bricks which were used elsewhere on the site, e.g. around the base of the leet side of the main mill building. Some of the discarded bricks had a fluxed face, proving that they had come from the kiln.
Jeremy Milln has made detailed drawings of the stonework of the front elevation of the kiln, a NS Section through Pot and Drawhole, and a Plan view and Jim Andrews has drawn a site plan.
Stafford Holmes, a lime expert who was involved in the restoration of the Wenlock Edge limekilns for the National Trust, has visited the site on several occasions and drawn up the schedule of works to restore and preserve the limekiln to be carried out in the second phase of the project. This will then be the subject of a further application for Lottery Funding.
At the same time an extensive documentary search has been carried out by Anne Andrews. The earliest reference to a mill at Sandon is an indenture of 1270 for Sandon Mill, Pond & Fishery, etc. including 5 acres of waste in Sandon , when it was worth 40s pa. There are further references in 1292, 1405 and 1499-1500. However, these all refer to the old mill site nearer the River Trent, of which very little remains.
Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society