Investigating lime production at Barrow Upon Soar

Grizzled veterans Leon Hunt and Jon coward (assisted by young upstart James Harvey) decamped to Barrow Upon Soar, Leicestershire for a few weeks to evaluate a large field (‘The Breaches’) where a recent geophysical survey had located a few dozen kilns or dumped material associated with kilns, along with many pits and other anomalies including linear features and possible enclosures.

As well as being well known for its lime production, the area also contains the putative line of the Roman road known as the Saltway and in 1945 it is believed to be the crash site of a Douglas Dakota Mark IV, which exploded killing the 3-man crew.

The 26 trench evaluation revealed around 20 ‘sod’ or clamp kilns (or parts thereof) and several other areas of dumped kiln material and burnt clay patches. It also revealed that most of the 13.5 hectare site had been previously quarried for limestone, with most of the kilns apparently excavated into the backfill of the quarry. Good clean natural clay was only located in trenches on the eastern side of the site, with the possible workface of the quarry running through the western end of three trenches placed across the eastern area.

The remains of a 'sod' or clamp kiln.
The remains of a ‘sod’ or clamp kiln.

Three kilns were excavated and broadly these consisted of a lozenge shaped pit, measuring around 7m by 1.5m, surrounded by a ‘halo’ of burnt clay, ash and trample. The fill was a mixture of subsoil, ash and limestone dust, with a lower compacted fill of burnt limestone chunks. Joined to the main part of the kiln was a rounded larger pit also containing soil, ash and limestone, which in places appeared somewhat amorphous and ‘smeared’ as if the area had been very disturbed.

This is in keeping with the accepted process of clamp kiln lime production, where limestone chunks and fuel are piled up and then covered in turf to form a clamp which is then lit. After some days (a long process comparable to charcoal production) the lime is raked into the rounded pit at the base of the kiln.

No other earlier archaeological remains were discovered, which may be due to most of the field being quarried for limestone in the recent past. No dating evidence was found either and although the shape and form of the kilns suggests a very simple type of technology, there is every possibility that these are late 19th or 20th century in date, representing parochial production for the use of the local farmers to lime their fields. Equally, they could be a lot older. Nearby kilns of a similar type have been dated to the 15th and 16th century. Further work may involve a more detailed archaeo-magnetic dating programme.

No evidence of the Dakota was found.

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