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Georgian Story

The Lime Kiln

Extracts from an 18th century gentleman's diary

Georgian Story

3rd March 1786

There has been great excitement in the Dale this week ever since Mr Hatherslaw announced that he was arranging for a lime kiln to be built upon his land. There is much talk hereabouts concerning the great improvements that can be made to otherwise useless moorland by the spreading of slaked lime. If spread in the correct quantities it sweetens the pasture and a fine sward can be achieved. Or so we are told. I await developments with some scepticism.

8th March 1786

I have just returned from a visit with Mr Hatherslaw and his rather ill-mannered wife. It was with great pleasure that I availed myself of the opportunity to leave her complaining to the maidservant about the quality of the tea and to go with her husband to inspect the site of the new lime kiln. I saw that it was to be set into a low limestone scar at the top of the field he is intending to improve. He seemed a little displeased with progress but it looks to be a fine structure, made from well cut masonry with a large arched draw hole opening and the beginnings of a cavernous interior where the lime stone is to be burned. He has a native of Lancashire in charge of the building and design of the kiln and I was much amused at the difficulty the local labourers were having in understanding his accent. It seemed clear enough to me if a little rough around the edges, but our native Dalesman could make neither head nor tail of it and I left Mr Hatherslaw attempting a translation.

19th March 1786

There has been a great to-do up at the kiln and all work has ceased. Upon enquiring I discover that Mr Hatherslaw’s builder got into a great fight with one of the labourers. They were poking fun at his accent and refusing to work until he learned to talk ‘proper Yorkshire’. The upshot was that the Lancashire man rolled up his sleeves and challenged the older man to a fight which he readily accepted. Coming upon this dreadful scene, Mr Hatherslaw fired both men on the spot and is now sore put upon to find anyone to finish the work.

1st April 1786

Mr Barton has returned from a trip to view stock in Wensleydale and is full of tales of the progress in land improvement there. Many acres of land have been ploughed up, drained and limed and are now apparently more than doubling their owners’ incomes. The tenants who are forced to carry out the extra labour of spreading the lime seem less pleased but the nation relies on progress to make it great so we all have to make sacrifices. Mr Barton is now talking about having a lime kiln of his own built and has already given notice to his tenants that they will be required to spread lime on selected hill pastures next year. Mr Hatherslaw is furious to be outdone and has had to go cap in hand to his Lancashire builder and offer him a guinea extra to complete the work on time.

3rd April 1786

I was most surprised when I rode up to see Mr Hatherslaw’s lime kiln. The Lancashire man and the local labourers seemed to be getting along as if nothing had ever happened between them. I suspect they were even sharing a surreptitious nip of aqua vitae before they heard me coming. Most peculiar I must say. The kiln is now almost ready and I understand that Mr Hatherslaw will be inviting a selection of local gentlemen along to watch the firing of the first load of limestone.

7th April 1786

I am most amused to discover that Mr Hatherslaw has been duped by his Lancashire builder. My man servant was visiting the local hostelry for a glass of porter last night and happened to be seated close to the builder and the labourers. He overheard the whole sorry tale. The fight had in fact been staged after Mr Hatherslaw had threatened to dock their wages for not working hard enough. The Lancashire man and the Yorkshire man had buried their differences and seized the opportunity to get themselves fired, knowing only too well that there was no-one for miles around who could finish the job. Right enough, their plan had worked and they were in the public house celebrating the extra guinea that they had earned between them.

14th April 1786

Mr Hatherslaw is too puffed up with pride for me to tell him how he has been cheated so I have decided to keep quiet and sworn my man to secrecy. Today we all had to suffer Mr Hatherslaw going on at length about the great benefits of lime before we had the pleasure of watching the freshly quarried load of limestone being carefully packed into the kiln along with chopwood and a little poor coal from the Moor coal seams. The Lancashire man was supervising operations throughout. The kiln was then lit and we toasted Mr Hatherslaw’s enterprise with a glass or two of excellent champagne.

16th April 1786

The new lime kiln has proved its efficacy and today I watched the Lancashire man drawing out the burnt limestone and then slaking it with water from a nearby spring. My horse took a great dislike to the noise and fumes and damn near threw me off. Luckily I managed to save face by pretending to take it for a turn or two round the ploughed field and that soon took the wind out of its sails. Returning, somewhat out of breath I was amazed to feel the heat generated during the chemical process of slaking the lime. The Lancashire man was explaining the process to Mr Hatherslaw’s farm manager who was paying close attention to his warnings of danger. Sensing that my horse was readying himself for another display of foolishness, I quickly left.

20th April 1786

We are now treated to the sight of great white mounds of lime dotted around Mr Hatherslaw’s land. The kiln is burning day and night but apparently the lime needs to weather before it can be spread, otherwise it burns the grass. It is a most incongruous sight and proving a great problem for me since my horse refuses point blank to go near them and nearly bolted home last night when we came upon one in the gloom.

2nd August 1787

The summer is proving a fine one and on the way back from visiting Mr Barton I took a detour to view Mr Hatherslaw’s fields. All thoughts of his ridiculous pride were forgotten when I saw the bright green grass growing from one end to the other. How delighted I was when I saw the man himself approaching, for I felt it incumbent upon me to congratulate him on his farsightedness. He thanked me in a most agreeable manner and invited me back for a glass of wine. Remembering his soured-faced wife, I declined but I did relate the story of the Lancashire man and the Yorkshire man burying their historical animosity in order to squeeze an extra guinea out of their master. The great improvement to his land has clearly made it all worthwhile and we had a fine laugh together about it I’m glad to say.

13th September 1787

It looks very much as if Mr Hatherslaw has led the way, for there are lime kilns to be built everywhere. It seems no hillside will be without one and those already built are already lighting up the night with their weird red glow. There are moorland fields white with lime as far as the eye can see and there are high hopes of the profits to be made. The Lancashire builder has been hard at work but there has been no repeat of the ‘difficulties’ that occurred with Mr Hatherslaw since he is now able to name his price he is so much in demand. I am glad of it, for tolerance is a virtue much to be admired.