Information Sheet No. 1:
Buriton Lime Works (April 2001)
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Most people probably think of hop-growing as Buriton’s main industry of yesteryear. But for over 70 years, up until the second world war, there was a significant source of activity in the lime works along Kiln Lane. Workers, many of them villagers, would excavate and burn chalk before despatching it to factories for the manufacture of ‘pug’ mortar and cement. It is very difficult now to appreciate the enormous amount of chalk that was dug and sent away as lime for the buildings industry as much of the quarries have been filled in with waste.
It is believed that BJ Forder started the limeworks in about 1860 when he came from Winchester to live at Berriton Court (now Pillmead House). It was probably the building of the Portsmouth - London railway line (opened early in 1859) which facilitated the introduction of the limeworks by making it possible to bring coal to Petersfield. Benjamin Forder worked two pits, one each side of the road (then known as Halls Hill) under lease from John Bonham Carter. The 1871 census records Mr Forder as a ‘limeburner, employing 20 men and 4 boys’.
A lease from November 1878 records that the lessee had recently constructed one new lime kiln. By 1899 the lease for digging chalk (and for two cottages on the south of the Portsmouth Railway) was between John Bonham Carter and Keeble Brothers of Peterborough. At the time of the death of Lothian Bonham Carter in 1927, the works (then leased to the British Portland Cement Company) provided “a substantial annual income” according to the sale catalogue for the Estate. The British Portland Cement Company bought the site in the sale but the works were all closed in 1939. Apparently the company had hoped to convert the quarry to a cement works but this did not prove to be possible.
Three Main Pits
Three main chalk quarry pits (known as France, Germany and the White pit) developed over the years. The ‘France’ pit on War Down eventually became the local amenity tip off Kiln Lane. ‘Germany’ pit was across the road (south and east of Kiln Lane), and the ‘White’ pit was further south still, on Head Down, later occupied by Buriton saw mill.
Maps of 1870 show a relatively small area of quarrying but by 1897 both France and Germany pits are clearly visible with kilns in each. The 1932 map shows much more extensive workings including the extension into the White pit.
The chalk in ‘France’ and ‘Germany’ had a higher clay impurity and produced a grey chalk which burnt to a creamy powder. This was used to produce mortar and, in later years, a very good waterproof cement. The ‘White’ pit produced white chalk which was sold for the manufacture of plaster and would probably also have been used for gas and water purifying. Any waste was ground and used for agriculture.
Chalk digging could be quite a hazardous process with cliff faces 60 feet high. If a bit ‘dripped’, the workers would stand back until it fell. The chalk was quarried by blasting and by prising out large pieces with long iron bars, making use of the natural cracks in the chalk. Firstly, the mix of broken chalk and earth (the callow) would be removed from the lip of the quarry so as not to contaminate the main part of the chalk. Then bars were used to prise out chalk at the bottom of the face. The resulting overhang was then blasted down. Shot holes were drilled into the chalk. Water was poured into each hole and then, with a miniature rake, the chalk dust and sludge pulled out. Finally, the black explosives powder was rammed tightly into the holes using a wooden pole with a copper end piece to avoid any sparks from stray flints. In spite of the hazardous processes, the most serious accident was apparently a broken leg !
Once down, large pieces of chalk were broken up using a customised pick-axe - with a wedge and 14 lb hammer in reserve for stubborn pieces. Trucks were loaded with about one and a half tons of chalk using gravel forks and these were then transported to the kilns in either ‘France’ or ‘Germany’ (there were never any kilns in the White pit).
Internal Railway Network
Quite a complex internal network of 3 foot gauge railways and inclines was developed to carry the chalk around within the site. Trucks would be horse-drawn to the edge of an incline, controlled by a pony boy. From then on they would run down to the kilns by gravity. Those from the ‘White’ pit were run through the top of ‘Germany’ pit, across Kiln Lane into ‘France’ pit, under an incline, back across a second crossing over Kiln Lane and into the works where they would be tipped onto the loading floor of the kilns. A man would be stood on the back of the truck with his foot on the brake handle and another man would indicate when it was clear to cross Kiln Lane.
With a crude foot-brake system (which pushed a wooden shoe up to rub against the wheels) being the only means of control that the man on the truck would have, and with speeds probably reaching 50-60 mph, spills were not uncommon. Wet rails were sanded to give grip but, even so, both experienced and inexperienced drivers would skid and the momentum would throw the truck forward, catapulting the driver and the load through the air.
Empty trucks were returned to the pits (about three at a time) using horses until locomotives took over in 1923. There are recollections of two locomotives at the limeworks (40 horsepower ‘Simplex’ machines with Dorman petrol engines). At least one of these had been used in World War One for transporting supplies to the Allied front lines, and possibly for towing ambulance wagons.
It appears as though a number of different burning processes were evolved for use in the Buriton pits. There were large flare kilns in France pit (probably out of use by about 1920) and also across the road in Germany (to the west of Swiss Cottage). There was also a ‘Hoffman’ type kiln in Germany which consisted of a circular group of kilns with a 145ft tall chimney (‘the shaft’) in the middle. This, too, was apparently long out of use by the mid 1920s leaving one main set of ‘continuous draw’ kilns in operation in the works. The ‘shaft’ was not demolished until 1948 - village rumour has it that it had continued to serve one important local purpose: guiding villagers back home after ‘a good night out’ !
The Hoffman kiln had a circular tunnel which was compartmentalised into 13 or 14 firing chambers. The tall central chimney expelled Carbon Dioxide and other fumes from the burning process. Each of the chambers in the tunnel would be filled with a mixture of chalk and coal, and one would be fired and allowed to burn. The damper between this chamber and the one next to it would then be opened and the heat and fumes from the first chamber would enter the second and allow pre-heating of the next lot of damp chalk to take place prior to its burning. The whole process was therefore continuous, but it was slow and rather labour intensive. It was only really popular at a time when lime was fetching a very good price. Because of the high cost of labour in the latter years, the system was replaced.
Flare kilns were also tried. In this process the lime was kept separate from the fuel which gives a much cleaner lime for use but, again, it was rather expensive. A vertical shaft was filled with chalk and a fire lit underneath it. The fire was kept going until the lime burner considered that the lime was ready. Then the whole thing was allowed to cool, emptied out and refilled. There was not, therefore, any continuity to the process and it was rather slow and tedious.
Most of the lime in Buriton in the latter years appears to have been burnt using continuous draw shaft kilns. These offered a continuous process and could run as long as the kiln lining would last. The kilns could be loaded from above and lime drawn off at the bottom. Fumes from the burning chamber would pass upwards through the chalk and coal above, thereby pre-heating it ready for burning. The shafts of these kilns welled out to a width of about 15ft and then narrowed back to 4’ 6” at the top. At the widest point of the shaft were eight firing holes.
The ‘loading floor’ of these kilns was the highest level - above the bulge of the kilns. Below the loading floor was the ‘burning floor’ where scoops of anthracite breeze would be added to keep the kilns going. The chalk was burnt at 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit to create calcium oxide (hot lime) which could be drawn from the base of the kilns : the ‘draw floor’. Lime would be burnt for a few days before being drawn off but, because of the continuous process, some could be drawn off every few hours. During the week there was 24 hour working. The bottom of the kiln was sealed at weekends. Recollections suggest that there was a set of four of five of these kilns in the latter years of the limeworks with one, which stood slightly apart from the others, being used solely for chalk from the ‘White’ pit.
From the ‘draw floor’, the burnt lime was loaded into a barrow and each barrow weighed before being loaded into open railway wagons waiting below. The loaded wagons were then covered with tarpaulins to keep out rain and atmospheric moisture which would have slaked the lime. A couple of trains per day would call at Buriton Sidings to take the lime away and to deliver the anthracite coke breeze. The mainline engine would push wagons into ‘the gully’ (the lower part of the limeworks) although the engine itself could not go into the gully.
The fuel was originally hauled up to the kilns by horses but in later years a stationary steam engine, cable and windlass was used to pull the railway wagons of coke breeze (undersize material not suitable for use in smelting furnaces etc.) up to the loading floor level. Over the years, the cable cut grooves into the brickwork corners of some of the buildings as the wagons were hauled up the incline. Some of the grooves are still visible today. There were special ‘catch hooks’ in places to stop any runaway wagons. Once at the loading floor level, the end door of the wagon would be opened, part of the load of coke would fall out and the rest would be shovelled out.
Some lime was ground in a mill within the limeworks. The mill was initially driven by a stationary steam engine although this was subsequently replaced by a diesel generator. There was dust everywhere in the mill where the ground lime was also put into lime bags. Two ladies (Mrs Burgess and Mrs Hall) were employed to sew up and mend the hessian sacks - quite a messy job.
Range of crafts and skills
The limeworks employed about 40 people (possibly nearer 100 in the summer months when there was a greater demand for lime from the building industry) with a wide range of crafts and skills. Jack Nicholson used to look after the horses and the limeworks had their own granary to store oats for their feed. Underneath the granary was Charlie Morris’s carpenter’s workshop. All the wooden 3ft gauge trucks for the internal railway were built and repaired in this shop. Beyond the carpenter’s workshop was Freddie Tussler’s blacksmith’s shop and the works also had their own bricklayer, Tipney Welch, and a sail-maker to make tarpaulins to cover the lime in the railway trucks (Joe Hall’s father).
The limeworks office, where George Shand worked, was the northern (original) part of the two low, tiled sheds now in the back garden of Swiss Cottage. Between them and the railway line is the old stables building and closer still to the line was the sack mending shed where Mrs Burgess and Mrs Hall worked. A little further towards the railway tunnel was the stores building which had “Forders Lime Works” painted in white on the tarred galvanised iron roof facing the tracks.
Other employees in the latter years of the limeworks, mostly members of the gangs that worked in the quarry pits or chalk-burners, included Slide Pretty, Curly Pretty, Nobby Pretty, Harry Tussler, Henry Albury, Shucky Marriner, Kronjie Hall, Joe Hall, Titch Barrow, Neddy Lee, Albert Hall, Charlie Hall and Jack Haynes. Jack Carter was in charge of the diesel engine that ground the lime and his father, Sidney Carter, was the manager of the works (after a Mr Henry Wyril Posgate) and lived in the White House in the High Street.
Do you know any more about any of the workers at the limeworks?
Each man had a key to clock on at the ‘Bundy’ clock which recorded the time. The ‘skilly’ bell was rung at 12 noon, the start of the lunch break, and again at 1 pm. On wet days, the pony boys responsible for the horses and the men who worked on the gangs in the pits would get coated in chalk. At the end of such days, when they got home, they would probably have to take their clothes off outside in a shed. And you could always tell if they had popped into The Maple at lunchtimes for their Woodbines - there would be a white trail across the floor from the door to the bar !
Effects on village life
As Percy Legg (1896-1981) recalled in the 1960s, “the closing down of the limeworks made a lot of difference to the village. It employed 40 men. I remember seeing them come home from work for lunch like men leaving a factory”. At the end of each day, the horses would be ridden, bare-back, down Kiln Lane and through the High Street by the pony boys to be washed in the village pond. They would then race back to the limeworks - an exciting sight for the village children.
The village cricket team drew heavily on employees from the limeworks. With at least 40 men at the limeworks and probably another 50 men working on the farm and the estate, there were lots of good players to choose from. Apparently, the season often started with a match between the limeworks and the men from the farm and the estate.
The tall ‘shaft’ was demolished on August 14th 1948 after being up for about 70 years. On Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887, one of the limeworkers, Charlie Fisher, is reported to have climbed the 145ft chimney for a 6d wager. Apparently, he was not paid his sixpence but was later stood a beer (costing 2d). This seemed to rankle with him.
The chimney was demolished under the supervision of Jim Winser of Weston Farm and his business partner, a Mr Sykes from Froxfield. They had bought the limeworks and had decided that the shaft was dangerous. All the estimates of costs that they obtained were rather high because of insurance to cover the risk of anything affecting the nearby railway. They therefore decided to demolish the chimney themselves - and formed a Ł100 company (Winser and Sykes, Demolition Limited) which would have put an upper limit on any compensation the railway company could obtain. They thereby avoided the need for insurance !
The men had not demolished anything like that before - not many people had. To demolish the chimney, some of the bricks at the base were replaced with railway sleepers, which were surrounded by wood and set alight. When the sleepers eventually burned, the chimney fell “in exactly the right place” and broke up on a series of telephone poles which had been laid out on the ground. This meant that many of the bricks were cleaned, ready for re-use. It is reported that a local cricket match was halted (for “ten minutes” or “nearly an hour”) while players watched.
More recent uses
During the second world war the ‘France’ pit was used for steaming out (and sometimes detonating) land mines. More recently it was filled with refuse. The ‘White’ pit was later occupied by Buriton Sawmills. It is still possible to walk through the ‘Germany’ pit and old sleepers can be seen. After the Admiralty had finished with the main works site in ‘Germany’, George Andrews took it over and used it as a scrap yard. After this Winser’s used the site for making bread and more recently Cemco took over. The remains of any kilns have been buried, but several buildings survive, including the mill, granary and carpenter’s shop, limeworks office and stables. There have recently been proposals to designate part of the site as a nature reserve.
And down the hill the limeworks stood,
Where men worked by the score,
But now cement has come to stay
And lime is used no more;
The pits are muttered in you see
And form a rubbish tip.
The kilns and shafts are all knocked down,
It’s hard to notice it.
[extract from one of Percy Legg’s poems, c1964]
Do you know any more about the history of the limeworks or about any of the people who worked there?
Do you have any old photographs of the limeworks?
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