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Peak District heritage and how the other half works!

Updated: May 3, 2023

We are based in the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District and for archaeology there are few better places to live! Here we can see a wide range of archaeology and meet some of the people who work in the heritage sector. Among those who care for our heritage are the Peak District National Park Authority, and more specifically, their Cultural Heritage Team (CHT). Part of their brief is to maintain a record of what are known as 'cultural assets'. These cultural assets can be anything related to our shared cultural heritage from a whole landscape down to a standing stone. The team itself is made up of a mixture of professional archaeologists, Peak Park Rangers and a host of volunteers, who without doubt make a world of difference! This week I popped out on a site visit with one of the archaeologists to see what kind of work they do. Got to admit here that I knew them quite well as it was my partner here at Enrichment Through Archaeology, my wife Catherine.

An Archaeologist is taking pictures of 19th century lime kiln. It is oval and features twi daw holes in the front. This shape of kiln is known as a pye kiln.
Digitally recording a pye lime kiln

Catherine and members of the team had already been to the site to remove vegetation and rubbish in order to get a better idea of it's condition. Once they had done this they were able to identify exactly what kind of asset they were dealing with. It proved a bit of a puzzle at first, but after some research they established it was a lime kiln, but not a typical one that you see dotted around the Peak District.

Image of a traditional circular lime kiln near Priestcliffe in the Derbyshire Peak District
A traditional circular lime kiln near Priestcliffe

The image on the right is a lime kiln near Priestcliffe and is typical of the majority found in the area. They are usually circular, with a central hollow where the limestone was burnt/heated before being used as fertiliser on nearby fields, or transported away for sale elsewhere. As you can see here, this one certainly isn't circular and features two draw-holes where the limestone would have been shovelled into the kiln.

An image of the revetted wall at the rear of the kiln which increases the stability of the structure
The revetted wall at the rear of the kiln

This type of lime kiln is known as a pye kiln and whilst there are several dotted about the area, this one of the best preserved the team have encountered. The kiln is oval and has two 'draw-holes' in the front. These were typically used to allow air to reach inside and boost the temperature inside of the kiln. They You can see them in the picture above.The kiln is lined with stone and this one even has a revetted, or supporting wall behind it shown here on the left

Catherine and the team had been out the the site to assess its condition and to try and make a digital record of the site using a technique called photogrammetry. In order to do these two things, there was the small matter of clearing the vegetation and accumulated debris around the kiln, including a number sheep skeletons. Once this was done then a documentary and visual record could be made. The team made extensive notes on the kiln's condition, reporting on the stability of the structure itself and sketch drawings. The next step was to make a digital record. This can be done a couple of ways - either by taking a series of pictures of the site or feature and then using software to stitch them together to make a 3D image. The other way is to scan the site with a camera using LiDAR software which takes a series of measurements which allows the software to create a 3D image. In this case Catherine is using the first method. One of the team members - Richard - used a drone to scan the kiln and then created a 3D model which you can see here. This is a 'before' image which shows the kiln after all the rubbish and vegetation had been cleared. After this, the team undertook a spot of tlc and consolidated some parts of the kiln which had been showing signs of damage. Here is the 'after' image of the kiln.

So, why are the team recording this site? Well, the kiln is just one part of the story of the Peak District. It tells us something about the way people made a living in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The 'Lime Industry' was important here in the Peak District and whilst modern quarries dwarf those from the past, they contributed to the economic development of the area and to the landscape you see today. A good place to see some kilns in the landscape is to visit the Grin Low Country Park in Buxton where there are a number of kilns and their quarries, as well as the occasional 'wheelbarrow run' which was used to get the limestone into the kiln, a folly and a Bronze Age cairn. If you want to know more about the story of lime kilns a good place to start is the Historic England document Pre-industrial Lime Kilns.


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