|Hoffman and his process
It is not surprising that we know very little about Friedrich Hoffman. His patent was filed in Dantzig in 1858 and the tides of history have swept to and fro over Dantzig ever since—it is now the Polish city of Gdansk. We can, however, attribute to Hoffman an early example of lateral thinking worthy of inclusion in one of Edward De Bono's books. Traditionally we think of kilns working on the open hearth approach with the fire beneath, the material to be combusted placed on or above the fire with the exhaust gases dissipating through a vertical flue above. Why not, said Hoffman, turn the process on its side and instead of placing the material to be combusted into the furnace, move the fire itself to the material?
The Hoffman kiln was the embodiment of this thinking. Material is stacked ready for combustion and the fire is permitted to travel forward while the product(s) of the process are removed from behind the fire. New material is stacked ahead of the fire and the process continues. The kiln is a closed circular or oval loop and in due course the fire will travel right round the circuit, returning to its starting point. Hoffman kilns were initially used in the production of bricks, but their potential value for the production of lime was soon recognised and a considerable number of Hoffman lime kilns were constructed over a relatively brief period in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The Hoffman Kiln at Langcliffe
The first recorded Hoffman limekiln to be built in England was at Meal Bank Quarry, Ingleton and this kiln is still in existence though in rather a poor state. The kiln at Langcliffe was a bigger version of the Ingleton kiln and amongst the largest kilns of its type in the world. It was constructed in 1872-1873 and remained in continuous use (with one short stoppage due to industrial action in 1926) until 1931. It was retired in 1936 for limited use until the outbreak of the second World War. During the war the kiln was used for storage of chemicals but since then it has been left quietly to decay. The decline of industry in the Upper Ribble Valley and the subsequent use of the Langcliffe Quarry as a refuse disposal site has meant that to date there have been no alternative plans or uses for the kiln itself or the land it stands on. The kiln is therefore one of the best preserved in the country not, however, matching a number of kilns of comparable size in Germany where considerable sums of public money have been spent in restoration. In 1985, English Heritage identified the kiln as the best example of a Hoffman kiln still standing in the country (there are a few others neither as big nor as well-preserved) and scheduled it as an Ancient Monument.
Lime Production and Uses
The kiln was constructed at the same time as the Settle-Carlisle railway so that the coal used to fire the kiln could be brought in (from Wath Main Colliery) and the large quantities of lime produced could be dispatched by rail. The lime was of very high quality and was therefore of value for those industrial processes requiring high grade lime (tanning, sugar refining, water softening and the production of perfume and chocolate). It is also thought that it was used in the construction industry and for agricultural purposes. The process was labour-intensive and working conditions in the kiln must have been most unpleasant. With an increasing use of Portland cement, a decline in other uses of lime (particularly on the land) and the introduction of newer kilns on the site (of which only the foundations still remain), the use of the Hoffman kiln eventually became uneconomic.
Attempts at Restoration
Since Craven District Council acquired the kiln after all work had ceased on the site, interest in its preservation has grown. In the early 1980s Griff Hollingshead of Bradford Scientific Association was a pioneer in this work but as his successors have found, funds for any worthwhile restoration were not to be found. A feasibility study was carried out in 1986 by Lancaster University funded by a grant from Gold Fields Environmental Trust. This led to the formation of the Ribblesdale Trust in 1987. The Lancaster University study included a comprehensive assessment of the state of the kiln and its surrounds and much invaluable information on the flora and fauna of the site.
The Manpower Services Commission then commissioned Jarvis plc to undertake a project on the site, which was to have, in due course, utilised community programme resources to carry out restoration work on the site. Unfortunately, the abolition of the Commission and the termination of community programme funding meant that this project was stillborn.
The Ribblesdale Trust continued to work towards a solution with the limited funds that were available to it and in association with Lancaster University carried out two critical studies - one on the site's industrial archaeology (a prerequisite before any work on the kiln would have been permitted by English Heritage) and an oral history project in which the recollections of surviving kiln workers were captured. With public funding becoming ever more difficult to obtain, the Trust, at the suggestion of the Rural Development Commission, commissioned a Commercial Feasibility Study to ascertain whether it would be possible to restore the kiln as a tourist attraction using private sector funding.
Land Use Consultants in their report published in 1990 identified four commercial strategies none of which were calculated to provide early profits for an investor. The most ambitious of the schemes did however attract a possible investor and a new company, Langcliffe Restoration Ltd. was formed with the intention of developing a significant tourist attraction on the site. Its initial plans proved somewhat controversial and after discussions with Craven District Council, revised plans were produced with greater emphasis placed on the restoration and development of Hellifield Station (with the Langcliffe Site development figuring as a later and lower key stage of the project). The economic recession now became a key factor and in 1992 Langcliffe Restoration Ltd. reluctantly decided that appropriate funding would not be forthcoming and their scheme would have to be shelved.
Though there have since been tentative approaches from other developers, the stumbling block has been the understandable reluctance of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (and Craven District Council) to allow anything but the most sensitive development of the site. Plans including the erection of a hotel or chalets, or which would lead to a significant proliferation of the number of cars entering the site have all been discouraged. Developers have quickly concluded that without the assurance of a substantial number of visitors, there is no commercial case for capital investment.
The future of the kiln therefore remains uncertain though with the agreement of Craven District Council (early in 1994) to transfer ownership to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the stated commitment of the park to find the funding to carry out at least the minimum restoration necessary to ensure that the kiln is safe for visitors to enter, we can now at least hope that one of the district's most important historical artefacts will not continue to moulder away.
Elliott S. 'Working in a Limekiln' (Lancaster University Oral History Project).
Mitchell W.R. 'Tales of (a Yorkshire) Hoffman' (The Dalesman November 1980 pp642-6). Trueman, M.R.G. 'The Langcliffe Quarry and Limeworks' (Industrial Archaeology Review XXIV No 2 Spring 1992 ppl26-143).
Hoffman Kiln, Langcliffe. Photo by the author.