The Craven Lime Works

Robert White

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 
The Hoffman lime kiln at Langcliffe, one of the most remarkable industrial monuments in the Yorkshire Dales, has been described before in these pages (1994, 6-7). Built in 1873 and last fired just before the Second World War, for many years the kiln lay redundant and slowly deteriorating. Its importance began to be recognised in the 1970s and in the early 1980s Arthur Raistrick and Griff Hollingshead lobbied for the ruined kiln to be restored using funding from a government job creation programme. Although this initiative failed, the national importance of the kiln was recognised by its designation as a scheduled ancient monument in 1985.

The idea of the kiln again being of economic benefit as an attraction for the Craven area resurfaced with the Ribblesdale Study which led to the formation of the Ribblesdale Trust. The Trust adopted the kiln as their logo and successfully promoted the importance of the kiln and its potential. In 1988 a national construction company took an interest in the Settle to Carlisle corridor and began to develop a restoration scheme for the kiln but this proposal was also based on national funding aimed at reducing unemployment and the company withdrew as government funding priorities altered. Undaunted the Ribblesdale Trust continued to raise the profile of the kiln, raised funds for an archaeological survey of the kiln and the surrounding quarries, and organised, with the National Park Authority, some much needed scrub clearance from the top of the kiln and the surrounding loading docks. With support from the National Park Authority, Craven District Council and the Rural Development Commission, the Trust also funded an economic viability study for the complex. Land Use Consultants identified four possible development scenarios and attracted further private sector interest in the site although some of this interest appeared to be more based on the idea of the council depot as a prime development site within the National Park than on the archaeological and ecological importance of the Hoffman kiln and its surroundings. At the same time the National Park Authority organised some urgent repair work to the entrances to the firing chambers of the kiln.

Proposals to develop a holiday village and hotel complex in the depot area and a chair lift to the top of Langcliffe Scar were discouraged by the National Park Authority. Following discussions with the quarry’s owners, Craven District Council, the Authority agreed to take a lead in conserving the site. There was however still political interest in developing the commercial potential of the complex and a further feasibility study was undertaken by Derek Latham and Company. They were given the difficult brief of protecting the archaeological and ecological interest of the site, attracting 100,000 visitors a year and having a revenue neutral development. Their proposed scheme provided for a major tourism based development including a new viewing platform on the top of the Hoffman kiln.

The scheme had a provisional budget of £5.5 million and would have had a major impact on the character of the area. It also required extensive alterations to the access — the only vehicular access to the site is through a narrow bridge under the railway — and offered no guarantee that there would be sufficient visitors willing to pay the entrance fee of £5.25 deemed necessary for the development to pay its running costs.

After rejecting the Latham scheme the National Park Authority developed the low key option identified by Land Use Consultants and submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to conserve the kiln and the surrounding quarries. The bid included a Conservation Plan which described the history and special qualities of the quarry complex and the need for conservation. Consultation with the parish councils of Langcliffe and Stainforth as part of the bid process led to the readoption of the name ‘Craven Lime Works’ instead of Langcliffe Quarry, the title which had been commonly used in association with the Council depot, or Stainforth Sidings, the name used by the Midland Railway.

Part of the submitted scheme provided for relocation of the waste transfer site but this element was rejected by the Fund when they offered a grant of £182,500 towards the project costs. As it was considered that the location of the transfer site in the heart of the quarry complex is incompatible with the setting of the monument, a separate bid was successfully made for Objective 5b funding from the European Regional Development Fund to move the transfer site and depot entrance away from the Hoffman kiln. Thus, shortly before the end of the twentieth century, contracts were finally signed which will ensure the conservation of the Hoffman Kiln and the surrounding quarry features. The project concentrates on the Hoffman kiln but it is also hoped to include the other important lime industry remains in the area although negotiations for some of these are still in progress. The other remains include the Murgatroyds Lime Works immediately to the north of the Craven Lime Works which includes a large triple draw kiln and the base and supports of a later pair of vertical steel kilns hidden in woodland to the south as well as the ancillary structures such as the winding houses, weigh house, crushing plant and the tramway network which add to the site’s archaeological interest. The complex is very unusual in having three very different lime burning technologies represented on the one site.

No construction work is proposed: the kilns will essentially be consolidated as they are today. A conscious decision has been made to try and protect not just the archaeological interest of the site but also its ecological interest. The Hoffman kiln has been a bat roost and it is hoped that sensitive management will encourage increased bat use. Ravens and a pair of peregrine nest on the scar above the quarry. Bee orchids, hawkweeds and rare cave spiders all add to the nature conservation interest while the rock faces and woodland show various stages of ecological succession and increase the biodiversity of the complex.

Providing for public safety while not changing the site’s character by over provision of handrails etc. is a difficult balancing act. At present a public footpath runs beside the Hoffman kiln but there is no public right of access to the interior of the kiln or to other features on the site. Parts of the site such as the refuse disposal site, the tunnel and the unstable cliff face are potentially dangerous and access will not be provided to these. Lighting inside the Hoffman kiln is not proposed, not least because of its impact on the micro-environment of the kiln, although some levelling of the floor of the kiln will take place. A series of walkways is proposed, wherever possible suitable for disabled access, which will link up the more important and stable features of the complex. Relatively unobtrusive information boards incorporating reconstruction drawings will be placed at suitable locations, designed to help visitors of all ages understand and appreciate the working of the quarries and kilns and the conservation importance of the complex.

Carefully specified consolidation works, carried out by a specialist firm of contractors, are due to start in the summer of 2000 and should ensure that the built elements of the complex are sound. The works are timetabled and designed to cause minimum disturbance to the ecological interests of the site and will be carried out in conjunction with the programme of detailed archaeological recording. The additional recording will increase our knowledge of the workings of the complex and assist in future management.

Maintaining the conservation importance will be an ongoing task. Ruins will always need some maintenance to withstand the vagaries of the Dales climate while the vegetation can be rampant and will need careful management to conserve the conditions in which the bee orchids and other plants can flourish. It is hoped to develop local support for vegetation management, monitoring and interpretation, perhaps through occasional working parties and by leading school parties or guided walks around this unique survival: anyone who would like to be involved is requested to contact the National Park's Area Ranger, Steve Hastie, via the national park office in Grassington.

Robert White is Senior Conservation Archaeologist, YDNPA.

Lastingham, North Yorkshire Diana Kaneps