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Historic Limekilns at Charlestown

By John Le Marie

The limekilns have been repaired and consolidated by Historic Environment Scotland over the last few years, an Inner Forth Landscape Initiative supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This work is finally complete and the limekilns can now be enjoyed and explored in safety by the public.

At their height the limekilns were the largest such complex in Scotland and producing over a third of the country’s lime. This would have been used for agriculture, various industrial processes and for building (lime mortar).

In addition to these applications, milled limestone or “rock dust” would have been supplied in large quantities to coal mines for the prevention of coal dust fires. This was achieved by spraying the rock dust onto mine surfaces. Then should a methane gas explosion occur it mixed with any coal dust present and suppressed flame propagation.

It is difficult to imagine now how busy the port at Charlestown would have been from the 1750s onwards with ships waiting in the busy harbour to be loaded with quicklime brought out to the ships in rail waggons. Fortunately however the scene was captured in a photo taken by Erskine Beveridge, the Dunfermline mill owner and amateur photographer, which is reproduced in part on the interpretation board at the site.

Further information on the limekilns and harbour can be derived from the 1892-1924 25 Inch Ordnance Survey map (go to https://maps.nls.uk/). This shows a number of railway sidings fanning out to service the harbour and limekilns. Nothing remains of these now following the area to the west of the harbour having been redeveloped with private housing. However a glimpse of the past can be seen in the form of a heavy iron column with chains at its base on top of the harbour wall. This is the remains of a swivelling crane which would have been used for loading and unloading the ships. Ships would have brought in other cargo before being loaded with lime, this then being taken on a private rail line owned by the Elgin family to Dunfermline, from whence it would have been distributed.


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