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Glenbuchat Heritage

30 Limekilns
The Glenbuchat Image Library
30 Limekilns

by Ken Cruickshank, John Nisbet and Moira Greig.
ISBN 1-903714-09-5

Click for Original Scans of Book

In a booklet to be published earlier in 2004, we have drawn attention to the neglected relics of a
past agricultural age in an upland area of Western Aberdeenshire.* They are the limekilns of
Upper Donside, built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and used to produce lime for
agricultural use from locally quarried limestone. In conjunction with a range of agricultural
improvements such as field drainage and improved varieties of crops and the demise of run rigg
and the infield / outfield system of cultivation, they brought about the changes in the agriculture
and the life of farming families in the glens of Strathdon and Glenbuchat, which we know as the
‘agricultural revolution’. The results of a survey, reported in the booklet, show that there were
more than 100 limekilns on the farms and crofts of the area in the mid 19th century. In the years
since they went out of use, the majority have either been removed or survive in various stages of
collapse. There are a few largely intact examples in the parishes of Glenbuchat and Strathdon
which would benefit from conservation work, as the last remnants of a small-scale but important,
local industry.

The use of lime for agricultural purposes was known to the Romans, and there are records of
burnt lime systematically being used on farms in the Borders and Lothians from the early 17th
century onwards. Upper Donside was fortunate in having access to part of the seam of limestone
which runs from Upper Deeside and the whole length of the former county ofBanffshire (now part
of Aberdeenshire). Available estate records for Glenbuchat showthat lime burning was practiced
from the 1750’s, and very probably decades before thattime. Small outcrops of limestone were
easily accessible and were quarried by farmers in theCorgarff district, lower Strathdon and at the
Balloch in Glenbuchat. Just as important, was the abundant supply of local peat for fuel to ‘burn’
the limestone. All that was required was an efficient technology to exploit these resources to
produce ‘burnt’ lime.

Early kilns (termed clump, clamp or sow kilns) were simple pits or mounds of alternate layers of
shattered limestone and peat covered with turf, sited next to the small limestone quarries and
diggings. The big step forward in lime production in Upper Donside came with the introduction in
the late 18th century of ‘draw kilns’, the remains of which we see through out the area today.
These permenant, circular stone structures were often set into a natural bank, next to the fields
where the lime was to be used and gave a huge advance in terms of lime production. Enormous
quantities of lime were required for improving the fertility of the areas farm land and for land
reclamation. The improving lairds of the area sought to increase the cultivated land of theirestates
by encouraging tenants to expand their farms, by taking in adjoining waste ground or by
establishing new holdings on more marginal ground higher up the Glens’ sides. Lime’s action of
improving the fertility of the land by neutralising the acid soils and releasing nutrients bound up in
the organic matter made this possible.

The minister of Strathdon reported for the New StatisticalAccount in 1843:
‘Within the last twenty years, very great and rapid progress has been made in agricultural
improvement. By trenching, drainage. etc. many of the tenants have made considerable additionst
o the arable land of their farms. The facility in the command of lime is of material benefit in this
respect.’ (NSA, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, 1843, Vol. 12, pp. 551, 552.)

Lime burning gradually died out in the latter part of the 19th century, with only a few limekilns in
operation in the remoter parts of Corgarff by the turn of the 20th century. Improved transport
communications with the outside world and in particular the coming of the Donside and Deeside
railways after the 1860’s made lime and artificial fertilizers from commercial suppliers available for
the larger farms. The slump in farming from the 1870’s up to outbreak of the The First World War,
with the resulting reduction in income to tenants and lairds meant that they cut back on the
expenditure of liming and the huge input of labour required in cutting and carting peats and
quarrying and burning limestone.

One indication of the extent of the neglect of liming the land and the concern felt by many in the
agricultural industry around that time comes from the pages of the Transactions of the Highland
and Agricultural Society of Scotland of 1916. James Hendrick, Professor of Agriculture at Aberdeen
University and his colleague James M. Smith were asked by ‘The Society’ to re-educate farmers on
how lime should be applied to the land. They gave a brief review of the situation in the introduction
to their article – ‘Methods of Applying Lime’:
‘Liming a good old Practice. – In the past fifty years a great change has taken place in the practice
of liming, and far less lime is now used than formerly. In many parts of Scotland the use of lime,
whether in the burnt or the mild form (mechanically ground limestone), has been practically given
up for many years, and in travelling about Scotland an observant person cannot but be struck by
the large number of disused limekilns which are seen in various parts of the country, many of which
were supplying lime for agricultural use until quite recent times. In consequence, many practices
which were at one time common and familiar to farmers have been forgotten or almost forgotten.
An illustration of this can be seen in the inquiry columns of the agricultural papers, where questions
as to the use of lime are of constant occurrence.’ (Hendrick, James and Smith, James, M., Methods
Of Applying Lime, in Transactions of the Highland Agriculture Society of Scotland, Vol. XXVIII, pp.145
– 157,1916.)

By the 1930s a national soil survey, involving the Macaulay Soil Research Institute in Aberdeen for
the N. E. of Scotland, indicated that, with soil pH levels falling, much of the nation’s agricultural
land was seriously deficient in lime. The Government recognised that the general neglect of liming
the land was the biggest factor limiting the production of arable crops and the fertility of
permanent grassland in Britain. With the spur of looming war and threatened shortage of supplies
of food from abroad, it took action to reverse the situation, and boost home production. The 1937
Land Fertility Scheme subsidised the price of lime ‘at the farm gate’ to the tune of half the cost to
the farmer, thus making it cheap to buy and transport costs negligible - important for remote areas
such as Upper Donside. By the outbreak of War farmers had become much more lime-conscious,
and British agriculture immediately before and after the War years was directed towards a massive
revival of liming the land. However, this supply of lime came in the form of mechanically ground
limestone from commercial quarries and suppliers. The days of local self-sufficiency with a farmer
quarrying limestone and burning it in his farm limekiln had passed into history.

The Limekilns of Upper Donside – A Forgotten Heritage, by Ken Cruickshank, John Nisbet and Moira Greig,
Picture added on 15 February 2010 at 21:05
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History Texts

126 Cattle Rustling in the Glen88 1696 Poll Book Belnacraig87 Original 1696 Poll Book91 Wandering in the Highlands 188185 Sketch of 'Old Glenbucket' about 174575 Peatfold70 New Statistical Account of Strathdon 184571 Descendants of the Great Glenbucket69 My First Detachment -The Glenbucket Inn4 St Margarets Chronicle Free afternoon Glenbuchat