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Marple's famous Lime Kilns restored thanks to £90,000 grant

The Friends of Oldknow’s Lime Kilns (FOLK) secured the funding for the repair project, preparing grant applications and supporting the council’s bid to Historic England

Marple Lime KilnsVital repairs and restoration work has been completed at the historic 225 year-old Oldknow’s Lime Kilns in Marple thanks to the efforts of a local community group and Stockport Council.

The kilns are a familiar sight in the park off Strines Road but had been on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register for almost 10 years. Thanks to a grant of more than £90,000 from Historic England, and match funding from Stockport Council and the Association for Industrial Archaeology (AIA), the lime kilns can now come off the Heritage at Risk Register.

Maysand, a firm of masonry and building conservation specialists, together with Blackett-Ord, a team of conservation engineering experts, have removed damaging vegetation, repointed weaker areas of stone and built structural support inside the kilns.

The Friends of Oldknow’s Lime Kilns (FOLK) was instrumental in securing funding for the repair project, preparing grant applications and supporting Stockport Council’s bid to Historic England. FOLK run popular volunteering days and events at the lime kilns. The group secured funding for a fascinating community excavation in summer, which uncovered many new features and gave locals a taste of archaeological digs. Here are a selection of images from the restoration works courtesy of Maysand Ltd:

The lime kilns are named after Samuel Oldknow, the famous local industrialist who lived from 1756 to 1828. The kilns featured decorative Gothic tracery usually seen on church windows, so that they looked like an attractive romantic ruin. They tell the story of the Industrial Revolution in Marple. Limestone was loaded into the top of the kilns, brought by canal barge and the stone was then burnt over several days to produce quicklime, and loaded on to tramway waggons below, before heading off to be sold. The lime had many uses, from fertilizer to bleach, as well as being a key building material.

In addition to their main role, the lime kilns have a particularly unusual feature – they contained housing for workers inside the lime kilns. The project revealed many rooms, staircases and fireplaces. FoLK were lucky enough to be given a tour. Specialists from Salford Archaeology carried out a full laser scan of the interior. This is available on YouTube and embedded further down this page.

Rick Hardisty, Friends of Oldknow’s Lime Kilns, said:

“Following their closure at the turn of the 20th century until the early 1960s, little thought was given to Marple Lime Kilns, or their deteriorating condition. The familiar tales of vandalism and neglect, which have seen so many of our historical assets reduced to rubble, sadly made no exception for this unique structure. A structural report was undertaken by the Revealing Oldknow's Legacy Project that highlighted in excess of £100,000 was required to undertake remedial work to preserve this historic monument."

“It is with great delight that Historic England and the Friends of Oldknow’s Lime Kilns (FOLK) can announce that the work to stabilise the structure has now been completed. Marple with its canal network would not be the Marple we know and visit today without these Historic Lime Kilns. They are a unique example of our industrial and social history. We would like to thank Stockport Council, Association for Industrial Archaeology and Historic England for their support.”

Cllr Grace Baynham, Cabinet Member for Highways, Parks and Leisure Services at Stockport Council, said:

“It really is fantastic news that the Lime Kilns in Marple have been repaired. An incredible amount of hard work has gone in to bringing this restoration project to fruition. The kilns are a real asset to the borough and it has been fantastic to be able to support FOLK in its bid to secure the money needed to complete this renovation project.”

Tamsin Cooke, from Historic England, added:

“We are delighted to have supported Stockport Council and the Friends of Oldknow’s Lime Kilns with this repair. We know how important the lime kilns are to Marple residents, so we are very happy that they can now be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register and continue to tell the story of how the Industrial Revolution played out locally.”

Keith Falconer, AIA Restoration Grants, said:

“The AIA is delighted that the project to conserve these iconic symbols of the early days of industrialisation has been completed, partly funded by an AIA Restoration Grant. The AIA grant scheme is itself funded by anonymous donors dedicated to preserve our industrial heritage so being able to provide support for FOLK has been very gratifying.”

Stockport Council is now planning a landscaping project to improve the parkland setting, and FOLK will continue to maintain the grounds around the lime kilns. FOLK welcome new volunteers, and you can get involved by contacting Rick Hardisty or Teresa Dawson via the FoLK page in the Community Directory.

A new chapter in the history of Marple Lime Kilns!

December 2022: Work at Marple Lime Kilns now complete

Friends of Oldknow's Lime Kilns have advised that works at the Lime Kilns are now complete.

Press releases and reports are still awaited but in the meantime FOLK have asked the Marple Website to share this video fly-through of the lime kilns prepared by Steve Tamburello of Salford Archaeology, based on his drone and internal laser surveys. This is just a bit of fun and allows people to visualise the interior but Steve's internal survey has a wealth of data which will be of great use for future management purposes.

12 weeks preservation work to start at the end of August 2022 

A structural report was undertaken by The Revealing Oldknow's Legacy Project that highlighted in excess of £100,000 was required to undertake remedial work to preserve this historic monument.

Following delays caused by the pandemic, Friends of Oldknow's Lime Kilns (FOLK) can now confirm that they've been awarded grants from the Association of Industrial Archaeologists (AIA), Historic England and Stockport Council to finally undertake this work after more than 50 years.

A recent image of Marple Lime Kilns

The Marple Website looks forward to learning more and seeing these works progress.

A reminder of how things were left in the 1970s

Following their closure at the turn of the 20th century until the early 1960s, little thought was given to Marple Lime Kilns, or their deteriorating condition. The familiar tales of vandalism and neglect, which have seen so many of our historical assets reduced to rubble, sadly made no exception for this unique structure. In 1963 efforts were made to have the kilns scheduled as an ancient monument and for the nearby cottages and farmhouse to become listed buildings of architectural and historic interest. This was eventually successful and the kilns were scheduled for Ministry protection as an ancient industrial monument.

Marple's ancient Lime Kilns built by Samuel Oldknow

Newspapers of the time reveal that strong support for the preservation of the kilns had begun to gather, with fund raising by Marple Antiquarian Society (now Marple Local History Society), substantial cash donations, proposals for archaeological digs and the purchase of land by an anonymous benefactor. Unfortunately though, nothing had actually been done when, in 1966, there was a substantial collapse resulting in the loss of one of the kilns. This was followed by much procrastination caused by conflicting surveys into the condition of the remains, suggestions that the only option was demolition and counter arguments that demolition was not possible because the kilns extended so far under the canal embankment that the canal itself would be endangered.

Unbelievably, the arguments and debate continued well into the 1970's. The frustration of the Antiquarian Society can still be felt when reading their "A History of Marple", which says, "After many unavailing efforts to save them, the Lime Kilns were finally 'battered to a satisfactory angle' and the site landscaped at the cost of £6,437 in 1973/74."

Incredible as it may seem, even this was not the end of the saga. A report in the Stockport Advertiser in October 1975 reveals that the work on the kilns was not done to a satisfactory standard and the Department of the Environment refused to pay the grant unless remedial works costing £7,469 was carried out. This work was never done and today the remains of the kilns only hint at their former glory and historical significance.

Read more about the History of Samuel Oldknow's Marple Lime Kilns.

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