It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Janet Few.

Lime-burning involves crushing limestone and heating it in a kiln for several days to produce quicklime. Quicklime is both caustic and volatile, which is why kilns were erected near to where the lime was needed. In the nineteenth century, the shores of Bideford Bay and the Torridge estuary, on Devon’s North coast were peppered with lime-kilns; the lime being used principally for manure and whitewash.


There were three kilns in the little fishing hamlet of Bucks Mills. In fact, it is highly likely that the kilns were partly the impetus for the growth of the settlement. The majority of the cottages were built between 1815 and 1835. At this time, there was a need to increase agricultural yields; a result of population increase and the effects of the Napoleonic Wars, when blockades prevented imports. Bringing land of a more marginal nature under cultivation required the use oflime as a fertilizer. Reverend Thomas Moore felt that the use of lime on the fields resulted in ‘a rich increase of agricultural produce, and [was] consequently of general benefit.’ The cottages in Bucks Mills provided accommodation for additional estate workers and limewash would have been used in their construction.


There is some debate about the date of the kilns at Bucks Mills. Hubbard Fielder’s belief, that one kiln is Elizabethan, seems unlikely as ‘until the middle of the eighteenth century, lime-kilns were often temporary structures built solely to meet immediate demand and then allowed to collapse.’ Unfortunately, the sixteenth century date has been perpetuated on an interpretation board in the village. A more realistic theory is that the eastern kiln was erected around 1780, in which case it would have used labour from nearby settlements. The Manor Court Roll for Goldsworthy Manor, dated 23 April 1807, includes a complaint concerning the damage caused by the erection of lime kilns and an associated road, which might suggest that at least one of the three kilns was built later still.

In the 1841 census for Bucks Mills, two residents were listed as lime-burners and it is probable that others would have come from further afield to share this work. Other kilns in the area were restricted to burning between the first week of March and the second week of October and this is likely to have been similar in Bucks Mills. So lime-burning was a seasonal occupation and was usually combined with other work.

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