Limestone quarrying has taken place in the landscape of the World Heritage Site since the sixteenth century. The stone was burned with coal in kilns to make quicklime. This white, powdery material was used in plaster and cement for buildings or it could be scattered on fields as fertiliser. Limestone was also used in iron smelting. Many farms and villages had small limekilns for local use.
With the development of a canal network, it became easier and cheaper to move raw materials and finished products. Quicklime could now be produced on an industrial scale.
The best surviving examples of limekilns are at Froncysyllte. They look like a huge wall, with arches at the base. Limestone was brought from quarries behind the village on horse-drawn tramways. Coal was brought on the canal, or later by train. The stone and coal were loaded in layers into the top of a kiln. A fire was lit underneath. After burning the kiln at high temperatures for many days, the lime was raked out of the arches you can see at the base.
The kilns were disused by 1899 but limestone was still quarried and transported from Froncysyllte by canal boats until 1954.
A limekiln at Halkyn Mountain
More Information About Limekilns
Three photographs showing the wharf beside the limekilns at Froncysyllte in the early 1900s, 1965 and 2021. The canal basin which formed the wharf was filled in during the 1930s, to form the yard you can see today.
This painting by Welsh artist William Williams (1738-1817) shows a limekiln at night. The fires were kept burning for many days. The light and smoke could be seen for miles.
In this early watercolour of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, by John Ingleby (1749-1808), you can see smoke from the Froncysyllte limekilns on the hill to the right.
A sculpture at Froncysyllte Basin commemorates the limekilns, quarries and workers. Look for the quarrying tools embedded in it. How many are there and what were they used for?
Small limekilns are now hidden in the trees by the towpath at Afon Bradley, near Chirk Marina. They made quicklime for the mortar used to build the canal.
The limekilns at Trevor Uchaf, were up the hill, near the quarries. The quicklime was transported down to the canal on an incline tramway. The weight of full trams coming down pulled wagons of coal up. You can see the line of the tramroad and a bridge over it from the towpath at Sun Trevor bridge.
The limekilns at Tŷ Craig, west of Llangollen are now hidden in undergrowth between the towpath and the river but you can see the house of the works’ manager next to the canal.
The western bank of limekilns at Froncysyllte are probably older than the bigger ones to the east.
Pisgah Quarry, near the top of the village, is now a nature reserve. It’s a good place to spot birds, as well as the remains of old quarry workings.
This was the wharf at Sun Trevor Bridge in the early 20th century. Look at how dusty and dirty with quicklime it was compared to the fields today. When you visit the area, look for the extra arch in the bridge. This was to let a horse-drawn tramroad through.
Limestone is made up from the remains of sea creatures which died millions of years ago. Sometimes you can see fossils of them in the stone, usually shells or tube-like structures. These are rare in the stone from Froncysyllte but can be found at Trevor Uchaf.