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Limestone Mining in Lilleshall

Lilleshall developed as a rural village serving the agricultural community, but Lilleshall in the early 18th Century would have been a very different place to the village we see today.   It is not clear when Limestone was first mined in Lilleshall, but it is apparent that limestone was used in the construction of Lilleshall Abbey in the 12th Century.  

In the 17th Century with demand for lime for use as an agricultural fertiliser, for use in cement and in the smelting of iron, lime began to be mined commercially in the Lilleshall area.   The deeper mined limestone was found to make a good hydraulic cement being able to set under water and large quantities were used in the building of Liverpool Docks.

Initially workings were probably confined to opencast pits or quarries, but eventually owing to the cost of removal of the overlying rock and soil, shafts were sunk to mine the limestone.  Mines were generally worked on what is known as a “pillar and stall” basis with around 25% of the limestone left behind as pillars to support the roof of the excavated cavern.

Some of the limestone was burned in lime kilns and converted into quick-lime.   There remains evidence today of lime kilns in a number of locations around the village generally linked by the appropriately named “Limekiln Lane”.   Whilst Lilleshall is a peaceful rural village today, in the 17th and 18th Centuries there would have been not only the extensive commercial limestone mining but also the smoke and fumes from the lime kilns themselves.

The mines extend from Wilmoor Lane to the south of the village along Limekiln Lane to Church Aston, lying to the east.   The mines were extensively worked by the Leveson Gower family who leased all the minerals in the Lilleshall Estate and eventually built Lilleshall Hall.    In 1764 Lord Gower founded the Lilleshall Partnership with the Gilbert family.   

The Donnington Wood canal was extended to the village and used not only for the removal of the lime and limestone but also for the transport of coal to fire the lime kilns.   It is clear that large quantities of coal were needed to fire these kilns.   

Large quantities of coal would have been needed to fire the lime kilns and this would have been transported from the coal mines at Donnington Wood and limestone to be used as a flux in the iron furnaces at Lord Gower’s Donnington Wood foundries would have returned along the canal. 
The canal was completed in the Autumn of 1767 and ran from the coal face at Donnington Wood past Lilleshall Abbey to the Wharf at Pave Lane, two miles south of Newport.  Some years later a branch canal was built to connect the mines at Blackberry Bank on the eastern side of the village.

Unfortunately the Lilleshall branches were 13 metres below the level of the main canal and it was necessary to link the two, firstly by a shaft at Hughes Bridge near the road known as “The Incline” and later an incline plane was built in the same location to enable boats laden with limestone to be hauled up to the higher canal system.

By the end of the 18th Century the Lilleshall mines were becoming exhausted and the main focus of mining moved to the Blackberry Bank (Pitchcroft) mines on the edge of the village near Church Aston.

There were thought to be substantial qualities of limestone remaining in the Pitchcroft Mine but the mine flooded with water in 1860 and abandoned with many miners losing their jobs and livelihood.   The focus of mining then moved to the Wilmoor area which then became the main mining area from 1860 until its closure in 1882 and the end of limestone mining in Lilleshall.

The canals and lime kilns have gradually reverted back to agriculture and their natural state and there is little immediate evidence of this once important industrial area today.  Part of part of the main course of the canal to Donnington was filled in during the construction of the Lilleshall Hall drive in 1896

Memories of the limestone mining appeared to fade away until mines were explored by members of the Shropshire Mining Club in the 1960s.

In 1970s there were concerns about the stability of the workings under the Limekiln Lane area of the village which led to an extensive survey by Ovarup and Partners.  

There were serious concerns about the state of the workings and danger of collapse under residential housing this led to the filling operation under the whole inhabited area of the village mines in 1995 and 1996.

   There was no filling of the mines under the agricultural land.   The mines were filled with pulverised fuel ash and cement at a cost of £4,000,000.    A commemorative plaque is situated by the Bus Shelter half way up Limekiln Lane.

Local historian David Adams runs annual tours of the Lilleshall mine workings.  There are three different tours and the dates are advertised locally.

David Adams has written a detailed guide to the mining history of the village “The History of Limestone Mining in Church Aston and Lilleshall” published by Shropshire Mining and Caving club ISBN 978-0-9553019-1-9  available from Mr M J Moore 53 Vineyard Drive Newport Shropshire TF10 7DF  01952 405105

David Adams has kindly agreed to information on this page being extracted from his book and anyone with an interest in this aspect of the village is encouraged to purchase a copy.

For more information photographs see:-

©2009 Lilleshall Residents Association