In a previous post on this site, the continuous erosion of Thurstaston cliffs was discussed, including the deposits of an old Wirral sandstone building that is gradually finding its way onto the beach below. The post mentioned a stone slab lying on the beach, “some sort of Granite stone with a semi-circular worn groove” that had disappeared. Well, nearly 12 months on, whether it be by the power of the tides or something else, the elusive piece of rock has turned up again!
It’s not Granite at all, but made of local Sandstone and no doubt cemented into the building somewhere. The semi-circle has definitely been deliberately carved in and there even appears to be, on closer inspection, a square post-hole that shows remains of the rusted iron object that once sat cemented in place. Again, we are left with the question, “what was it?”
Well, after a bit more digging and a helpful email from Andy McPherson, it looks as though it may have served a purpose somewhere in the extraction of Lime…
Thurstaston’s Forgotten Lime Kiln Revealed?
Using the excellent Cheshire Tithe maps online service and modern online maps, it is possible to get an idea of what was in this particular part of Thurstaston in previous times. Today, the area is very near to the Wirral Way and Wirral Country Park and although the cliff-tops are on private land (and dangerous to attempt traversing), the beach below the cliffs is a popular place for walkers and the like, visiting the area.
The obvious man-made marker point in the cliffs today are the modern wooden steps going from the beach up to the pathway that eventually leads back to the Wirral Country Park visitor centre. These steps are laid almost quite precariously (though fastened into the earth), climbing up an ancient ravine known as ‘Tinker’s Dell’, but also known as ‘Tinkers Dale’ a couple of centuries ago. By using the Cheshire Tithe maps, it is possible to see who owned the land and in some cases, how it was divided up into plots and what the plots were used for.
Researching the Tithe maps for Thurstaston, it appears that in the approximate area of the fallen sandstone building, there was a working Lime kiln (at least in 1875 but not by 1910). It would seem that there is a distinct possibility that the Sandstone slabs we are seeing falling to the beach in recent landslides are the old foundations of the disused Lime Kiln. No doubt the top part of the building would have been dismantled and used recycled in other local buildings.
According to the book, ‘Wirral Walks: 100 Miles of the Best Walks in the Area’ by Anthony Annakin-Smith, he mentions a large Lime Kiln in Moel y Gaer in North Wales and the reason for their existence, before going on to mention Thurstaston’s Lime Kiln:
Lime was extracted which was then used in building and agriculture. Lime is an agricultural fertiliser and the kilns were a big factor in helping feed a rapidly growing population in the early 1800’s.
Limekilns were also built on the Wirral – I know of ones at Little Neston and Thurstaston, though they were probably smaller than this one. Limestone would have been transported across the Dee from Wales by barge.
Referring to the Tithe maps, the plot where the Lime Kiln was situated was owned by John Baskervyle Glegg, occupied by a Charles Hancock and was named, ‘Stromby Hay’.
Coastline Shrinkage Shows Up More Of Our Agricultural Past
The end of 2013 saw some of the fiercest storms to hit the Wirral coast for over 30 years and Thurstaston beach has taken its fair share of the assault from the elements. As the cliff erodes on what seems to be an almost weekly basis, more of the previously mentioned Lime Kiln foundations slide towards the stone and shingle covered beach below. We can only guess how far this building was situated from the cliff edge in comparison to 2014. Judging by the size of the stones that have ended up below, the builders didn’t cut any corners and laid down some serious footings quite deep into the land, probably never imagining that their work would eventually be destroyed by nature.
A few yards walk further up the beach towards Heswall, evidence of even more landslip and cliff erosion is in abundance, with more pieces of the landscape’s hidden past revealed. Visibly protruding out from the collapsed heap of clay, there could be seen to be three Terracotta coloured pipes, apparently unbroken by the pressure of the earth movement. On further investigation, it appeared that these were small bore pipes and only about 12” in length. Logically, it would be assumed that these pipes were sunk underground and served some sort of drainage purpose for the field system that has been eroding away over the centuries.
Fanciful thoughts might turn to the Wirral coastline’s infamous and nefarious preoccupation with ‘wrecking’, the pipes making ideal receptacles to stuff with small valuable items, bunged up at both ends and then secreted under the earth for future exhumation when the heat had died down…but this is of course, wishful fantasy and they probably had a far more boring job to do!
In the absence of any archaeological experts, we can only guess at their age and use. The material they are made of appears to be unglazed and they look almost to have been hand-rolled, cut when still wet, then baked. It may again, be a stretch to far and imagine they were Mediaeval or even Roman, so we must assume that they are more recent part of history.
Once again, according to Tithe maps, the field that used to hold the Terracotta pipes was owned by John Baskervyle Glegg, occupied by a Charles Hancock, had a plot name of ‘Lower Hays’, covering an area of “13 acres, 1 roods, 26 perches” Unfortunately, there is no statement of land use on the map.
If anyone is familiar with the sort of pipes shown on the photographs here, please get in touch with any information you may have about this style of pipe making and its use in our past.
As the edge of Wirral erodes, so it gives up clues to its past. Although the Wirral Society are primarily engaged with matters affecting Wirral now, we also have a collective interest in Wirral’s history, often reflected in the talks given at our social evenings. Quite often, historical uses of areas can often make a difference to the way they are treated under modern planning laws, so a healthy interest in local history is a welcome attribute from our membership, new and old. Trying to find answers to Wirral’s past can only enrich the appreciation of the area we love and strive to protect.