Charlestown Harbour and Lime Kilns, Fife

The village of Charlestown, which lies on the south coast of Fife between the Kincardine and Forth road bridges, was established in 1770 by the 5th Earl of Elgin, Charles Bruce. The village, which is on a ridge overlooking the harbour, was laid out in the shape of an inverted ‘C’ & ‘E’, for Elgin and Charles.

Birds-eye view of Charlestown, Fife, showing inverted 'E' and 'C' layout design

Birds-eye view of Charlestown, Fife, showing inverted ‘E’ and ‘C’ layout design

The inner harbour and the lime kilns were built at about this time, the harbour being used to ship both lime and coal (mined from Lord Elgin’s estates) to other parts of Britain and the Flemish/Baltic region of northern Europe.

Birds-eye view of Charlestown Old and Newer Harbours, Fife

Birds-eye view of Charlestown Old and Newer Harbours, Fife

The lime kilns at Charlestown were built to replace those at the village of Limekilns a mile or so to the east.

The village of Limekilns as seen from Charlestown Harbour

The village of Limekilns as seen from Charlestown Harbour

Initially there were 9 kilns built on the site in 1777, but this was extended to 14 lime kilns in 1792, making this the largest single group of lime kilns in Scotland. A horse tramway with wooden rails was also built, to carry coal to the site and the lime to awaiting ships in the harbour. The kilns were still being used at Charlestown until the middle of the 20th century, they finally closed in 1956.

Charlestown Lime Kilns from the harbour road

Charlestown Lime Kilns from the harbour road

Small yacht at Charlestown Harbour, Fife, with lime kilns in the background

Small yacht at Charlestown Harbour, Fife, with lime kilns in the background

Opening for the removal of the quicklime from the Charlestown lime kilns

Opening for the removal of the quicklime from the Charlestown lime kilns

For those that worked at the lime kilns, the conditions were pretty grim, especially early on. The coal and limestone was manually loaded into the top of each kiln, a trip into this 12ft wide hole would mean certain death. The fumes and dust would have been highly noxious and unhealthy, and the final product, the quicklime is very corrosive and quite toxic. However, the workers at the Charlestown lime kilns were paid relatively well, with skilled workers getting 20p per day (12 hour shifts) and unskilled labourers getting half that amount. They also had regular work, good housing and schooling provided for their children.

Artists impression of the Charlestown Lime Kilns in their heyday

Artists impression of the Charlestown Lime Kilns in their heyday

Tunnel for rear exit points for quicklime

Tunnel for rear exit points for quicklime

Quicklime removal point

Quicklime removal point

Old outlet for the removal of quicklime from relic lime kiln

Old outlet for the removal of quicklime from relic lime kiln

When I read about the conditions that people used to work in, only a hundred or so years ago, it brings home to me the fact of how lucky we are to live in the present time.

With the increasing output of quicklime from the kilns, for use on farmland and for building purposes, the harbour was increased in size, with the outer harbour wall being built in 1840.

Western side of Charlestown outer harbour wall, with Crombie gantry cranes in distance

Western side of Charlestown outer harbour wall, with Crombie gantry cranes in distance

Old-fashioned houseboat on outer wall of Charlestown Harbour

Old-fashioned houseboat on outer wall of Charlestown Harbour

Charlestown Outer Harbour Wall and Firth of Forth

Charlestown Outer Harbour Wall and Firth of Forth

Shipbuilding took place in Victorian times, and ship breaking took place towards the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. Ships from the German Imperial Fleet which were scuttled at Scapa Flow, at the end of the 1st World War, were brought here to be broken up.

Remains of ship-breaking at Charlestown Harbour

Remains of ship-breaking at Charlestown Harbour

Nowadays, the harbour is primarily used for private pleasure boats, mainly small yachts, and the odd small fishing boat.

Charlestown Harbour inner wall with moored yachts

Charlestown Harbour inner wall with moored yachts

Old boat at Charlestown Harbour, Fife, with lime kilns in the background

Old boat at Charlestown Harbour, Fife, with lime kilns in the background

Inner harbour at Charlestown, Fife

Inner harbour at Charlestown, Fife

Old rusted bollard for boat moorings on Charlestown outer harbour wall.

Old rusted bollard for boat moorings on Charlestown outer harbour wall.

 

NB Charles Bruce’s second son (Thomas), was the person responsible for the removal of the ‘Elgin’ Marbles from the Parthenon in Greece, in the early 1800’s.

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