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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History

KNOTTINGLEY'S LIMESTONE INDUSTRY

Upon the Magnesian Limestone ridge which runs north-south through the centre of Yorkshire in a band some two and a half to three and a half miles wide lies the town of Knottingley. While part of the town is actually on top of this ridge, the other part is in close proximity to it. The area around the town consists of some ninety to one hundred feet of limestone which although poor quality for building purposes is excellent for burning into lime for use in agriculture.

When the quarrying of Knottingley's lime first began is not clear but reference is made to suggest that lime quarries existed on the Knottingley border back in the thirteenth century. The amount of quarrying that has taken place since that time can be judged by touring around the area and viewing the remains of the trade.

As part of the Aire and Calder Navigation Act of 1699 a clause was eventually inserted which allowed the toll-free passage of lime downstream from places where the river was already navigable. With Knottingley lying on the eastern edge of the limestone it obviously benefited greatly from this. A survey produced in 1698 and prepared in connection with the Navigations bill, showed that a total of around thirty boats traded on the Aire from Knottingley and other places lower downstream.

There was a comparatively large number of quarry owners in the town which meant that the areas available to them for quarrying were generally small and their existence was short lived. Among the larger nineteenth century producers of lime were the Askham family and the Gaggs family. The Gaggs family were a major part of the limestone industry locally and between them they purchased many acres of land around the town and also at Whitley.

The limestone produced in Knottingley found markets far and wide as the waterways system was extended and improved, burnt lime providing an economic back working for coal from the coalfields. Indeed the lime kilns were fired with a poor quality coal which would otherwise have not found a ready market.

The demand for the land for other purposes together with the exhaustion of the limestone combined to cause the decline of the industry although quarrying of limestone is still in operation to this day.


 

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