Ancient Monuments

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Charlestown, limekilns and associated features

A Scheduled Monument in Rosyth, Fife

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Latitude: 56.0362 / 56°2'10"N

Longitude: -3.5032 / 3°30'11"W

OS Eastings: 306434

OS Northings: 683606

OS Grid: NT064836

Mapcode National: GBR 1W.RQY7

Mapcode Global: WH5QY.5J2Y

Entry Name: Charlestown, limekilns and associated features

Scheduled Date: 15 August 1975

Last Amended: 21 June 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3734

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Industrial: kiln, furnace, oven

Location: Dunfermline

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Rosyth

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises fourteen stone built limekilns, the majority of which were built in the period between 1761 and 1799. Running north-south from the kiln-head is a tunnel and stretch of railway that served to bring limestone to the kilns. The kilns are the largest group of limekilns in Scotland and operated until 1956. They stand in a prominent location on Harbour Road in Charlestown beside Charlestown Harbour and the River Forth.

All fourteen of the kilns survive to their original height, however the two at the eastern end have collapsed internally and are unroofed. The site can be divided into an east and west bank of kilns measuring 9m in height and covering a total length of 110m. Each kiln consists of a main central arched entrance which provided access to a number of vaulted chambers. Within these chambers are draw holes, four to each kiln consisting of smaller arched openings from which quicklime was extracted.

In the east bank of kilns the draw holes are identical, set at angles surrounding the kilns with an addition rear east/ west passage. The western bank of kilns are larger (in area but not height) with a similar arrangement of draw holes, although their main front draw hole was to the outer stone wall.

 At kiln-head there are the remains of a number of stone and brick buildings and enclosures which are the remnants of associated limeworks. To the north side of the kiln-head is a tunnel built to contain a rail or tramway which runs north-south for 195m before reaching West Road where there was formerly a bridge. To the north of the modern road a railway embankment extends a further 50m and includes the remains of a brick buildings and a turntable stance.

The area to be scheduled is irregular in plan to include the visible remains described above within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes all modern boundary walls, gates, signage and services.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is the largest group of limekilns in Scotland. The kilns are well preserved and have many surviving features including draw holes or "eyes" at the base, internal cones and coal chutes. A large flat area on the top and to the rear of the kilns contains the remains of contemporary structures as well as a tunnel and railway that was used to transport lime to the kilns from quarries to the north of the village.

The kilns were built in two distinct phases and further study of the kilns will reveal information on technological changes through time. Excavations have shown that associated features survive below the current ground surface and we can expect that these can provide further information on the operations of the kilns.

Contextual Characteristics

Lime extraction and production began on what became Broomhall Estate at Limekilns, a mile to the east of Charlestown. Charles, the 5th Earl of Elgin and 9th Earl of Kincardine industrialised the process and moved production to the new establish Charlestown in the third quarter of the 18th century. Lime played an important part in Scotland's economy and was used in agriculture, building and industrial applications such as glass production. Coal and limestone were found on the Elgin estate which the Earl exploited to create a large industry. This included the establishment of an iron foundry, brick works, as well as the export of coal, coke and lime.

The village of Charlestown was established around 1761 as part of the 5th Earl's plans to utilise the natural resources; limestone and coal, on his estate. The village was built to house his workers and a sophisticated transport system was developed to move the materials which included wagonways and the harbour. The limestone burnt in the kilns was from the immediate area, with the main quarries being the West Quarry, the Mid Quarry, the East Quarry and the Glen Quarry.  

Initially 6 kilns were built (at the east end of the bank) which later increased to 14 as Charlestown became one of the UK's the largest producers of building lime. At its peak Charlestown supplied 30% of the UK's building lime and was one of the first large-scale industrial enterprises in Scotland. The kilns operated for over 200 years and are now redundant but they remain the best preserved and largest examples in Scotland. The range of kilns is also the largest and most complex in the country. The kilns are of industrial scale and illustrate technical change in kiln design, over half a century or more, during a period when lime was of the paramount importance to the Scottish economy.

The importance of the monument is enhanced by the survival in recognisable form of the village built to house the workers, harbour for shipment of lime and coal, quarries and mines and railways. Charlestown is the only place in Scotland where the relationship between the elements of an 18th century mineral working and processing industry are so clearly visible.

Associative Characteristics

The limekilns, harbour, associated features and village at Charlestown were built under the auspices of the Sir Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin and retain this connection today.  The Elgin Family Archives document how the limeworks worked, its produce and the distribution and what the lime was being used for. The lime was used in building and in a range of industrial applications, including glass-making, tanning and sugar refining. The greatest use was in agriculture for improving soil and the largest markets for the Charlestown product was the north-east of Scotland, Stirling and Falkirk, with some going to the central belt.

The kilns have now become a prominent landscape feature on the River Forth in their own right and are a tourist attraction.

.Statement of National Significance

The monument is of national importance as the best preserved and largest example of an 18th century limekiln complex in Scotland. It makes a significant addition to our understanding of the early industrialisation of Scotland and in particular the development of the lime industry in Scotland. It retains a significant proportion of its field characteristics and is a well-preserved example. The kilns are of particular important because they are of unusually large scale and complexity. The physical remains of the limekilns are supplemented by documentary and historical records that add to the understanding of the site, its development over time and the markets that it served. The loss of this example would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the significance of the lime industry in the economic and social development of Scotland.




Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 49497 (accessed on 27/02/2017).

AOC Archaeology Group, 2016 Charlestown Limeworks, Charelstown, Fife: Measured Survey and Archaeological Evaluation Report.

Fotheringham, N 1997. Charlestown. Built on Lime. Carnegie Dunfermline Trust.

Simpson and Brown Architects 1994. Charlestown. A Plan for Survival.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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