Masonry has been an integral part of human civilisation since ancient times, and lime has been a material that’s been used throughout it all. Its significance stretches across millennia, and it’s been an enduring symbol of innovation and longevity throughout. All across the globe, the techniques of working with lime have become a constant, albeit ever-evolving, cornerstone of construction. So let’s delve into the historical journey that lime has taken, and uncover the legacy that it has left on the world.

6000 Years of Using Lime…

The story of lime begins all the way back when ancient cultures first discovered its remarkable properties. As far back as 6000 years ago, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans have utilised lime in various forms to create enduring structures that have withstood the test of time; around 5.5 million tonnes of limestone and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used to build the Great Pyramid in Egypt. This stone formed part of an outer layer of fine white limestone that would have made the sides of the pyramid completely smooth, and had a polished effect that would have gleamed in the sun. These casing blocks were transported over 15km from a quarry downriver from Giza. By the 19th century, most of the casing blocks had been removed and used for other building work, which – whilst a shame for the Pyramids to not shine in their former glory – does support the notion that lime is able to be perpetually reused and recycled, further contributing to its positive effects that lime can have on the environment.

Lime provided these ancient builders with a versatile material for creating durable mortar and plaster, and the Greeks and Romans further refined its use in masonry construction. The Romans, in particular, elevated lime to new heights of sophistication; they invented hydraulic lime, which possessed the ability to set underwater. By blending lime with pozzolan – a finely powdered material possibly made from volcanic ash or brick dust at the time – the mixture hardened much quicker, allowing it to be used in settings such as ponds and aqueducts.

This legacy continued throughout time, as monks continued these practices throughout the medieval era to create places of worship, and architects of the Renaissance era sought inspiration from the Roman masters in their masterpieces too. The Gothic cathedrals of France, and the graceful domed architecture of some of Italy’s most iconic buildings all owe their beauty and their durability to the past innovation of the Romans.

…And Here’s to 6000 More?

Of course, lime continues to play a prominent role in masonry construction to this day. Valued for its sustainability, durability, and aesthetic appeal, architects and builders are continuing to showcase the virtues of lime as a natural and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional cement-based materials. From historic preservation projects to contemporary sustainable design, lime continues to be as relevant in masonry today as it ever has been.

At Heritage Lime, we are proud to continue the craft and practice of these traditional methods moving forward into the modern day. Our materials and masonry skills have been used for the renovation and preservation of numerous historical buildings across the country, and we are proud to be training a new generation of builders to inherit this knowledge as well.

Thanks to The King’s Foundation, we will be teaching the principles of conservation and stone repair at the highly esteemed estate of Highgrove in the South West. Synonymous with craftsmanship and aesthetic excellence, the Highgrove estate has the facilities for training and education in order for apprentices to put their newly acquired skills into practice. It is an honour for us to be able to collaborate with The King’s Foundation – not only due to the high esteem of this prestigious estate, but to help continue the practice of these traditional methods for years to come, and see that these practices are preserved and passed onto the next generation of builders and into the modern day.