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F: Flint

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Miner.
'Pony' Ashley, the last flint miner active on Lingheath, near Brandon, photographed in the late 1930s.

Flint is a very hard black mineral similar in composition to glass, which when worked correctly, is capable of a very sharp cutting edge.

However this material blunts very quickly.

It is found naturally in chalk and it often forms layers in various shapes and sizes. Hard black flint is the best.

It was Neolithic miners who first dug flint out from the chalk at Grimes Graves, near Thetford, some 4000 years ago.

Grimes Graves is a bit of a misnomer. There are no burials to be found here. The word graves actually means pits or mines.

galleries.
Galleries at the bottom of one of the mine shafts at Grimes Graves.

Named after the Devil's holes of the pagan god Grim, the miners used the flint to make all kinds of blades, from scrapers to axes and spear-heads.

The surface of Grimes Graves was once covered with birch, but this material was removed in the 1970s to leave a heathland clearing around Thetford Forest.

Brandon, close to Grimes Graves on the Suffolk border, was the centre of the flint-knapping industry for 200 years.

knapping.
Knapping at the block

In more recent times, flint was mined in the area by solitary miners. Much of this was knapped into gun-flints.



cottages.
Typical flint cottages in Nether Row, Thetford.

Flint was also used with stone to create buildings. In the 14th century, it began to be used decoratively in architecture too, as displayed on many of the fine old ecclesiastical and civic buildings around East Anglia.

flushwork.
'Flushwork' on Elveden Church.

Norwich's Guildhall has some of the best medieval flintwork in existence.

A very beautiful alphabet made of knapped flint is on display in the Ancient House Museum in Thetford. It apparently took its maker, master flint knapper Bill Basham, two years to make in his spare time.
Like most knappers, this craftsman died of silicosis in 1932, aged 38. There are few flint-knappers working today.

Today visitors can explore one of the 300 shafts and galleries at Grimes Graves' .The site is managed by English Heritage.

Internet sites:
Grimes Graves
Thetford Ancient House Museum

G>>>

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See also
Sense of Place
Weird Norfolk
Norfolk Dialect
Norfolk traditions





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