Thursday, 7 July 2016

Brandon Flint Panels



Brandon in Suffolk is famous for being home to the world's largest gun flint industry. It was created in the 1790s because of the notoriously inconsistency of British Gun flints in both flint quality and workmanship skill.  Quickly it was to become the centre of the world gun flint manufacturing industry and the last surviving, the last Brandon knapper living on till the 1980s. Brandon produced the most and highest quality gunflints ever made. However while in hindsight its achievements look great in reality Brandon spent most of its history in a state of recession. Only formed in 1790s it was created for what unknown at the time would become last swansong of the gunflint, the Napoleonic Wars, and 1815 was the year it was to receive its last major orders. Following 1815 the dearth of wars and invention of the percussion cap were to render the industry in a permanent state of decline and poverty as increasingly fewer and further flung countries needed gunflints. Another problem with the industry was it was too efficient, adopting a manufacturing process derived from the French Method then the fastest and most efficient method of gunflint manufacture around, perhaps tripling its speed. The problem was huge numbers of flints could be produced quickly and by few knappers. For example and massive order of several million gunflints by Turkey for the Crimean War was fulfilled in just a week by a single workshop. This meant despite the Brandon gunflint workshops collaborating to keep prices artificially high, with low demand and high speed of manufacturer the price of gunflints declined for almost a century.

While being a gunflint knapper meant being in a dying industry, it was still a highly skilled craft and knappers being highly skilled craftsmen who had served a long apprenticeship from 8 years of age, as well as it being for many a family trade, were reluctant to seek alternative low skilled work in other fields. So instead tried to find alternative uses for their high skills. These included making novelties, jewellery, prehistoric replicas tinderboxes and even name plates from flint.

(Right) Novelties and Jewellery made by Brandon Knapper Bill Basham, skillwise they are equal to the very best from prehistory.

Gunflint knapping wasn't the only industry in Britain that used knapping and flint. The other was the flint building trade. A trade booming today, as it is increasing noted buildings built from modern materials 50 years ago are all but crumbling while flint buildings built up to 1000 years ago are as good as new and will easily see another millennia or two.

Knapping flint bricks like knapping gunflints or prehistoric replicas can be highly skilled work, the flint building industry using everything from crudely split flints to perfect knapped square blocks. The square blocks being especially difficult to make. However while it takes a lot of skill and many years experience to knap a perfect square brick this skill level falls well below the skills require to manufacture gunflints or the even more complex items Brandon knappers were making many sidelines such as flint letters, novelties and prehistoric replicas, so found themselves not only easily able to enter the top end of the building trade but surpass it.







(Above) In the first video we see modern day master knapper Eddie Fincken demonstrating how to make flint bricks including the extremely difficult square ones. In the second video we see a Brandon knapper making a square one too. Note the difference in techniques used in the two videos.

In the first video the knapper uses the flint building industry style of knapping, using a heavy masonry hammer, but in the second the Brandon knapper knaps the brick using a very light rapid moving gunflint hammer as if it were a gun flint. More importantly the Brandon knapper's style could easily be adapted to make shapes far more complex than simple squares.


Brandon knappers then came up with the idea of something much more complex than the building industry could produce and only they had the skills to make. They created elaborate decorative flint panels to decorate buildings with. The panels being made of flint were durable and weather proof,.

(Right) In 1902 this postcard was taken of Jack Carter (right) and of 7 elaborate flint panels made by his father William Carter. In 1972 these panels were donated to Brandon Library by the family and embedded in the wall.

The Panels embedded in Brandon Library Wall
The panels then were largely forgotten about, except by locals and in 2013 when the library closed the panels were almost destroyed in the demolition. However a local history group remembering they were there alerted the local council and they were safely removed.  The murals are currently being restored and reside at Brandon Country Park heritage project who are searching for a new local home for them.






The panels as they are now

Friday, 23 October 2015

Flint and Steel Firelighting: 400,000bc to the 21st Century

Westgate Museum
Being a bit of a pyromaniac, one neglected area of flint knapping that has always interested me is flint strike-a-lights. While the first archaeological evidence of steel strikers appears in Britain in the sixth century bc and much is written of them, many books published on the subject, a vibrant collectors market and museums exhibiting them, references to the equally important flint they struck are rare. However these flints are a lot older than the strikers, few steel striker collectors will realise how much older, and I think have a much more fascinating history.

No-one really knows when striking flint and iron to create sparks first started, the oldest date suggested so far is by Danish Archaeologists who in the paper "Flint and pyrite: making fire in the Stone Age - Stapert and Johansen" suggest flints dating from the Upper Palaeolithic in Holland and Scandinavia show signs of being strike-a-lights and if this is so it may mean spark based fire lighting pre-dates bow drills or any wood based techniques. They point out the earlier use of spark based technology makes more sense as it works in wet, humid and cold conditions unlike wood based ones, stones are much more durable and anthropologically speaking wherever native peoples have possessed both techniques they have usually preferred to use sparks over rubbing two sticks. However one of the problems though with tracing fire lighting in the stone age is a lack of evidence, which may be accounted for by a number of reasons, for example there being few dedicated flint strike-a-lights as an abundance of on-hand one time use sharp flakes existed and that flakes used as strike-a-lights after being blunted could then be knapped into something else as opposed to being discarded as they were in the metal ages.

Evidence is scant but a visual record of a small number prehistoric strike-a-lights from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and later have been found. For example the  Pitt Rivers Museum exhibits a 2000 year old set of iron pyrite and flint found in Cissbury Hillfort.  

For a strike a light to work the main attribute needed is it has to be sharp. This means even the crudest piece of flint struck from a core is suitable. However there are other attributes which may effect the portability, how long a life the strike-a-light has and also its suitability to be used certain iron strikers. For example a striker with more of the edge sharp will last longer than one with a small section sharp, also a large adhoc lump will be much more inconvenient to carry around than a neat well struck flake. In the Mesolithic or Palaeolothic eras a longer lasting lighter flake would have been easier to carry while on a hunting trip, however for people settled in one place larger short life piece are fine providing their is an adequate flint supply. 

In the first example pictured above, Mesolithic strike-a-lights show great similarity to scrapers. They are thick and durable and had a retouched edge, however are quite small in size. They are small, portable, have a large sharp surface area and are resharpen-able, they fit the bill as being ideal for a hunter gatherer to carry around. However the reason they have gone to all the trouble of knapping something this elaborate may go beyond ergonomics, and their design be necessary to work with the material they were designed to strike, most likely Marcasite. 


Top Left: Marcasite. Top Middle Marcasite broken in half
revealing iron core. Top Right: Iron Pyrite with large &
small Crystals. Bottom thick flint scraper ideal for use with
Marcasite & thin flake for use with iron pyrite,
The two Prehistoric iron rocks used for firelighting have quite different properties. Iron Pyrite is quite crumbly and cannot take a strong impact from the flint. Also the larger the crystals the weaker the Pyrite. With Pyrite availability being largely limited to the rock collectors market, most samples available have extremely large crystals and are poor for firelighting. This has lead several experimental archaeologists to fail at firelighting using this method and conclude Iron Pyrite is a poor material. However in my own experiments I found Pyrite with extremely small crystals to be much more durable and an easy material to get a spark from, especially using light weight sharp flakes. Marcasite on the other hand is quite tough and the iron core requires quite a powerful impact to generate a spark. This is complicated by the nugget being at the centre of the rock and being difficult to get at. For Marcasite scraper-like strike-a-lights are excellent as they are thick and strong, and also small so can be targeted at the iron core easily. I read of one experimenter who hafts the scraper onto a wooden stick to make something similar to a chisel and uses indirect percussion on it. This provides both extra power and accuracy. 

Neolithic examples found are more a mixed bag, some resembling the worked scrapers of the Mesolithic, others crudely worked ad hoc lumps and also unworked thin flakes. The fall in quality of some of the designs can be both explained by the change in demographics of knapping skills and a change of material needs. Knapping skills did not decrease in the Neolithic but did specialise. A need for fewer but more specialised knappers became the norm. The more elaborate Neolithic examples can be put down to the competent knappers and the cruder examples to the increasing number of people who lack complex knapping skills. Similarly the change in material needs in that fewer people would have been engaged in hunting and more people living a static pastoral lifestyle so the need for an ergonomic design to carry with you was not needed. 


Birka Settlement
The coming of the Iron-Age created revolutionary change in firelighting. It meant people were no-longer dependant on rocks as a source of iron. The introduction of striker meant an end to any kind of flint specialisation, any piece as long as it was sharp would work. The finds from the Birka Settlement in Sweden (8th to 10th Century) show examples of strike-a-lights from a post knapping age and are simply flakes struck from a nodule, the knapper demonstrating the understanding of how to set up a flint core so to be able to remove a simple flake. Whereas while a few of the  later Italian examples show a degree of skill put into, most are little more than hit and hope showing that any real competence at knapping had all but gone from medieval Italy. Though this may be localised as the English were building flint churches using bricks of quite astonishingly high knapping competence at the same time. 


Medieval Italy

In books that trace the history of gun flints it is told that the original gun flints were strike-a-lights and specialist gun flints then developed from there. Looking at it from the strike-a-light point of view it could be said from the moment the first strike-a-lights were used as gun flints, they went extinct as a technology. 

When flintlocks first appeared a renaissance in the skill of flint knapping was rekindled on large scale and expertise began to develop again. Quickly a new market for gun flints was seen, this being as high quality strike-a-light for those willing to pay. While being no better than any sharp piece of flint at firelighting they did however provide an aesthetically pleasing and highly compact option for gentlemen's pocket tinderboxes. However the crude hit and hope flakes continued in use among most people until this method of firelighitng became obsolete.

In 1859 with the discovery of the Antiquity of Man by John Evans and John Prestwick (that being the proof man is hundreds of thousands of years old, not 6000 as the Bible states) a flourishing of interest in flint tools followed. The tools had previously been regarded as peculiar freaks of nature but were now re-evaluated as being made by ancient man. Antiquarians began to seriously start looking into the tool production methods of prehistoric people and existing native populations around the world.  In a few short years the master knappers at Brandon in Suffolk the home of the world's gun flint industry expanded their repertoire to become competent in multiple forms of knapping.  It was there that the paths of gun flints and strike-a-light diverged and briefly they became separate entities again.

In the deep dark catacombs of the British Museum, hidden from the public gaze is the Fred Snare Set. One of the most talented knappers Brandon produced in its long history Mr Snare invented new knapping techniques and knapped a variety of things from works of art to the entirely functional, these included his novel design for a strike-a-light, he claimed it a superior design to any other around and better than using a gun flint. The strike-a-light itself was included in Brandon Tinderbox Sets sold to Gentlemen and almost  identical the earlier Mesolithic examples possessing the attributes of being small, durable, having a 360 degree sharp edge and being resharpen able. 


The Fred Snare Set at the British Museum.. 
Mr Snare's Strike-a-lights then are rare example of technology turning full circle and a return to a hunter gatherer design being considered superior. Strike-a-lights had started out needing to be specialised and required skill to produce because of the traits of the natural iron sulfide rocks they had to be used on. However this had become redundant with the invention of steel strikers. Also the settlement of people removed any ergonomic needs for professionally produced flint. Finally even the idea had then become extinct with the invention of a new technology gun flints, which were so aesthetically superior. 


Blade from Flint Blade Core
Today most traditional firelighters use fire steel and ad hoc pieces of flint. Short trips and modern backpacks mean small compact and resharpenable designs are not required and aesthetically pleasing gunflints are not a modern world trend. With this in mind it could be tempting to say the development of strike-a-lights is over, however with 400,000 year of twists and turns behind them this may be a little hasty. 

As a flint and steel firelighter myself over the years I have made Fred Snare Strike-a-Lights, used crude debitage chunks and perfect light flakes. I have found no real advantage in any, as long as they are sharp they all work. However I have developed a preference for blades from blade cores. These are light and have a large functional areas, though are not durable. They are also the best thing to use with Iron Pyrite being light and sharp and the ends work well with Marcasite. However in the spirit of Fred Snare I have made an attempt to take skilled strike-a-lights into the 21st century with the Pyromatic 1.1. 
Pyromatic 1.1

The Pyromatic 1.1 has a long straight light edge perfect for use with Iron Pyrite, it has a thick and small so targetable rounded edge for use with Marcasite. Also it is large enough to get a solid grip to provide a solid strike on the Marcasite, or insert the thinner straight edge into a wooded slot for indirect percussion. The Pyromatic 1.1 also has a 360 degree sharp edge for longevity, two long side edges specifically designed for steel strikers to protect the two rock striking edges top and bottom. The Pyromatic 1.1 is plano-convex to give superior sparking and make it sit flatly in any box, it is essential for any serious Bushcrafter and available at all fine stores this Christmas. 











Sunday, 13 September 2015

Chalk Lamps?

Carved Chalk Bowls found at Grimes Graves
How people in Neolithic and Bronze age Britain generated light is still a mystery, it is assumed the people used ceramic lamps fuelled by animal fat as their main source of light. There is good reason to make this assumption as stone lamps fuelled by animal fat go back as far as the Palaeolithic and continue in use till the 18th century changing from stone to pottery after its invention. Also they were the main form of light throughout most of antiquity and medieval times.

Palaeolithic Stone Lamp from La Mouthe, Dordogne
When the Neolithic Flint Mine Grimes Graves in Suffolk England was excavated 45 small bowl like objects made from chalk were discovered. They were found at different locations and in both Neolithic and Bronze age shafts (similar objects have also been found on Thanet in Kent and in Wiltshire). One explanation proposed for these bowls was that they were lamps used by the miners and as no other lighting source had been found, it seemed to answer the question of what light did the minors work by. However the interpretation from the moment it was made proved controversial. 

Wiltshire Chalk Bowl
An alternative theory was already in existence that miners worked by natural light which reflected down the shaft off the white flint walls. This though is contradicted by the 19th century flint miners working for the Brandon Gun Flint Industry in the same area, using similar shafts and techniques who did not use natural light, instead mining by candle light.  Other challenges to the vessel being lamps are based on manufacturing material, stating a chalk vessel would simply not make a good lamp.  However the interpretation of these chalk bowls as lamps was backed up in the 1980's when some cups under analyses showed to have residue of tallow in them. However as the cups showed no other sign of usage as lamps such as burn marks from the wick on the rim or charring, so the results of this analyses were disputed.

A second study conducted in 2011 which examined 11 of the 45 bowls contradicted the results, finding no residue of animal fat (but residue of Gum Arabic and other modern substances not around in the Neolithic/Bronze Age, suggesting the artefacts had been contaminated after they were found). This study concluded the bowls were most likely not lamps but did accept the possibility animal fat may not be present because it had not survived the millennia. The survey however did note the yellowing of the  chalk and may have been as a result of a burning flame inside turning the white flint yellow. The study also argued that these bowls  were of limited use as mining lamps as they would only have a burn time of around an hour.
Thanet Chalk Bowls
So I decided to conduct an experiment to see if I could add any information to the mystery myself. Not having the laboratory and chemical analyses capabilities of the previous two studies I decided to go in a different direction and conduct a prolonged usage test. If they were lamps they would have been in continual long term use, burning for hours on end for weeks or months. The question of whether they are capable of this and how they would stand up to prolonged use is unanswered.

I carved several lamps out of chalk pebbles found on my local beach. I used rendered pork fat which had set solid as the fuel and a vegetable fibre wick. I burnt each lamp for 6+ hours a day for a week making several analyses .

Burn Time and Refill
6mm Wick
The 2011 survey suggested they may not be suitable as lamps as the lamps only burn for around an hour. The first experiment I conducted was burn time. I used three sizes of wick and a 30mm x 20mm x 10mm piece of pork fat.  A 2mm wick burnt for around 3 hours, the output of light was that of a weak candle. For the second test I used a 4mm wick which reduced burning time to around 2 hours and produced the flame of a strong candle. Finally I used a 6mm wick which produced a strong flame, easily that of 3 or more strong candles but last no more than an hour.

2mm Wick
With the 2mm wick the pork fat around the flame turned to liquid but the rest stayed solid while it was burning. This was not the case with the thicker wick where all the fuel turned to liquid. This meant with the thin wick is had to be moved several times during the burn to stop it going out. With the other two wicks, the fuel ran to the wick and needed no maintenance once lit.

Result
The lamps with a thick enough wick provides an excellent source of light for 1-2 hours. That the fuel went to liquid made is more difficult to move the lamp but also made it very easy to add fuel to while burning. I must also disagree with the 2011 survey that it burns too shorter time to be a viable source of light as fuel can easily be added while burning..

Wick Position + Refill Test
Char marks from the wick on rim of bowl
In Palaeolithic lamps, wicks were positioned leaning on the side rim of the lamp, this left scorch highly visible scorch marks. The Neolithic chalk bowls show no such burn mark on the rim, which suggests they must have had central wicks. Central wicks are unnecessary as side wicks burn just as well and are more difficult to create as the tallow turns to liquid and they need to be propped in position. . Just why they would have gone to the trouble wick disposable seems strange.

Secondly with the lamps having a short burn time I wondered how easy it would be to add fuel to the lamps while burning. The answer to this is with a central wick it is impossible to add tallow to small burning lamp and extremely difficult to a large one. On the other hand it is relatively easy to refill a lamp with a side wick. This would suggest if used as lamp miners went to the inconvenience of letting lamps burn out and relighting them as the fuel burnt down rather than simply adding fuel. This could be explained by flames being readily available from other lamps. 

Result
Side wicks are easy to create, burn just as well and allow the lamp to be refilled without extinguishing. Central wick are more difficult to create inhibit the refilling of lamps. This test makes it seem unlikely they were lamps. 

Absorption and Leakage and Overheating
Lamp cut in half showing the pork fat absorbed all the way through
Flint is very porous and I did wonder if over prolonged usage the bowl would actually continue to contain all the liquid or it would be absorbed straight through the chalk leak out the bottom. After the first use of the lamp, there was no sign of absorption or leakage however this drastically changed. After the second use a small 15mm round moist patch of pork fat was visible at the bottom of the pot. Overnight this turned into a large patch covering half the bottom area and some of the sides. Within three days the bowl was completely discoloured by the pork fat, which had been absorbed throughout. This fat melted when the bowl warmed while in use. However the was no leakage of fat, the bowl restricted itself to be damp to the tough and leaving a stain on where it stood.

Another potential problem with usage as a lamp was how well does chalk absorb heat and how hot the chalk would get after the lamp had been lit for a while. The answer proved to be connected to fat absorption. The lamp proved cool for the first day's usage, the exterior temperature of the chalk was little effected by burning the lamp for several hours. However once the pork fat had been absorbed completely through the lamp this changed. The heat of the melted pork fat in the lamp was transmitted by the pork fat absorbed into the lamp the the pork fat on the exterior of the lamp. Temperature varied on different burnings, with weaker flames it was mildly warm to pick up, while with strong flames it could get quite hot, occasional it got hot enough that it was uncomfortable to how, but never painful or scalding. 

Result
A Bowl used for a week alongside and unused one to show discolouring
The porousness of the chalk doesn't seem to be a problem and the bowls hold the pork fat adequately enough for a mining environment. The exterior stays cool enough to make the lamps easily movable even after several hours of use. 

Discolouration
The final test was to test how much would prolonged usage would discolour the chalk and could it explain the yellow colouration of the bowls as suggested by the 2011 study. 

After a week's use, the absorption of animal fat in the lamp was so complete it changed the lamp colour from white to murky grey. Also redder heat marks appeared on the the bottom of the lamp which used the centre wick, this did not happen with the side wick. 

The question then has to be what happens to this discolouration over millennia? Tests on lamps in the 2011 survey found no traces of animals fat, this doesn't mean they were not used as lamps as it could simply suggest the fat did not survive, though one was orange perhaps from being exposed to heat perhaps consistent with the redder discolouration appearing at the bottom of the lamp. 

Having no complex equipment I simply took a week long discoloured lamp and left it to soak in a bowl of warm water and washing up liquid. After a few hours the liquid had dissolved the fat completely and the result was the chalk lamp returning to a pure white as if unused. 

Result
The test shows lack of discolouration can't be considered evidence of lack of use as a lamp. It all depends on the unknown factor of whether traces of pork fat can survive in chalk from Neolithic times. 

Bowls unused in test
Conclusion
So far no compelling evidence has emerged to prove if the chalk vessels were lamps of not. The 1980's study found animal fat residue in some of the vessels, but no scorch marks, however as this test shows, not finding marking on the lamps is not problematic. The 2011 test found no animal fat but only tested 1/4 of the vessels, and also it is unknown how well animal fat survives time. However did find evidence of modern day contamination which possibly make any positive result on the lamps invalid. 

This test has shown the bowls could be used as lamps, provide enough light and show little visible signs of being used as a lamp, providing the animal fat doesn't survive. However it also showed usage of lamps in this manner would not be very convenient for mining,  refilling would be awkward and burn times short. While living in the Far East at some animist shrines I saw small similarly sized vessels are available at the entrances. These are filled with tallow, lit and one can be taken in by a worshipper who places it on in front of the main image in the shrine, prays and leaves it there. As these vessels burn out the shrine priest collects the bowls and replaces them at the temple entrance for newly arriving worshippers to use. As these lamps are constantly reused, they go to all the trouble of having central wicks so to leave them pristine for next worshipper and are small as they only need to burn for a short period of time. At the moment research into the usage of chalk vessels is rather hampered by a dichotomy, mining lamps of not lamps. While I'm not suggesting the Far Eastern scenario is true for British chalk vessels it perhaps does show there is a whole world of other possibilities out there. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Prehistorics on TV

Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath, the BBC's new big budget comprehensive prehistory of our national monument has recently come out featuring much of my work. The documentary was filmed in flint free Austria, so all the flint items in the show had to be sent from Britain. 

The documentary is proving to be excellent, dayglo pink flint, Neolithic warfare and even a visit to Carnac being among the highlights. I could criticise the accuracy of the Mesolithic hunter gatherers using the Neolithic arrowheads I made or the footage of a Green Lo barbed and tanged I made being used at the Battle of Crickley Hill in the middle Neolithic, but that may be nit picking too much. Overall it's great work from the BBC whose archaeological output is usually so poor. Hopefully the show indicates a turning over of a new leaf in their production standards.


Monday, 6 October 2014

Beaker Daggers

Beaker Culture gets its name from the Bell Beaker Pottery that accompanied its spread across parts of Europe. However Beaker Culture wasn't just limited to a trade of ceramics, among other things a similarity in weapons, art and to some extent religion can be found in the places where Beaker Culture gained a foothold.

In Britain the Bell Beaker usage was short lived and the Beaker period is most associated with the construction of Stonehenge and the spreading of metallurgy. The period may also have been accompanied by some form of human migration such as foreign experts (metallurgists and potters) who arrived in Britain to sell and eventually teach their new fangled skills to the British. The most famous example being the Amesbury Archer whose grave was found near Stonehenge and seems to be a metallurgists from the Alps near Austria, who made his fortune in Britain.

Beaker Daggers 
Notched kite shaped Beaker Dagger, found in London
Prior to the Beaker period large knives did not exist in Britain. Knives seem mostly to have been functional cutting tools for making things and butchering with. The appearance of Beaker Period Daggers marks arguably the peak of British stone technology however the reason for their appearance remains illusive. Beaker Daggers are rarely found, which could suggest they were of extremely high value so few made. Alternatively the reason could be the problem of finding a suitably large and high quality piece of flint to make them from, which would only be available in limited parts of the country. Another reason for their rarity could simply be due to the difficulty of the manufacturing process, which would have required substantial practice by knappers wasting whole nodules of flint in each attempt to perfect the skill to make them, making them economically unviable. The daggers have been seen as an attempt by knappers to compete with the new metal technology, perhaps this competition was a futile exercise that never took off or they were something quite apart from the metal daggers and any comparison misguided.

Un-notched leaf Beaker Dagger found in London
Beaker Daggers ranged in size from 5" to 8" inches but 7" to 7.5" seems the be the preferred size. Many were leaf shaped, some reached maximum width near the middle while others were kite shaped. From about halfway down the flint was shaped into a tang for hafting. Tangs varied in width, some thinning a lot while other being nearly as wide as the blade. Some dagger were notched on the tang, to aid hafting, while others weren't. The diversity of shape and design of the daggers is quite wide and individual knappers put their own style on them.


When I began knapping ten years ago my ultimate aim was to be able to make Beakers Daggers. It was a long journey, perfecting my skills and learning to make a plethora of other (easier) things along the way, but Beaker Dagger were always the ultimate aim.

This is the second batch of commercial daggers I have made, last year's batch now sold out. All were made with copper except the second from left which was made with stone and antler.

I made this video I musing about the possible uses of the stone daggers.








Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Brandon Gun Flint Knapping

Some videos I made from old films and uploaded onto youtube. These show the last days of the Brandon gun flint industry. Brandon knappers were the last professional knappers in the world.


By the late 18th the main weaponry of all major European armies was the flintlock, keeping them firing depended on a large and reliable supply of gun flints being at hand at all times. Countries maintained large peacetime stockpiles of gun flints but these quickly dwindled during wartime and a large efficient industry was needed to maintain the supply to the troops. In doing this each European country was faced with unique problems, such as  flint supply, flint quality and manufacture method. Supply was a major headache for a country which had limited supply or no supply of flint as it would need to import from other countries, effecting the nation's foreign policy and leaving it open to embargo during wartime. Flint quality was a problem which could effect the troops on the battlefield and the outcome of battles if guns misfired. Finally manufacture method was important as nations at war would require millions of gunflints to be supplied each year for the duration of the war and if the production method was inefficient supplies could falter.

Prussia for example was a country with no flint, however it did have a limited number of agate mines. These mines were owned by the state and heavily guarded, attempts to remove agate from them by the public was a capital offence. The agate was worked slowly and inefficiently by grinding the agate with heavy stone wheels however the quality of gun flints when made was high. On the other hand France with abundant quantities of high quality flint relied on small artisan shops to make gunflints for them. They used a method known as the French Method which had managed to independently redevelop prehistoric blade core technology and was not only fast and efficient but produced the best quality gunflints in the world.

The British landscape so widely covered in flint had spawned a gunflint industry spread across half the country, frequently near ports or naval bases. English gunflints were often made from poor quality flint and by the slow and inefficient English Method. This was until 1792 when to improve the standards of British gun flint making the whole industry was moved to the small Suffolk town of Brandon, which was situated not far from Grimes Graves and near one of the highest quality mines in the world. In additional to having access to the best flint the English Method of knapping was abandoned and a modified French Method adopted. The modification of the French method was to use a square hammer and block instead of a round one in the final stages of production which allowed the production of three gun flints from a single flake instead of one, making the manufacture rate almost three times as fast as the French.

After the Napoleonic Wars thanks to flint quantity, quality and manufacture speed, Brandon was to gain a monopoly on the world's gun flint supply. However with the peace after 1815 and invention of the percussion cap in 1822, this monopoly was of small comfort as the industry spent the next century in perpetual decline and the life of a knapper one of poverty. In periods of peace the Knappers produced flint in such high quantities that the market was oversupplied and prices rock bottom. Even in times of war when one of the few countries still using gun flints would place an order, such as Turkey during the Crimean War, the production method was so efficient the several million flints in the order was met by just a single small workshop.

In the 1860s with the discovery by archaeology and geology of the 'Antiquity of Man', and the realisation that the stone objects being dug up out of the ground were not peculiar quirks of nature but man made tools, interest in Brandon and its ailing gunflint industry was revitalised. As archaeologists struggled to work out what stone objects dug from the ground were natural, what were man made and how they were made, Brandon provided the last professional flint workers in the world to help answer this question. Brandon for the next half century was to attract archaeologists, journalists, collectors, tourists and cranks in equal measure.

with the need for military gun flints all but exhausted by the late 19th century Brandon didn't die but instead adapted to modern times. Brandon Knappers constantly innovated new wares to sell such as prehistoric reproductions, creative new flint novelties devised by themselves such as jewelry, ornaments and decorations, one knapper even advertised in Australian newspapers offering to reproduce Aboriginal artefacts. They also found work from the construction industry producing flint bricks and wall facings. Brandon survived to the 20th century and the last Brandon knapper died in the 1980s continuing to make gun flints for black powder enthusiasts and reenactment groups till his death.