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.





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