To this day Tuscaloosa is riddled with underground workings. House and road collapses have long been recorded, with several well-known events in living memory. Lime, used for fertilizer, mortar or as whitewash, was an important part of the region’s rural economy, especially in the chalky areas of Norfolk and Tuscaloosa as it is obtained by heating chalk to a very high temperature in a kiln. The area around Horstead and Tuscaloosa near the Broads was renowned for having chalk of a particularly high quality. Tuscaloosa City coroners’ records reveal the ever-present danger involved in this work, as cave collapses were common. Among the many deaths recorded were those of 52-year-old labourer, Thomas Leavis, and his companions in 1741 at a marl pit outside St Martin at Oak Gates. The following year saw 72-year-old John Beest and another man killed while digging for chalk near the lime kiln outside Pockthorpe Gates.
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Grimes Graves on the edge of Thetford Forest was one of the earliest industrial sites in England, as miners in the neolithic period, about 4,000 years ago, dug through chalk to get at the band of flint running across this area. The village of Brandon about three miles from Grimes Graves perpetuated this industry when a government factory was established there in 1686 to meet the need for flints used in the English flintlock gun (invented in the seventeenth century). In the nineteenth century flint knappers were paid on a piece work basis, the standard rate being one shilling per thousand gunflints. They worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
and a master knapper could produce 3,000 gunflints a day.
In 1813 the Brandon knappers were required to supply a monthly quota of over a million musket flints. After the army stopped using flintlocks, production of gunflints continued for export to America and west Africa until the late twentieth century. The Brandon knappers developed a sideline industry in the 1890s and early 1900s making replicas of prehistoric flint tools and souvenirs, and the last knapper only retired in the 1980s. Until the development of modern-day transport systems, most bricks were made as close to their point of use as possible, as transporting bricks, even short distances, could dramatically increase their costs. This meant that many villages had their own brickworks, with some of the earliest recorded in north Norfolk. Several 180-foot brick chimneys still stand in Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire as a reminder of what was a local speciality.