Humble flints, or Sussex Diamonds
In the South Downs’ chalk based soil, flints are never far from the surface. They are quartz-like, hard and when broken have sharp edges. Being easy to chip, or to knap, they have been used throughout history as spear tips, blades of all kinds, saws, scrapers for hides and of course as building material. Originally flints were specially mined, so in demand were they. Nowadays they are turned up by ploughs on South Downs fields, doubtless cursed by the farmer and left at the edge of the field so as to be out of the way. On any walk on cultivated high ground around here you will find examples.
They have always been collected by builders and used in buildings. Wherever there is chalk in the geology, flint walls will be in abundance. Many of Seaford’s walls and buildings consist of flints, or flints and rubble called bungaroush, the flints in this case being field flints used directly. This is the least expensive way of using the material as the only costs are likely to be (maybe) a goodwill fee to the farmer, transport and the building process.
If there is money to spare or if a particularly attractive effect is wanted – or both – flints knapped into two or more reasoably sized chunks, each with a flat face, were used. This meant that workmen, maybe unfit for ‘real’ building work and pooly paid, would sit with a knapping hammer and knap away to great detriment to skin and eyes.
They would produce, in great quantity, stones like those pictured which, in a wall, arguably appear elegant whatever the lighting or the weather.
Given time, money – a great deal of it – and the need to be as impressive as possible whilst building in the local idiom, the flints could be squared off to a regular size and shape. This produces a very attractive finish indeed.
Seaford has four types of flint wall, five if you count bungaroush whose use is just about everywhere. Field flint occurs in the more wealthy buildings, such as the walls of the Crouch Gardens, and better work is on Blacksmith’s Cottage in Crouch Lane. Knapped flint is on the Almshouses in Croft Lane and on the Baptist Church in Sutton Park Road (the one with the odd spire on the A259). There is one application of squared flint: the upper storey of Pitt House on the corner of Broad Street and High Street.
The fourth? Did you knock on the flints of the Old House and the Old Boot pub and hear the difference? The Old Boot’s flints are actually fibreglass!
If flint work fascinates you, have a look at this website.