Grimes Graves: DOE Guide


I have noted before the Young People’s Guide to Grime’s Graves by Barbara Green (MPBW, 1964). This was adapted in 1984 by the Department of the Environment with a rather striking cover (designed by William Brouard). Note that Grime’s Graves has now become Grimes Graves, and the young people’s guide has been dropped.

Additions include a map inside the front cover along with a revised version of ‘how to get there’. The Alan Sorrell reconstructions have also been dropped. The plan of Pit no. 1 has been re-orientated so that north is at the top. The general plan of the site shows that the custodian’s hut was moved from the site of the car-park to a point closer to Pit 1.


Grime’s Graves: Young People’s Guide


The neolithic mines at Grime’s Graves are in the care of English Heritage. Barbara Green prepared the Young People’s Guide to Grime’s Graves (1964), in parallel to the souvenir guide to the site. The cover is by Alan Sorrell, and the guide was printed by Brown Knight & Truscott Ltd., London and Tonbridge.

The guide poses a two questions before addressing wider questions:

  • why were the mines dug?
  • what was the flint used for?
  • mining at Grime’s Graves
  • Exploring the mines (‘… it is often necessary to wriggle on one’s stomach’).

There is little in the text to make it more accessible for the younger visitor.

Inside the cover is a note: ‘Visitors wishing to crawl along the galleries are advised to wear old clothes and take an electric torch’. Those galleries are now closed to the public.

My copy was a handwritten note of the opening times on the back cover. The site was open until 7.00 pm from May to September (5.30 pm, March, April, October; 4.00 pm, November – February).

Celebrations at Grime’s Graves


World’s First Twinned Archaeological Sites

Grime’s Graves © David Gill

Last night (14 July 2016) we attended a ceremony to celebrate the World’s First Twinned Archaeological Sites: Grime’s Graves in Norfolk and the Hoshikuso Obsidian Mines in Japan. There was a warm welcome from the Mayor of Thetford.

Grime’s Graves © David Gill

We were given a tour of one of the pits, and then a walk round part of the site to Canon Greenwell’s Pit (not open to the public).

Grime’s Graves, Canon Greenwell’s Pit © David Gill

This was followed by speeches, and a signing ceremony between the two archaeological sites.

Grime’s Graves © David Gill
Grime’s Graves © David Gill

The party of Obsidian Ambassadors then sang to us, followed by further music suited to a perfect summer evening.

Grime’s Graves © David Gill

Guides to Grime’s Graves

Grime's Graves
DOE Reprint 1975 (1963)

The first Ministry of Works guide to the neolithic mines at Grime’s Graves in Norfolk was replaced by an illustrated guide in 1963. (This copy is the 1975 Department of the Environment reprint.) It was written by Roy Rainbird Clarke (1914-63), the Director of the City of Norwich Museums, and son of one of the founders of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia.

Clarke’s guide has key sections: The Exploration of the Site; The Flint-mining Industry; Mining Technique; The Miners; The Axe Trade; After the Neolithic Period; there is a short description of the site essentially describing Pit 1. There is a fold-out card plan inside the back cover. (Note that the Custodian’s hut was in a slightly different location.)

The guide includes several reconstructions by Alan Sorrell: a ‘section’ through one of the pits showing how flint was quarried (p. 2); ‘How the miners extracted flint’ (pp. 16-17); ‘ritual ceremony among prehistoric flint-miners’ (p. 20); three views of ‘why the flint was mined’ (p. 25). One of them is clearly dated 1963 so presumably they were commissioned for the guide.

The format of the guide makes it contemporary with the illustrated guide to Stonehenge and Avebury, as well as for the Edwardian castles in Wales, and monasteries in Yorkshire.

Grime's Graves

The latest guide is by Peter Topping. The tour includes ‘Setting and landscape’ with an image of a stone curlew that sometimes nest at the site. There is a useful section on ‘Flint and its formation’. Those interested in the post-neolithic use of the site will find discussion (and reconstruction) of Grimshoe Mound  dating to the late Saxon period, and foxholes made by the Home Guard in World War 2.

Descend into England’s Story

Grimes Graves
Galleries at the bottom of Pit 1 at Grimes Graves (2015) © David Gill

The Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves must be one of the most unusual prehistoric sites in the care of English Heritage. Hard hats are worn for a steep climb into one of the pits where it is possible to look into the excavated galleries. Above ground the site is pock-marked with pits that are now covered in.

The heath is a wonderful place for wildlife: woodpecker, kite, larks and a range of butterflies were out enjoying the May sunshine.

Grimes Graves
Grimes Graves (2015)
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