Ely High School 1905-1972 - Grimes Graves Visit, 24 May 1956

This is one of those trips that probably took place regularly as part of the curriculum: this account comes from the July 1956 Ely High School magazine.

A Trip to Grimes' Graves.

On May 24th all the Lower Thirds went to Grimes' Graves, which is where there are many old flint mines. Flint was mined there by the Stone Age men about two thousand years BC. We travelled in two coaches with three mistresses and some prefects. The journey took quite a long while, and most of us were glad to be out in the fresh air when we arrived at Grimes' Graves.

The country around was rather bumpy with tufts of coarse dry grass everywhere. To one side of us was a belt of pine trees which stretched away in front of us. Now that we were out of the coaches we began to walk up a track until a mistress ordered us to stop in front of the little yellow hut before us.

Out of the hut stepped the curator. He was a tall, elderly gentleman with a white moustache and white hair. The curator led us up a hill till we came to the first mine. The mine looked like a large concrete circle. On the circle was a metal door which led down thirty feet.

We passed that one and a short distance away was another one. This also had a metal door. The curator unlocked the door and opened it. All that I could see was a square of darkness. Miss Grove stepped down through the opening onto an iron ladder. When she was at the bottom a girl went down, and then more and more vanished into the gloom of the mine. We above could hear the excited murmurs of the girls below. As I moved closer to the door I could see the lights shining up like golden stars and dim figures moving about below me. Then it was my turn to go down the ladder.

We all shone our torches round the mine and looked through them. All the walls about us seemed to be of chalk slabs; only a few pieces of flint could be seen.

Miss Grove told us that the Stone Age men got down the mine by ladders made of leather, or possibly by ropes. We were also told that the miners must have been very small people, because the tunnels are low and quite narrow as we soon found out when we crawled through one.

The tunnel was very chalky and damp. At the sides were stacks of chalk which narrowed the tunnel. At one place we all had to lie on our stomachs and wriggle, holding our torches in one hand and pushing along with the other. Many of us banged our heads on the roof of the tunnel as it got lower and lower but we did not mind. A few of us explored other tunnels, crawling over big lumps of chalk looking for bits of flint. I found a nice sharp piece near to the ground.

Miss Grove told us that it was time to go out of the mine and we climbed up the ladder onto the earth.

Then we went to look at the first mine. We were not allowed down it because it was dangerous. Mrs Staniforth went down with the prefects to look at the altar that had been found there, just as the Stone Age men had left it. On it were antler picks and other tools that had been used for mining. The curator said that a statue of a god had been found on a ledge, and that the early men prayed to it for better flint, which they did not get. We were able to watch Mrs Staniforth and the prefects in the mine by looking through glass panes in a large piece of wood which was fixed in the concrete circle.

We were then taken to the curator's cabin. The curator showed a collection of ancient relics. Among them were two flint arrowheads, and some antler picks which were now easy to break, but long ago had been as hard as steel. A little chalk lamp was passed round. The early men used to fill it with animal oil and then a wick was floated in it. The wick was lit by two pieces of flint being struck together, making a spark. Other things that we saw were three large stones. One was flint from the roof, one from the floor and the other was a wall stone. The floor stone was the best bit of flint. Another stone we looked at was used for heating water, it was very heavy and not flint.

Then, after seeing a few more things we ate our lunch and played on the grass. A little while later we walked back to the coaches with the Mistresses and prefects, who counted us to make sure nobody was missing. Then it was back to school, after a very interesting and enjoyable day.


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