Flint Walls

Walk around Sussex, and Yapton in particular, and you’ll see many walls made from flint. But it’s not just garden walls - St. Mary’s Church and the Congregational Chapel building have significant flint walls as do many private houses. Prior to the 1920s, bricks were in short supply (and therefore expensive) so many houses were built with flint to save money. But what is ‘flint’?

Don’t tell your insurance company but 140 million years ago Yapton was flooded. Big time. ln fact the whole of Sussex was under water to a depth of 200 metres! The climate was also warmer than today and sponges and other marine life thrived in this shallow sea. When these sponges died they dissolved and formed a ‘gel’ which hardened into the microscopic quartz crystals which constitute flint. Irregular shaped pockets and spaces in the chalky sea bed filled with gel to form the knobbly nodules of flint we see today.

lt is a hard rock which is resistant to weathering and freely available in the fields around here (as many gardeners will confirm!) and therefore much favoured as a building material. Walls of flint were constructed, in much the same way as brick walls, using a lime-based mortar (never use cement unless you want the wall to fall down).

But not all flint walls are the same. Look closely at the ones in our village and you'll see three main types: those composed of irregular shaped flints which are the cheapest (e.g. St. Mary’s walls); those made from regular shaped cobbles (e.g. most walls fronting the road); and those showing decorative ‘knapped’ faces which are the most expensive (e.g. St. Mary’s buttresses).

Look closely and you can occasionally see fossils in the lumps of flint and you can find a few examples in some of the walls in Yapton.

Fossil in flint wall

As with most things in Sussex, folklore also plays a part. Flint comes in many shapes and sizes including pipes, funnels and ring doughnuts. Small pieces with natural holes through them were threaded on a string and hung on a bed-post or worn round the neck to guard against witches and the ‘evil eye’. These are known as ‘hag-stones’ and they may also be attached to a horse’s collar as a charm against disease and to prevent witches riding the horses at night!

Geoff Westcott
October 2007

(Originally published in Yapton News & Views, November 2007)

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