In the early 1700s, chalk mining begins on the site. Chalk is an important mineral and is used in the production of quicklime and in brickmaking. The mining process in chalk is relatively simple: a shaft is sunk through the overlaying material until the chalk is reached. After penetrating the chalk and, being careful to leave sufficient chalk to ensure a strong roof, tunnels or galleries are dug from the base of the shaft. These are initially to walking height and are as wide as the swing of the miner’s pick, with the shape of the roof carefully cut and trimmed to ensure a strong profile. We have lots of pick marks on our Cave walls.
After a while, side tunnels are cut at right angles to the main galleries that eventually join up to form large pillars of unworked chalk to support the ground above. This type of mining is known as ‘pillar and stall’ or ‘pillar and room’.
The workforce underground is quite small – just one person cutting out the chalk and another barrowing it to the shaft bottom. A point is therefore reached when it becomes too much effort to barrow the chalk from the remote working faces to the shaft. This is when the shaft is lowered and the floors of the tunnels are removed in a second ‘lift’ to a depth of around 4ft. The width of the passages is gradually widened and at the end of the tunnels it is usual to leave a small part of the original floor as a bench or platform in case it’s ever decided to extend the length of the tunnels.
Depending on how long the mine is in operation this process could be repeated several times. At the end of the mine’s working life the haulage shaft is sealed and all trace of the underground industry disappears.