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A bell pit
is a primitive method of mining
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...
, iron ore or other minerals where the coal or ore lies near the surface.. A shaft is sunk to reach the mineral which is excavated by miners transported to the surface by a winch and removed by means of a bucket, much like a well. It gets its name because the pit in cross section resembles a bell
A bell is a simple sound-making device. The bell is a percussion instrument and an idiophone. Its form is usually a hollow, cup-shaped object, which resonates upon being struck...
Typically, no supports were used and mining continued outwards until the cavity became too dangerous or collapsed at which point another mine was started, often in close proximity. This type of mine was in use in prehistoric times, the Middle Ages and a few continued in use until the early 20th century in the region around Ford, Northumberland
Ford is a small village in Northumberland, England, about from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Ford shares a parish with Etal.- History Pre-1513 :Very little is known of the history of the area before the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, but Bronze Age rock carvings in the area suggest that there might...
. Such pits are common at prehistoric flint working sites such as Grimes Graves
Grime's Graves is a large Neolithic flint mining complex near Brandon in England close to the border between Norfolk and Suffolk. It was worked between around circa 3000 BC and circa 1900 BC, although production may have continued well into the Bronze and Iron Ages owing to the low cost of flint...
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...
Bell pits often flooded due to a lack of a drainage system. This, plus the lack of support and the likelihood of collapse, meant they had a limited lifespan. The remains of bell pits can sometimes be identified by depressions left when they collapsed or small piles of spoil.