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Globe Pit SSSI, GRAYS, Thurrock District, TQ625783, Site of Special Scientific Interest
Site category: Palaeolithic site
Site of Special Scientific Interest designated for the importance of its geology.
Globe Pit in Whitehall Lane is situated to the south east of Grays town centre at Little Thurrock. Originally known as Globe Works, this old brickfield was possibly the last brickworks in Grays to close, probably around 1906. At some time it was extended and became a chalk quarry and after the First World War the old quarry floor was used as an industrial estate. The site was later used for the manufacture of concrete blocks and became known as Celcon Works. It is of geological importance because of the occurrence, on the eastern side of the pit, of Corbets Tey Lower Gravel containing abundant Palaeolithic flint tools, above which is a brickearth that was formerly very fossiliferous. The gravel and the brickearth were deposited by the River Thames (the Lynch Hill terrace) when it flowed through here about 350,000 years ago.
These Thames deposits sit on top of the Thanet Sand which in turn lies on top of the Chalk which is exposed on the floor of the quarry. The report of a visit by the Geologists’ Association to Globe Pit in September 1959 records the finding of a large sarsen stone, described as ‘six feet long and four feet wide’ at the southern end of the pit. This stone can now be seen in the grounds of the library and museum in Orsett Road (see entry under Thurrock Museum).
The flint tools in the gravel are known as ‘Clactonian’ and represent an industry that was first recognised in the cliffs at Clacton and that is based on flint flakes and cores rather than hand-axes. The occurrence of these worked flint flakes at Globe Pit, which were very numerous (up to 60 per cubic metre) and mostly in sharp or mint condition, has been the subject of considerable interest and controversy for many years. This is because Clactonian tools were considered to be ‘primitive’ and therefore earlier than the more ‘advanced’ industries that produced hand-axes but the position of the Globe Pit gravel in the terrace sequence meant that it was clearly younger than other gravels that contained hand-axes (e.g. Swanscombe in Kent). As a result of the evidence from Globe Pit we now know that the Clactonian flint knap-ping tradition is not restricted to a particular period of time and the early humans that embraced this method of working flint must have colonised Britain from continental Europe several times, and were followed on each occasion by humans from other parts of Europe with different traditions.
Globe Pit is also important because the brickearth is virtually all that remains of the celebrated ‘Grays brickearth’ which was extensively dug between here and Grays station during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the manufacture of bricks (see separate site entry). The Grays brickearth, a fine grained silt containing fossil shells, was a rich source of spectacular Ice Age fossil mammals due to the pits being worked by hand. Surviving remnants of this deposit are valuable as no modern stud-ies of its small vertebrate fossils has ever been carried out, studies which could yield much information about the fauna and climate of this little understood period of the Ice Age.
Globe Pit was first notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1953 and the al-ready finite deposits were therefore given the highest level of statutory protection. Remarkably, this has made little difference and the subsequent history of this site is not a happy one. By 1980 the company occupying the quarry floor had cut back the sections to increase their storage space which resulted in the complete destruction of the remaining fossiliferous brickearth; the work being carried out without reference to the Nature Conservancy (now Natural England) despite the SSSI status. A ‘feather edge’ of sterile brickearth is all that now survives above the gravel. The situation has been made worse in recent years when housing was constructed on the quarry floor with insufficient space left between the private gardens and the quarry face to allow visual and physical access to the sections, a situation created by a lack of consultation between the planning authority and Natural England.
Despite its history Globe Pit remains an important site and there is still some scope for limited excavation of the tiny reserve of implement-yielding gravel. There is no access to the site for casual visitors but visits are sometimes arranged for organised groups.
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Reference: Bridgland 1994 (p.228-237), Bridgland et al. 2003, Bridgland & Harding 1993, Hart 1960, Prosser et al. 2006 (p. 110-111), Stringer 2006.
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