THE COPROLITE INDUSTRY IN SPEETON, YORKSHIRE
The coastal area of Speeton provided quite a variety of economic activities in the 1860s when septaria, large nodules of stone washed out from the cliffs. They were collected from the beach and even dredged up from off shore and "transported by coasting vessels" for use in the cement industry. Another profitable industry was mining coprolites, phosphatic nodules which lay above the clay in the Neocomian beds and which were excavated from the cliff face, just east of Rancliff Ing, three quarters of a mile North of the village. (1" Geol. 1st Ed. XCV SE Scarborough 1881) When this industry started is unknown but probably in the early 1860s.
"...timbered adits are driven into the cliff at points below the outcrop of the cement bed. (Where they meet the bed) galleries are driven in every direction in the bed itself, the material and refuse being carried out in small wagons running on tramways which are laid down in the adits. The stone is usually conveyed by train to Hull by railway."
(Judd,J. Proc.Geol.Soc.v.1868 p.250)
The paper, dated 22nd January 1868, went on to describe how a bed of coprolites was exploited when a seam was exposed after a landslip.
"The "Coprolite bed" at Speeton was first discovered on the shore when the sand and shingle had been removed by a storm, and afterwards traced up into the cliff. It is now worked by adits but, as it only averages 5" in thickness, this expensive mode of working is found to be scarcely remunerative and is likely to be soon abandoned. About 500 tons of "coprolites" are annually exported from Speeton Cliffs. They consist of very dark-coloured almost black stone, containing much pyrites, and mingled with worn casts of shells. Sample tolerably free of the investing clay yield from 57 - 61% of phosphates."
Exploiting the septaria, coprolites and also the available clay deposits for brickmaking allowed the lessee, Mr. E. Hunter, to make considerable sums before the seams became uneconomic. Whether the coprolites were sent for manufacturing into artificial manures at nearby Hull is uncertain but there were 80 manure manufactories in Great Britain in the 1870s, mostly at the ports.