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Coprolites were worked in the Felixstowe and Bawdsey area from the mid-1840s as a raw material in the manufacture of artificial manures. High in phosphate their value was in their conversion using sulphuric acid into superphosphate - the first artificial chemical manure. The earliest evidence of them been worked in Alderton was not until 1858. The Lord of the Manor, Lord Rendlesham, arranged to have them raised from one of his farms tenanted by Mr. Hiller. His records reveal that sixty two and a half tons were dug over the winter of that year with labour costs of eighteen shillings (£0.90) a ton. They were worked from pits on his farms  in other parishes where, possibly in regards to the depth of the pits, costs ranged from fifteen to forty shillings (£0.75 to £2.00) a ton. As well as bills from the carpenters, Messrs. Fairhead and Read, presumably for sheds, planks, tools and other work, there were bills for sieves, chains and “coprolite skeps.” These would have been used to carry the nodules. Total costs were £67.00 but the accounts did not detail how much they were sold for nor for how long the work continued.


Manure manufacturers in Ipswich at that time were paying up to fifty shillings (£2.50)  a ton which would have realised a potential profit of well over £100 for Lord Rendlesham. There was a note that in 1859 the parish trustees rated the coprolite land at a half yearly payment of thirty-two shillings and sixpence (£1.63). (Suffolk County Record Office (SCRO.) HB416/F.2 pp.31,81,91) This would have contributed to the payment of Poor Relief to the less well of members of the parish.


There is the likelihood other farms in the parish were worked but evidence for this has not emerged. There has been a suggestion that the vicar of Alderton arranged to have the coprolites dug when the seam was found they extended onto his glebe but documentation has not emerged to confirm the . (Conversation with Colin Maycock, Chesterfield Lodge,Boyton)


Analysis of census data revealed no indication that any locals described themselves as involved in the diggings but the article below hints at why this was the case. Again whether the diggings were continuous from the late 1850s is uncertain but the local trade directory for 1885 included references to it being,


a department of industry which is now employing a good deal of capital as well as labour... There are extensive beds of coprolites in Suffolk, chiefly at Kirton, Trimley, Felixstowe, Bawdsey, Alderton and other places in the Colneis and Witchford Hundreds... Immense quantities are raised in Colnei Hundred. Whole fields have been regularly turned over, sometimes to the depth of 30 or 40 feet. It is usually undertaken by the tenant, who pays a royalty to the landlord of so much per ton. The work is carried on with more or less vigour, according to the season when labour is scarce or plentiful. The surface soil is carefully preserved at top, so that the land from which the coprolite has been taken is not materially damaged. The tenant sells and carts to the nearest town or wharf at such times as his horses are most at liberty. The depression in agriculture has caused a corresponding slackness in the manufacture of of artificial manures and the raw material which the coprolite furnishes has not now a very ready sale.”


 (White’s Directory, Suffolk, 1885)


How long the operation continued for in Alderton is uncertain but most of the Suffolk workings had ceased by 1894 when imports of foreign phosphates had reduced demand for the local supplies.