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The 1838 Ordnance Survey map showed a number of crag and clay pits in the area. They were worked to provide road filling material for the parish but, because of the phosphatic content of the shelly crag, they were also used by local farmers as fertiliser. At the base of the Crag was a bed of coprolites, phosphatic nodules, which from the mid-1840s were much in demand by manure manufacturers for making chemical fertilisers. This led to these “coprolites” being extracted on a large scale. Butley was one of nine villages listed as exporting coprolites in 1858 but the trade directory for that year only reported there being “several crag pits” in the parish. (Mem.Geol.Surv.Mineral Statistics,HMSO.1860,p375; Kelly’s Directory, 1858)


Evidence has emerged which showed that the major landowner in the area, Lord Rendlesham, over the winter of 1857 - 58, had made arrangements with his tenant, Thomas Crisp, to have them raised. It is not certain but it seemed that between 1857 and 1860 there were two coprolite contractors involved, who probably employed Crisp’s labourers. By 1858 one pit had realised 75 tons which were sold to William Colchester, one of Ipswich’s manure merchants, for £2.25 a ton. Another pit in “Bush Covers” produced 101 tons. The labour costs at the two pits were very different, perhaps due to the depth of the seam, £0.85 a ton at the first pit and £2.20 a ton in Bush Covers. This gave Rendlesham an annual profit of almost £200, quite a handsome return for an almost minimal investment.


The following year a Mr. Button was paid £7.00 for sinking another coprolite pit. He may well have been one of the contrtactors referred to earlier; the other was a Mr. Lucock, who, by 1860, had raised another 49 tons. Prices then had dropped to £1.50 a ton by that time so, a profit of only £0.025 per ton was not quite so remunerative. After the costs for “skeps, new seives, wheelbarrows and carting” were deducted, the profits were well down but it is not certain when these pits were exhausted. It appears that Mr. Lucock could have been the same John Lucock who in the 1851 census for Capel St. Andrew was described as a farmer employing “4 labourers after coprolite.” (SCRO.HB416.F.2 pp13,31,91,127,153; See author’s account of Boyton)


Although no one described themselves as coprolite labourers in the 1861 census, Thomas Crisp, aged 50, was described as “Farmer of 3,700 acres employing 58 labourers, 2 millers, 10 shepherds, 28 women and children and 31 boys,” some of whom would have been involved in the coprolite work. Several geological papers referred to the coprolite works, the earliest in 1868 stated that “a shallow pit now worked between Butley Abbey and Butley.” (Prestwich, J. (1871),‘Structure of the Red Crag,’ Q.J.G.S. p.326) A few years later there was another on Neutral Farm, near Butley Oyster Inn, 300 feet in length and 35 feet at the deepest. (Johnson-Sollas,W. (1872), ‘Upper Greensand Formation of Cambs.’ Q.J.G.S. p.402; Taylor,J.E., Geol.Mag.July,18..)


In 1881, however, there was map evidence, shown on page .., for considerable coprolite workings in a field just east of Coulton Farm in Butley Low Corner. (25” Suffolk 1881, 68.16.) A mile to the east was also a large crag pit, half a mile southsouthwest of Church Farm, Chillesford, where workings would also have been likely. The geological map, shown on page .. , also locates these and other workings in the area.


In the June of 1881 500 tons of Butley coprolites were purchased from A. Forbes by Lawes Chemical Manure Company of London. Whether he was the local landowner, farmer or a coprolite agent is uncertain but he was paid £1.65 per ton for them, considerably lower than the £2.35 paid for other Suffolk coprolites later in the year. (Valence House Museum, Dagenham, Lawes Chemical Manure Co. Minute Book, 21st June,29th August,1881) Although no records have come to light to show Ipswich manure manufacturers made coprolite purchases the trade directory indicates the work continued until the mid-1880s. By this time only Bedfordshire coprolites were being purchased by Lawes’ company at prices falling from £1.40 per ton in 1883 to £0.95 in 1888. (Ibid. 14th August,1883, 7th December, 1888; Kelly’s Directory,1883)