Although there had been a profitable clay industry in the area since the 17th century a new extractive occupation developed in Capel St. Andrew by the 1850’s. Coprolites had been worked from Mr. May’s fields on the northern slopes of the Tang in 1850 but whether they had been worked earlier than that in Capel is not known.
According to the 1851 census there were diggings further along the slope from May’s Farm towards Stonebridge Marshes. 57 year old John Lucock was described as “a farmer of 31 acres employing 1 labour, employing 4 labours after coprolite” and James Stebbing, aged forty eight, farmed 64 acres with “2 labours & son & 2 labours after coprolite.” (1851 census) How much they raised and what arrangements they had made with coprolite merchants remains unknown. By 1857 one of the largest Suffolk landowners, Lord Rendlesham, who owned 1,760 acres of this parish, allowed John Lucock to raise them from his estate. Over that winter he raised 75 tons and sold them to the manure manufacturer, William Colchester, at £2.00 a ton. As his labour costs were only £1.00 a ton, it brought quite a reasonable profit of £75.00 The following year Lucock’s costs went up to £1.25 a ton but production fell to only 60 tons which led to a reduced profit of only £45. Although this was the equivalent of about two farm labourers’ annual income it would have been a welcome addition to the farm income.
There was no indication this particular operation continued into the 1860s but the drop in prices to only £1.50 a ton may well have deterred further involvement. Records show that over the 1859-60 winter, Lucock was working over in Butley, again on Lord Rendlesham’s estates. The tenant there, Thomas Crisp, was engaged in his own workings so Rendlesham had brought in Lucock and another contractor to work the deposit there. (SCRO.HB416/F.2 pp.13,31,63,127,153; see author’s accounts of Butley and Boyton)
Another contractor, Alfred Chambers, advertised in the Post Office Directory for 1883 as a “coprolite raiser.” Between the year 1859 and 1876 he engaged the services of the blacksmith at Boyton for “shoeing, axles, tools, housing, repair, traps”. He paid £21 over this period and according to the records he was “one of the worst payers.” Where he was working is not documented. (Story, Brian, “The Accounts of a Suffolk Village Blacksmith 1859 -1881”, The Journal of the Tool and Trade History Society, p.63)
The map on page .. showed the location of the workings in the area. Although no further documentation of the Capel diggings has come to light, it is known that they were worked in Boyton until the mid-1880s. It is quite possible men from the parish walked down to the marshes to work them. It is uncertain whether Mr. Lucock purchased land using his profits from his involvement but the 1871 census showed that, aged 77, he farmed an extra two acres still employing five labourers. Mr. Stebbing, aged 68, similarly had a further eight acres yet still employed four men.