Although there is no evidence from local sources, the earliest reference to the coprolite workings was in 1864. It was the trade directory for 1874 that first showed the workings had taken place in the parish. It stated that, “Coprolites have been extensively raised in the parish during the last ten years.” (White’s Directory 1874)
There was also evidence for workings in nearby Shotley, Harkstead and Woolverstone but again, little from local sources has emerged to indicate who was responsible. The census returns for the period gave no reference to anyone involved in 1871 but, as happened in many villages, the landowners often allowed their tenant farmers to use their own farm labourers to work the fossils. Tenants paid a royalty for each ton raised or for each acre worked. Evidence from other villages shows that many of those involved saw themselves simply as “labourers” as did not distinguish whether they were working coprolites or farm land.
Two local farmers who advertised in 1874 may well have been involved. Walter Wrinch worked Ness Farm and Jack Hempson farmed Erwarton Hall and also advertised as a maltster of Ipswich. The profits from selling the coprolites to the manure manufacturers in Ipswich and elsewhere were so considerable it was rare for local landowners to ignore what was then a valuable mineral deposit. A particular advantage was the proximity of the area to the coast enabling barges and lighters to load very easily at the shoreline.
Contemporary maps show there
were several spots in Erwarton where, as has been
suggested, the coprolites were worked during the 1870s. As the Crag outcropped
along a line just up from the estuary and the nodules were found at its base,
there is the strong likelihood they were worked all along the slopes. A
geological paper on the area showed that they were worked at pits just west of
South Hall and a third of a mile southeast of Erwarton
Hall. (Whitaker, (1885), ‘Geology of Ipswich Etc,’p.48.)
There was a “Coprolite Pit” marked on
the first 25” map of the area about half a mile south of Lower Houses, which
can be seen on the map on page ...(25”