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RAMSHOLT, SUFFOLK

 

The earliest suggestion of the coprolites being worked in Ramsholt was in 1851 when the village was visited by a group from the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BSAS). They had visited William Colchester's coprolite factory in Harwich where they observed the processes involved in the grinding the fossils to a powder. They saw them being dissolved in sulphuric acid and the eventual production of superphosphate. After a trip on the steamer "River Queen" to Felixstowe they alighted at Ramsholt, to see the fossils being raised and to have the possibility of purchasing any interesting specimens.

"The coprolite was found in adjacent coasts, and there was a large stock of it at the mill. Many specimens of sharks' teeth, crabs, and other fossils were found in the coprolite and they were presented to the visitors."

(Proceedings of the BSAS.(1851),Ipswich)

 

Whether Mr Colchester had made arrangements for them to be raised with one of the local landowners is not known. It was not until 1857 that actual evidence of an agreement emerged. One of the largest landowners in the Eastern Counties, Lord Rendlesham, arranged to have the coprolites raised from part of his 578 acre holding in the parish. They were worked from fields, farmed by Charles French, where they were found below the Suffolk Crag on the side of the River Deben. As the prices that manure manufacturers were offering were as much as 2.50 a ton, Lord Rendlesham was keen to realise the profits from his estates in Bawdsey, Boyton, Butley and Capel St. Andrew.

 

The documents show that a Mr. Ling was the contractor. He would have employed Mr French's labourers after the harvest was in, supervising the loading onto Mr. French's carts which took them down to the river. Here they would have been washed and weighed. They were then barrowed up planks and emptied into the holds of shallow-draught lighters or barges and transported to the manure factories in Ipswich, London and elsewhere. The records also suggest that between 1859-60 the coprolites were also worked by another local man, Mr. Guard. With his 189 tons and the 219 tons raised on Mr French's farm Lord Rendlesham made a profit of 89. As the records did not continue after 1860 it is uncertain whether they continued being raised. Up to that time 749 tons had been worked, which, due to fluctuations in demand, were only sold at 1.50 per ton, considerably less than expected. Mr Ling's charges were only 0.75 a ton which would have given Rendlesham a profit of just over 550. However, this was enough to have bought a small estate in those days.

 

By 1860 it seemed the work had not been completed very well. Mr. French was allowed 31.50 compensation for the damage done to his fields over the previous three years and also 20.35. for carting costs and 5.83. for implements. (Suff.R.O. HB416.F.2 pp.31,91,127,153) Whether this Mr. Ling was the George Ling who took on coprolite work at nearby Boyton in 1870 is uncertain. It is quite possible that with his experience he would have been involved in diggings in nearby parishes during the 1860s. (See author's account of Boyton)