The earliest reference to Sudborne having been involved in the coprolite industry was in 1866. A couple of over-enthusiastic Victorian geologists paid a visit to the pits that led to the death of the village expert on these fossils. One of them explained:-
"After leaving the village of Chillesford (where the Norwich Crag occurs) we came to Sudbourn Park gate, but not being quite sure of the way
through the park, we kept to the turn-pike, and soon hailed the Orford lights. Every village in Suffolk, of any importance,
has its "King's Head" and "Crown" inns; we went to the
former, and after a night at the "Ramsholt Dock
Inn," were both prepared most thoroughly to appreciate this comfortable
little place. Having ordered supper, we sallied forth to enquire for a
celebrated character at the "White Hart," known as "Jumbo"
(alias William Brown). This oddity is a thin, wiry old man, between sixty and
seventy years of age, and the most handy fellow in the
parish. He is* the living oracle here on Crag-pits and shells, and must be
invoked and propitiated with beer and shillings if you want to find the best of
both. He is, however, troubled with fits of "brooding melancholy"
(the effects of over potations), when he will not respond to any call, and must
be dispensed with. Such was his mood at this time. His knowledge of crag shells
places him in a very exalted position, and among the rustics he is considered
quite a distinguished palaeontologist. Having obtained this information, we
returned to our inn, and after supper cleaned and packed our days collection of
Crag. We were up the next morning, and... As we could not get
"Jumbo," we persuaded the landlord to accompany us to the pit in the
park where the same great beds of Cyprina Islandica and Terebratula grandis, which we had observed at Sutton the day before,
were again visible. All the best shells were however too brittle (owing to the
wet state of the soil) to be obtained entire, so we got very few rarities.
After dinner "Jumbo" presented himself, and
said he had some Crag-shells for sale. We condescended to receive his
overtures, and bought 10s. worth off him, which made
up a pretty complete series, and the whole afternoon was occupied with packing
* "He is," we ought rather to say "he was," for "Jumbo," like the crag itself, is now a thing of the past. Stimulated by a sovereign given him by my friend Professor Suess of Vienna, "Jumbo" took an overdose of brandy, and, alas! went to the spirit land."
(Woodward, H. (1866), 'An Excursion to the Crag District,' Intell.Observer, vol.8,pp.39-41)
This area of Southeast Suffolk where the coprolites were found in the crag had numerous small estates and, as in this case, the landowner arranged to have these phosphate-rich deposits exploited. Their demand from manure manufacturers in Ipswich and elsewhere allowed immense profits to be realised which were far better than simply allowing the land to remain as farm or parkland. It is probable the owner got their farm labourers to work them from the pits but, unfortunately, very few records of such have come to light.
Several crag pits were recorded on early maps that would also have been exploited for their coprolites. The 1890 map showed Crag Farm had two old pits and in Sudbourne Park there was a very large pit over 200 feet wide. This was just north of Fire Engine House and a quarter of a mile north north east of the Hall. There was another on the estate opposite the White Lodge and another by the roadside in Sudbourne Marshes. A mile to the east of the village there was one on the southwest corner of the cross roads and there were others in the neighbourhood of the church. (OS. Suff.69SW,1890; 69NW,1891; Prestwich, J. 'Structure of the Crag Beds,' Quart.Journ.Geol. Soc. 1871 (read 1868) p.122)
How long the work carried on for is again uncertain but they were still extracted in the late 1880's and early 1890's as the local trade directory for the parish pointed out,
"Beds of oysters have been found in making excavation near the church. The strata of crag is largely intermixed with shells and other fossil remains, so much so as to make them of considerable value as manure, when carted onto and mixed with the surface soil."
(Kelly's Directory, 1883 and 1892)