APSLEY GUISE, BEDS.
When the coprolite seam was found above the Oxford clay along the lower slopes of the Lower Greensand ridge in this area it was not long before the manure manufacturers moved in and hired men to extract them. They had been worked in Brickhill and Ampthill from 1873 so it was probably about this time, when the same seam was found to outcrop in Apsley Guise, that it was similarly extracted. As yet, no documentation reveals who was responsible for the workings, but the first geological map, (O.S. 6 inch Beds. 20SE 1884) showed at the junction of the Lower Greensand with the Oxford Clay an old gravel pit, ”perhaps coprolitic”, between the Rookery and the Radwell Pit. There was also a tramway leading from it to the Bedford branch Railway to the north which suggests it was quite a major operation. There was also a stretch of ”Coprolites• marked on the map just to the northwest of The Manor Farm and Crawley Farm and another pit with a mention of coprolites was located at the northwest corner of the crossroads, just south of Crawley Mill Farm.
This may well have been related to the fact that John Bennett Lawes, the man who made his fortune out of patenting and producing superphosphate out of these coprolites had set up in 1876 the Experimental Farm in nearby Woburn with the assistance of the analytical chemist, Augustus Voelcker. In 1872 he had been given three hundred thousand pounds for his manure company and, after setting up the Rothamsted Experimental Research station, may well have wanted to process the local deposits at the ”den• in his barn to compare the efficacy of the superphosphate produced from these local deposits with those from other areas. They experimented with different manures on the sandy soils of Crawley Farm mentioned above and compared the results with those tested on the clayey soils of his Rothamsted estate. Although no records confirm it, it seems likely that some of the local fossils were dug up for use in their experiments and that the local farmer and his labourers were responsible for the digging. (See author's account of the industry for Rothamsted)
COPROLITE DIGGINGS IN APSLEY GUISE,
HUSBORNE CRAWLEY AND RIDGMONT
In late 1876, the Royal Agricultural Society took on Lawes and Gilbert as consultants. The ninth Duke of Bedford allowed them to use part of the lighter sandier soils on his estate at Apsley Guise to investigate the accuracy of Lawes' figures for residual manurial value of different types of animal feeding stuffs. Thus the Woburn Experimental Station was set up (TL965362). This work was topical because, under the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875, tenants could be compensated for improvements they had made to the soil, like the addition of fertilisers, whose efficacy had not been exhausted.
The late-19th century maps of this area show a considerable number of sand and clay pits. They were probably developed at the same time as the coprolite diggings when demand for building materials was at its height. Many estates and churches were renovated during the early 1870s and those towns on the railway expanded considerably with new industries and housing. An old gravel pit between the Rookery and the Radwell Pit in Apsley Guise at the junction of the Lower Greensand with the Oxford Clay was noted on A. C. Cameron's first 6-inch geological map as "perhaps coprolitic" (TL 932363).
Whether it was worked is uncertain but a small coprolite pit was marked between Woburn Sands and Husborne Crawley. It was on the eastern side of the road, opposite the public house on the crest of the Greensand Ridge (TL 961357). No documentation related to it has come to light. The word COPROLITES" was written over a stretch of land on the 50 ft. (16 m.) contour less than an eighth of a mile (200 m.) northwest of Manor Farm and Crawley Farm - the centre of the Research programme! TL 950365). Another pit with a mention of coprolites was located at the northwest corner of the crossroads, about 200 yards (66 m.) southwest of Crawley Mill Farm (TL 962359). A tramway led to the Bedford Branch of the London and North Western Railway to the north. Ridgmont Station was only a mile (1.6 km.) away. It is possible that Lawes won contracts from local landowners and experimented with them on the fields at the Experimental Station.
A report on the remaining phosphate deposits during the Second World War referred to "coprolite diggings" on the northern slopes of the Greensand Ridge in Apsley Guise and further east in Ridgmont. Unfortunately, documentation for these workings has not come to light. (Town and Country News, 'Aiding British Agriculture', Sep. 28th 1934, pp.3-4; 6 inch Beds. 21 NW; 20SE 1889; Oakley, op.cit. fig. 3)
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