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                                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)



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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