The coprolites were first dug in the late 1850s close to the Hinxworth and Ashwell boundary when draining of the clayey soils revealed a seam in the greensand between the chalk marl and the gault clay. They were worked along its junction which ran northwards in a long finger on either side of the stream. (O’Connor, B. The Coprolite Industry in Ashwell; O’Connor, B. The Coprolite Industry in Hinxworth ) They were gradually worked northwards towards Dunton Lodge Farm and by 1868 it appeared that the owner had arranged to have them raised. The farm was tenanted by Simeon Lee and Jonas Carver, and they would normally have been compensated while the land was out of cultivation. Whether their farm labourers were involved in the work is uncertain but it appeared the owner was prepared to sell it with the mining rights, and receive a considerably better price than just as an agricultural estate. When they started is again unknown but the Dunton Estate was put up for sale in July that year and the sale particulars pointed out that,
“Dunton Lodge Farm contains VALUABLE BEDS OF COPROLITES, which are being worked by the owner. There are also large Deposits on the Church Farm and some on Millow Bury.” (Beds.R.O. WG.2359 )
Subsequent evidence suggests that one of the contractors who was working the pits in the Ashwell area, John Bennet Lawes, must have won a coprolite lease and continued the operations. A few months later, Lawes’ Hitchin based surveyor, George Beaver, noted, “On the 5th October 1868 I am coprolite surveying at Dunton Lodge Farm near Biggleswade for J. B. Lawes.” By November he reported that, “Coprolite work in full swing,” and by the following year he admitted, “All 1869 J.B. Lawes’ people very busy in diggings which take up a great deal of my time.” (Hitchin Museum, G.Beaver’s diaries, pp.86a,87a.) No evidence in the way of maps or correspondence has emerged that would locate the extent of the diggings but it seemed they must have been exhausted by August 1874 as the farm was again up for sale. This time the coprolites were not mentioned.