Back to Bedfordshire publications




There were several geological references to the coprolites being extracted in the Shefford area but unfortunately they did not give exact locations except to say they were ”found at or near the base of the gault (clay) in sufficient quantity to pay for working in several parts of the county, eg. at Shefford in Beds.• Analyses made of a seam revealed a high content of about 60% phosphate of lime which made them much sought after by manure manufacturers who wanted them for conversion into superphosphate. (Jukes-Brown,•Cretaceous Rocks of Great Britain,•1900,pp430-2) Jukes-Brown was supplied with this information by John Bennet Lawes whose colleague, Dr.A.Voelker, an anlytical chemist working for him, did the testing. Lawes had his own manure company involved in raising them in the Shillington area from 1862 into the 1880‘s so there was every likelihood he was either responsible for the workings or was purchasing them from a farmer or contractor who was working them. The major documented workings were in what was then the village of Campton, just south of Highlands Lodge Farm. (See Campton) The local historian, D.J.Cadman, in his history of the village made a brief reference to them being raised for use as fertiliser in his account of the local agriculture.


To obtain a correctly balanced supply of soil nutrients, farmers began to use other fertilisers including guanao from Peru and supoerphosphate a local supply of phosphate wss found in coprolites. These were nodules formed around animal remains, possibly including the dung of dinosaurs. they were found at the top of the gault clay and dug from shallow pits in many different parts of the county anbd roups of these were on Highlands Farm. The nodules were washed in a water-filled hole and transported on a short stretch of narrow-guage track to the Gravenhurst Road. From where they went by cart to Shefford Station and by rail to a crushing mill - possibly the one at Royston.•



The Farmers Manure Company processed the fossils at their Chemical Works in Royston and , whilst it is possible they were similarly purchasing them, the major contractor in the area was Lawes.

The first geological map also showed that coprolites were found northwest of Shefford, in an old gravel pit on the lane from Appley Corner to Standalone Farm, not far from ”The Greyhound• (6• Beds.22NW 1886) There was no indication they were worked but if a large deposit had been found there is the likelihood they would have been raised as there was an enormous demand for them, particularly during the 1870‘s. (Beds.Mag,8,p251) In 1876, one trade directory stated that there were 1400 people working in the Shillington area which may well have encompassed Shefford. (Harrods Directory, Beds.1876)

When the diggings became exhausted or the seam too uneconomic to exploit further many coprolite labourers left the area to find work in the growing industrial towns but Cadman suggested many in this area were able to get back into farm labour on those farms which concentrated on market gardening.

”With expanding markets in the North and London, now easily accessible by rail, market gardeners who were almost free from overseas competitoion did not suffer as much in the depression as did the arable and stock farmers.•

(D.J.Cadman, ”Campton,•1975)