'Let Electricity Work For You',
Coprolite Street, Grimwade Hall
Possibly the ugliest building in Ipswich up until
recently, this Electricity
sub-station with its iron-plated frontage and just-readable lettering:
Work For You' (perhaps it had a 'Let' in front of it?) lies on Duke
facing the end of Coprolite Street. The whole area is being transformed
by development and building work (whether it's an improvement on
wharves, only time will tell) and this building is no exception. The
nearby, long-disused Grimwade Memorial Hall (see below) on the corner
of Back Hamlet and Fore
Hamlet has undergone a wonderful refurbishment with decorative
stonework and restored brick details; needless to say it's now flats.
The above is now a glittering fish restaurant in glass
and chrome, Mortimers Seafood
(later Loch Fynne etc.) having moved from a site near to the Customs
to be replaced by a
bistro. The shape of things to come... Now a vague memory: here's that
'LET ELECTRICITY WORK FOR YOU'
See our page on Public
clocks in Ipswich for a 2018 view of the restaurant (now The Forge)
frontage and its clock.
Coprolite Street gained its name from the fertiliser
plant (called rather quirkily 'Manure Manufactory' on maps) owned by the pioneering Edward Packard built at the dock
this street in 1850,
which produced artificial fertiliser used to improve agricultural
Coprolites are nitrogenous fossil nodules, which
contained in the red crag beneath large areas of eastern Suffolk. The nodules contain high levels of calcium phosphate which,
it was discovered, can be ground up and, by the application of
acid, converted into superphosphate,
better known as chemical (or artificial) fertiliser. Coprolites were
in 1817 by Edmund Edwards, a farmer at Levington. The idea was
eventually taken up by Darwin's mentor and second President of the Ipswich Museum, the Rev. John Stevens Henslow;
he was a former Professor of Botany and Mineralogy at Cambridge
retired to become the rector of Hitcham, Suffolk. Coprolite was dug in
particular from the banks of Suffolk rivers the Orwell and the Deben.
Apparently, The inhabitants of Trimley St Mary and Trimley St Martin
were called treacle miners because of the coprolite that was dug there.
Packard's original coprolite works were sited on today's 'Neptune
flats on the south side of Coprolite Street (and today the Suffolk
University Waterfront Building is on the north side). Below is a
from the sixties(?) of the factory, the fascade with teagle door and
overhanging gantry facing the waterfront. Coprolite Street (with cars
parked) runs away from the water towards the Electricity sub-station.
Above the car nearest to the corner is affixed to the filthy 'Suffolk
whites' wall the street nameplate with superior 'T' in 'Street'.
Below: here is the 21st century street nameplate (with coloured Borough coat of arms) in more or less the same
position: today, beside the entrance to 'Neptune Marina' (tower block)
car park entrance and the corner of Coffee Link.
The Suffolk coprolite industry: a look at an almost forgotten
industry of Victorian Suffolk
by geologist Bob Markham
The element phosphorous is an essential ingredient of the bones of our
skeleton (as calcium phosphate) and which we get from our food. But a
field with no phosphate in the soil is incapable of producing grain,
peas or beans.
‘Coprolite’ stones were discovered by a clergyman Professor*** on
holiday at Felixstowe, Suffolk and their
phosphate content was responsible for the local fertiliser industry.
The 1840s were a time of shortage of phosphatic manure and ‘soluble’
superphosphate from coprolit was a new and welcoming way to increase
the food supply of England.
The industry lasted from about 1847 to 1895, superseded by phosphate
from Cambridgeshire, France and South Carolina.
Initially thought to be coprolite (fossil faeces), these nodules from
the Suffolk Pliocene age Red Crag were shown to be derived from London
clay. It was due to this that the word ‘coprolite’ became the
commercial term for these phosphatic nodules. The phosphate mineral is
Francolite (Carbonate Fluorapatite); it is enriched by upwelling marine
water before precipitation to form phosphatic rock.
***In 1842 the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, a professor of Botany at St
John's College, Cambridge, discovered coprolites just outside
Felixstowe in the villages of Trimley St Martin, Falkenham and Kirton
and investigated their composition. Henslow was appointed the President
of the Ipswich Museum in 1850, also the
mentor of Charles Darwin, which links Darwin to Ipswich; Arlington’s
restaurant has named the Darwin Room after him. See also Street name derivations for Henslow Road.
Realising their potential as a source of available phosphate once they
had been treated with sulphuric acid, he patented an extraction process
and set about finding new sources. Very soon, coprolites were being
mined on an industrial scale for use as fertiliser due to their high
phosphate content. The major area of extraction occurred over the east
of England, centred on Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely with its
refining being carried out in Ipswich. The ‘Manure Manufactory’, as it
is shown on 1902 and 1930 maps, stood on the south-western end of
Coprolite Street – the site of today’s Neptune Marina apartment block.
It was originally set up by Edward Packard, a well-known name in local
business and politics. His son, Sir Edward Packard, Junior (1843-1932)
developed Packard and James Fison (Thetford) Limited (later known as
'Fisons') into one of the largest fertiliser manufacturing businesses
in the country.
Perhaps it’s one of those classic cases where we have all accepted the
“fossilised dinosaur dung” source of these phosphatic nodules, mainly
because it makes a good story, but the truth is that they develop
naturally within clay (they are still turning up at the nearby
Brickmakers Wood, see our Brickyards
page), so they really should have inverted commas around ‘coprolites’.
And the 'Manure Manufactory' is rather misleadingly named.
Coprolite firms in Ipswich
‘About 1880 there were no fewer than five firms operating as
manufacturers of artificial manures in the area, all with offices and
some with warehouses in Ipswich.
• Henry Chapman and Co. had its
head office on the Cornhill and works at Bramford;
• William Colchester was at
Griffin Wharf, on the Stoke side of the Orwell;
• Joseph Fison & Co. had works
both at Bramford and Ipswich and offices at Eastern Union Mills, close
by Stoke Bridge;
• Edward Packard & Co. had
works at Bramford and offices at Princes Street, Ipswich;
• Prentice Bros., whose main works
were at Stowmarket, had premises at Flint Wharf, Ipswich.
Three of these firms were eventually to be united under the title of
Fison, Packard & Prentice Ltd, and were to become the basis of the
world-famous Fisons Ltd which is still firmly based in Suffolk.±’
R. Malster: Ipswich town on the
[±By 1995 Fisons was being broken up
and sold to larger multinationals.]
The above examples of coprolite were two of many found near the
surface of the scarp at Brickmakers Wood (see Links),
to the south-west of Alexandra Park.
This is the area close
to Coprolite Street where clay was dug for the brick and tile works after which the
Potteries area was named.
[UPDATE 26.6.2019: GeoSuffolk,
the group studying and communicating the geology of the county (see Links) have published a leaflet about Coprolites (click to view the
At the junction of Back Hamlet and Fore Hamlet sits the former 19th
century Grimwade Memorial Hall, now 35 flats. The restored building
carries lettering tablets old and new, plus an attractive stonework
doorway, both on the Fore Hamlet pavement.
OFFICIALLY OPENED BY
COLIN AND PETER GRIMWADE
30th NOVEMBER 2006
BUILT BY THE BRACEFORCE GROUP'
'THIS FOUNDATION STONE
The Grimwade name has been closely associated with
Ipswich for more than a century, with the family providing four mayors
and running a department store on the Cornhill,
which closed in1995. The Grimwade name can be also found on Hope House.
WAS LAID SEPTEMBER 9.1869, BY
F.J. SARGOOD ESQ.
EDWARD GRIMWADE. JOHN MAY.
OLIVER PRENTICE. JOSEPH F. ALEXANDER.
ARCHITECTS MESSRS. CATTERMOLE & EADE.
CONTRACTOR W.G. CUNNOLD.'
See also our Fore Street 1620 page
for an 1881 map of the area and The
See our Street name derivations for the
nearby Grimwade Street.
Please email any comments and contributions by clicking here.
throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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