The Story of Coprolite Street


Ransomes Quay c.1890

Have you ever wondered about where Coprolite Street on the Waterfront gets its name from? Well one of our volunteers took it on themselves to look into the story behind this odd street name.

Today the fertilizer industry in the UK is dominated by several big companies providing chemical fertilizer to farmers across the country. In the 1840s this wasn’t the case, but during the subsequent 140 years, Ipswich became a huge centre for the production and export of chemical fertilizers. Even today Ipswich is a major importer of fertilizer, despite local production ceasing many years ago.

Animal droppings have for centuries been used as fertilizers, though during the 1840s several chemists, botanists and scientists began to experiment with creating artificial fertilizers which contained higher levels of minerals needed in the soil such as phosphorus and nitrogen. These were created through the processing of coprolites, (mixing fossilised animal dung with sulphuric and phosphoric acid) to create superphosphates which could be used as artificial fertilizers. Coprolites were dug from shallow pits along the River Orwell near Trimley and Felixstowe, as well as the Cambridgeshire Fens, before being sent to local companies.

The production of fertilizers in Ipswich began in 1849, when a local chemist and merchant, Edward Packard, bought a former mill on the site of the current Coffeelink. It is from this artificial fertilizer factory that Coprolite Street gets its name, rumoured to be the only street in the world named after fossilised animal waste. Unusually for industry at the time, Packard was persuaded in the mid-1850s to move his works to Bramford, next to another fertilizer producer, Joseph Fisons. This was predominantly due to the effects of the factory on local air quality; during the Victorian period pollution was widespread and severe in nearly all industrial areas, but particularly so at sites of fertilizer production.

Gipping Barges under Stoke Bridge c.1890 – Harry Walters Collection

In the late nineteenth century, the materials used to produce superphosphates started to be imported from overseas and by the 1890s, foreign manufacturers were competing with local companies. Following the First World War, the local industry was struggling. Thus, a merger of Packard’s, Fisons and another local company Prentice Brothers Ltd was finalised in 1929 and by 1942 they had absorbed the remaining fertilizer companies in the UK becoming, Fisons Ltd. From the 1970s-1990s the company was sold off to various multinational companies and today Ipswich only has Coprolite Street to remind the town of its links with one of its most important industries.

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