'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: 'Electricity Work For You' (perhaps it had a 'Let' in front of it?) lies on Duke Street, facing the end of Coprolite Street. The whole area is being transformed by development and building work (whether it's an improvement on deserted 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.

Duke Street
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Duke St 1
2003 images

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Duke St 2

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Duke St 3

The above is now a glittering fish restaurant in glass and chrome, Mortimers Seafood (later Loch Fynne) having moved from a site near to the Customs House, to be replaced by a bistro. The shape of things to come... Now a vague memory: here's that slogan of yore:
See our page on Public clocks in Ipswich for a 2018 view of the restaurant (now The Forge) frontage and its clock.

Coprolite Street
Coprolite Street gained its name from the fertiliser plant owned by the pioneering Edward Packard built at the dock end of this street in 1850, which produced artificial fertilser was used to improve agricultural soils. Coprolites are nitrogenous fossil nodules, which are 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 sulphuric acid, converted into superphosphate, better known as chemical (or artificial) fertiliser. It was first dug in 1817 by Edmund Edwards, a farmer at Levington. The idea was eventually taken up by Darwin's mentor, the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, one time Professor of Botany and Mineralogy at Cambridge University who 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 are now the site of the Neptune Quay block of flats on one side and the Suffolk University building on the other.  Below is a photograph 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'.
Coprolite Street - period photo1960s(?) images
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Coprolite St 20152015 image
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 Orwell (1978)
By 1995 Fisons was being broken up and sold to larger multinationals.]
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Coprolite 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Coprolite 22018 images
The above examples of coprolite were two of many found near the surface of the scarp at Brickmakers Wood, 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.

Fore Hamlet
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwade Hall 22013 images
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwade Hall 1
   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Grimwade Hall 3
30th NOVEMBER 2006


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.
See also our Fore Street 1620 page for an 1881 map of the area and The Steampacket Inn.

See our Street name derivations for the nearby Grimwade Street.

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2004 Copyright throughout the Ipswich Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
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