Today’s fertiliser industry is dominated by several big companies providing chemical fertiliser 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 fertilisers. Even today, Ipswich is a major importer of fertiliser, despite local production ceasing many years ago. Animal droppings have for centuries been used as fertilisers, though during the 1840s several chemists, botanists and scientists began to experiment with creating artificial fertilisers which contained higher levels of minerals needed in the soil; such as phosphorus and nitrogen. These were created through the processing of coprolites, (fossilised animal dung with sulphuric and phosphoric acid) to create superphosphates which could be used as artificial fertilisers. Coprolites were dug from shallow pits along the River Orwell near Trimley, Felixstowe, and in the Cambridgeshire Fens, before being sent to local companies.
The production of fertilisers 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 fertiliser factory that Coprolite Street gets its name, rumoured to be the only road 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 fertiliser 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 fertiliser production. 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 Packards, Fisons and another local company Prentice Brothers Ltd was finalised in 1929 and by 1942 they had absorbed the remaining fertiliser 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.