The fossil digger’s song

In the second half of the nineteenth century in certain parts of England, notably Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, the “coprolite industry” began, boomed, and was then killed by foreign imports. Though many fossils, including coprolites, were found, the main economic reason for trenching the local fields by “fossil diggers” was to recover nodules of phosphatised clay for processing into inorganic fertiliser. The hard work and camaraderie of the fossil digger’s life would certainly have spawned some lusty songs. You may still hear this one resonating from the walls of the local beer-houses. . .


Seems the gentry think it’s worth
Shifting tons and tons of earth
Just to dig up lots of ‘fossils’ from the ground!
We all think they must be funny,
But they’re offering good money,
So we fossil diggers come from miles around.

Oh, a fossil coprolite is a very pretty sight;
Fossil diggers think they’re proper little charmers.
So we dig ’em up all day for over twice the pay
That we used to get for slavery to farmers!

In the works, they clean and wash ’em;
Then they grind ’em down and squash ’em,
And they sell ’em back to farmers for manure.
With the population growing,
Extra crops will soon need sowing
Or the country won’t be fed, and that’s for sure.

Oh, a fossil coprolite, etc.

We have put in hours of toil
Shifting barrowloads of soil,
So we’ve learned to recognise a thing or two:
When we spot a tooth or claw
Of an ancient dinosaur,
Well, we pick it up and flog it! Wouldn’t you?

Oh, a fossil coprolite, etc.

It’s a sweaty sort of work,
But we’re not the sort to shirk;
We get through the day with several pints of beer.
We all knock off work at four,
Then we usually drink some more,
And we like to sing this song for folk to hear:

Oh, a fossil coprolite, etc.

[Image of fossil diggers in Bedfordshire: shillington-history.org.uk]
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