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Brightlingsea Copperas Works (site of), BRIGHTLINGSEA, Tendring District, TM087161, Historical site only

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Site name: Brightlingsea Copperas Works (site of)

Grid reference: TM 087161

Brief description of site:

Historic site with a connection to the former Essex copperas industry.

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Site description

The copperas industry was an important industry in eighteenth century Essex. It involved gathering of pyrite nodules (known as ‘copperas stones’) from beaches, where they had been washed out of the London Clay, and then allowing them to oxidise for several months in open vats. This lengthy and hazardous industrial process converted the nodules to ferrous sulphate (green vitriol), which was an essential chemical for making dyes, ink, and several industrial chemicals such as sulphuric acid. It is claimed that it was the world’s first industrial chemical process - over a century before the Industrial Revolution. Wives and children of fishermen were employed to gather the nodules from the beaches and were paid in ‘copperas tokens’ (see entry for the Walton copperas works).

It is claimed that copperas was manufactured in Brightlingsea as early as 1542. In 1674 the famous Essex naturalist John Ray published an account of refining metals and minerals in England and in this book he describes the technical aspects of copperas manufacture at Brightlingsea. Philip Morant, in 1768, refers to a copperas works here and a ‘copperas house’ is marked on the 1777 Chapman and Andre map. The copperas works at Brightlingsea is commemorated by the road name Copperas Road. The Brightlingsea town guide refers to this local industry, including an account of a local legend that an owner of the works lost his life when he fell into a boiling cistern!



A road sign in Brightlingsea commemorating the local copperas industry. Photo © G. Lucy

 

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Reference: Morant 1768, George 1991, Leach 1999, Allen et al. 2004, Page 1907 (p.411-412).

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