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Essex Field Club
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Essex Field Club

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EFC Centre at Wat Tyler Country ParkWe are closed due to the Covid-19 situation, but we are otherwise normally open to the public at our centre at Wat Tyler Country Park every Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday 11am-4pm, check. We are also normally open on Wednesdays 10am-4pm.

Geology Site Account

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Walton former copperas works (site of), WALTON ON THE NAZE, Tendring District, Historical site only


Site category: Building or wall

History of the Walton copperas industry (precise location of the copperas works is not known)


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’.

The Walton copperas industry was in existence by the late seventeenth century. Old records show that over 230 tons a year were removed from the beach at Walton in the period 1715-1720 which is well over half a ton a day – a remarkable amount. Reference to the abundance of copperas on the Walton beaches was made by Daniel Defoe in 1724. In his Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724) noted: “At Walton, under the Nase, they find on the shoar, copperas-stone in great quantities; and there are several large works call’d Copperas Houses, where they make it with great expense.”

The copperas works is shown on the 1777 Chapman & Andre map of Essex as ‘Copperas House’. An indication of the size and scale of the industry can be judged by an indenture dated 1702 which is held by the Essex Record Office which gives an inventory of goods and utensils at the Walton works. The Walton works had closed by the mid-1830s but copperas stones to supply copperas works elsewhere continued to be collected from Walton and Harwich until 1909. The Victoria County History (1907) states that the works were “just to the west of the High Street, and within a few feet of the vicarage, where there is still an open space, bare of vegetation and saturated with sulphurous matter”. Norman Jacobs in his 1995 book Frinton and Walton: A Pictorial History states that in 1696 there were two copperas houses situated just west of the High street, near where the library is today.

It should be possible to locate the exact site of the Walton copperas works. This would make an ideal Local Heritage Initiative project for a local society.

In the eighteenth century copperas gatherers were paid in small hammered copper tokens. This example is from Walton and is dated 1736. Illustration © Victoria County History of Essex.


if you have an image please upload it

Reference: George 1991, Jacobs 1995, Leach 1999, Allen et al. 2004, Page 1907 (p.411-412), George 2015.

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