Sketch: UK Agricultural Research and Education January 7, 2011Posted by Will Thomas in Technocracy in the UK.
Tags: Alfred Charles True, Alfred Daniel Hall, Charles Townshend, Edward John Russell, Frederick Gowland Hopkins, George Henry Falkiner Nuttall, John Bennet Lawes, John Sibthorp, Jonathan Harwood, Joseph Barcroft, Joseph Henry Gilbert, Justus Liebig, Margaret Rossiter, Marsha Richmond, Redcliffe Salaman, Reginald Punnett, Robert Kohler, Rowland Biffen, Thomas Barlow Wood, Vincent Brian Wigglesworth, William Bateson
It is difficult to trace the lineage of agricultural research in Britain without the bottom falling out from underneath your feet, putting you in freefall until you land with a thud in the eighteenth century. Since this is well outside the scope of my project, I will just note a few reference points before scrambling back toward the twentieth century: the growth of experimental farming by “improvement”-minded landowners (good ol’ Turnip Townshend and co.), the 1791 foundation of the Veterinary College of London (later the Royal Veterinary College), and the 1796 foundation of the Sibthorpian Chair of Rural Economy at Oxford through the benefaction of John Sibthorp (1758-1796), who was Sherrardian Professor of Botany there from 1784 until his death (having replaced his father, Humphrey, who held the post from 1747 to 1783).
A Board of Agriculture existed in England from 1793 until it was wound up in 1820. The Royal Agricultural Society of England was founded in 1838, and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons was founded in 1844. For reference, the Board of Longitude was wound up in 1828, the Royal Astronomical Society was founded in 1820, the British Medical Association was founded in 1832, and the Chemical Society of London was founded in 1841.
Some 19th-Century Developments
It is within the context of these developments that the 1843 foundation of the Rothamsted Experimental Station by the landowner John Bennet Lawes (1814-1900) makes the most sense. Lawes hired the chemist Joseph Henry Gilbert (1817-1901) who had worked with Justus Liebig (1803-1873) at Giessen to direct the station’s experimental program, which continued under their joint leadership until their deaths. Rothamsted spans the eighteenth-century tradition of experimental farming and the twentieth-century tradition of agricultural research station.
The Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester was founded in 1845. The 1890s saw the foundation of a variety of agricultural education departments in universities. A Department of Agriculture was founded at the College of Science (from 1904 the Armstrong College of Science) at Durham near Newcastle in 1891; the nearby Cockle Park experimental farm was established in 1896. An agriculture department was established at Nottingham in 1892; it closed in 1900, but the nearby Midland Dairy Institute was established in 1895, and in 1905 it became the Midland Agricultural and Dairy College. A. Daniel Hall established the Agricultural College of Wye in 1894. Departments of agriculture were established at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth (1893), University College Reading (1893), and Cambridge (1899). Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire was established in 1901.
The late 19th century was a time of agricultural depression in England, but there was also international competition to think about, which is covered in Margaret Rossiter’s very good The Emergence of Agricultural Science: Justus Liebig and the Americans, 1840-1880 (1975), which has an excellent balance of intellectual and institutional history. However, also see the intricately detailed institutional survey, A History of Agricultural Education in the United States, 1785-1925 (1929) by Alfred Charles True. For a reference point, the Morrill Act leading to the establishment of the Land-Grant universities was signed in 1862. On the German case, see Jonathan Harwood’s Technology’s Dilemma: Agricultural Colleges between Science and Practice in Germany, 1860-1934 (2005). Probably the key point of comparison here is the establishment of an agricultural institute at the University of Halle in 1862, with other German universities following suit in the later 1860s, the 1870s, and after.
The Proliferation of Research Stations
The twentieth century saw a major proliferation of experimental stations in the UK. When Lawes and Gilbert died circa 1900, Daniel Hall (1864-1942) took over, followed by John Russell (1872-1965). Daniel Hall left Rothamsted to become an influential member of the Development Commission, which was founded in 1909 through the Development and Road Improvement Act. It significantly expedited the foundation of new stations, which was also aided through private philanthropy.
A Board of Agriculture was re-established in 1889. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was established from it in 1919, and it ran some practically-oriented research facilities. When the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) was established in 1931, it began to fund research programs, though this support increased substantially after World War II. In that period, it began to sponsor research “units” at universities, which were often long-term endeavors, but were not in principle permanent. The literature on British agricultural research institutions emphasizes the wrangling between the Ministry and the ARC over control over the direction of sponsored research (the ARC typically urging more scholarly research programs).
Here are the foundation dates of some research institutions. I have chopped off some university-affiliated research institutes and units, but have left others. The number of these research institutes has been surprising to me.
1876: The Woburn Experimental Station
1896: Cockle Park Experimental Farm at Newcastle
1902: The Marine Biological Sub-Station at Lowestoft
1903: National Fruit and Cider Institute at Long Ashton
1908: Norfolk Agricultural Station
1910: John Innes Horticultural Institution (JIHI)
1911: Research Institute in Plant Physiology at Imperial College, London
1911: Institute for Animal Nutrition at Cambridge
1912: Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge
1912: Research Institute in Dairying at Reading
1913: (Rowett) Institute for Animal Nutrition at Aberdeen
1913: East Malling Fruit Research Station at Wye
1914: Cheshunt Experimental Station at Turners Hill
1914: Food Science Laboratory at Norwich
1914: Institute for Plant Pathology at Kew (moved to Harpenden)
1916: Official Seed Testing Station (folded in 1921)
1917: Central Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge
1918: Fisheries Experiment Station at Conway
1918: Chipping Campden Station for Fruit and Vegetable Preservation
1919: Welsh Plant Breeding Station at Aberystwyth
1919: National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Cambridge.
1920: Animal Disease Research Association (Moredun Institute)
1920: Imperial Bureau of Mycology at Kew
1921: Scottish Plant Breeding Station at Corstorphine
1922: DSIR Low Temperature Research Station at Cambridge
1924: Institute of Agricultural Engineering at Oxford
1924: Pirbright Experimental Station (built at site of a cattle testing station)
1927: Potato Virus Research Station at Cambridge
1927: Dartington Hall Laboratory
1928: DSIR Ditton Laboratory at East Malling
1928: ICI Agricultural Research Station, Jealott’s Hill
1928: Hannah Dairy Research Institute
1929: DSIR Torry Research Station at Aberdeen (fisheries)
1930: Macaulay Institute of Soil Research at Aberdeen
1937: ARC Field Station at Compton
1940: DSIR Pest Infestation Laboratory at Slough
1940: Grassland Improvement Station at Drayton (folded in 1955)
1940s [?]: Infestation Control Laboratory at Tolworth
1946: Scottish Machinery Testing Station
1947: Poultry Research Station at Houghton
1949: Grasslands Research Institute at Hurley
1949: National Vegetable Research Station at Wellesbourne
1951: Scottish Horticultural Research Institute at Invergowrie
1952: Humber Laboratory at Hull (Torry Research Station)
1953: Burnham-on-Crouch Laboratory (fisheries)
1953*: Glasshouse Crops Research Institute at Littlehampton
1954: Hill Farming Research Organisation at Edinburgh
1957: (Letcombe) Radiobiological Laboratory at Wantage
1958: Infestation Control Laboratory at Worplesdon
1959: Broom’s Barn Experimental Station (Rothamsted)
1960: Weed Research Organisation at Oxford
1967†: Meat Research Institute at Langford
1967†: Food Research Institute at Colney
1969: Weymouth Laboratory (fisheries)
*Established following closure of Cheshunt Experimental Station
†Established following closure of Low Temperature Research Station
Below is some further institutions for which I have not yet found establishment dates; it is still difficult for me to tell exactly what the status was and went on at the chain of experimental husbandry farms.
A series of Experimental Husbandry Farms and Experiment Horticulture Stations were set up by the National Agricultural Advisory Service (est. 1946) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as a sort of intermediary between research centers and farms were results might be implemented. The main idea was to test new techniques in local conditions. I will not list these in this post. I have found some of the other stations listed in this space to have belonged to smaller educational institutions. I will try and cover agricultural education and university-based ARC “units” in another post. Good coverage of the latter (and indeed, excellent background information in general) is to be found in the official ARC history Agricultural Research, 1931-1981 edited by G. W. Cooke.
Research at Cambridge
Finally, having researched physics for so long, I have always thought of Cambridge in terms of the mathematical tripos and the Cavendish Laboratory. However, the growth of agriculture-and-nutrition-related biology at Cambridge, coming out of the natural sciences tripos, is pretty astounding as well. Here is a sketch of that growth:
1893: Department of Botany founded (though Cambridge had had professors of botany for some time)
1899: Department of Agriculture/Draper Chair* of Agriculture established
*The Draper chair was filled by William Somerville and T. H. Middleton (who both left for the Board of Agriculture) before being held from 1907 to 1929 by T. B. Wood.
1908: Chair established in Agricultural Botany; it is held by Rowland Biffen from 1908 to 1931.
1911: Institute for Animal Nutrition
–Having worked in evolutionary morphology at Cambridge, William Bateson built a research program in genetics mainly out of his home in nearby Grantchester (see Marsha Richmond’s article, cited here). Bateson left in 1910 to become first director of JIHI.
1912: Arthur Balfour chair in Genetics established; it is held by Reginald Punnett until 1940.
1912: Plant Breeding Institute established; it is directed by Biffen until 1936.
1919: National Institute for Agricultural Botany established in Cambridge.
1921: Molteno Institute for Parasitology established under George Henry Falkiner Nuttall
1922: Low Temperature Research Station established (this was a DSIR lab located in Cambridge)
1923: Institute of Animal Pathology
1923: Horticultural Research Station
1924: Dunn Institute of Biochemistry established* for Frederick Gowland Hopkins
*See Robert E. Kohler, “Walter Fletcher, F. G. Hopkins, and the Dunn Institute of Biochemistry: A Case Study in the Patronage of Science,” Isis 69 (1978): 330-355, for much further detail.
1927: Dunn Nutritional Laboratory established
1927: Potato Virus Research Station founded under Redcliffe Salaman
1932: Animal Research Station established (becomes the ARC Unit of Animal Reproduction after World War II)
1941: ARC Unit of Animal Physiology established under Joseph Barcroft; becomes the Institute of Animal Physiology in 1948.
1944: The ARC Unit of Insect Physiology, founded in 1942 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, moves to Cambridge with its founder Vincent Brian Wigglesworth.
1947: ARC Unit of Plant Biochemistry under Charles Hanes (disbanded in 1951)
1951: ARC Unit of Soil Physics under E. C. Childs
1956: ARC Statistical Service under R. C. Campbell
1969: ARC Unit of Developmental Botany under P. W. Brian
Update: See also this blog’s list of UK Agricultural Colleges