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Agricultural Colleges in Britain March 26, 2012

Posted by Will Thomas in Technocracy in the UK.
Tags: ,

Studley Castle Horticultural College for Women, 1910.
Source: Windows on Warwickshire (click for original)

Update: Carrie de Silva of Harper Adams University College has assembled a more complete and thorough list than the one which appears below.  It is available online in pdf here.  Like the list below, she emphasizes that her chronology is tentative, and is open to correction.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time chopping together a list and outline history of the various agricultural colleges founded in Britain and Northern Ireland, generally culled from various sources on the internet.  I have fairly reliable foundation dates for all but a few.  The actual names of the institutions are harder to nail down, because not only did they change, but they seem to have been referred to variously by the name of the county in which they were located, the farm on which they were built, or perhaps the village or town which they were near.  Further, sometimes a generic name like “farm institute” will be applied to a place that’s really maybe called an “agricultural college” or “farm school”.  But, rather than wait to polish all this up through intensive research, I’ve assembled my tentative list in this post in case it may be of use to anyone.

I believe this to be pretty comprehensive (a few local agriculture courses notwithstanding), though I think a few might have been created after the 1960s where this list cuts off.  These institutions are important to know about, by the way, since at least as many agricultural experts associated with the state seem to have come from these institutions, as from full-fledged agricultural programs at universities.  The colleges should be thought of as highly regional institutions — although in many ways important for educating people who linked the state to the local administration of its policies, they have doubtless been more associated with rural communities and local agricultural industry.

Finally, note that British Pathé has two films (update: three films, actually) of life at these colleges.  The Media Archive for Central England also has one.

Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester (1845)

Aspatria Agricultural College, Cumberland (1874-1914)

Set up by local landowners, never funded by the Board of Agriculture

Downton Agricultural College, near Salisbury (1880-1906)

A private college

Web: http://www.southwilts.com/site/downtonbuildings/BREAMORE-ROAD.htm

Tamworth Agricultural College and Training Farm, (1886-1914)

A private college established by the Sillito brothers

Swanley Horticultural College, Kent (1889-1945)

1889: Established

1891: Women students admitted

1903: Attendance limited to women

1945: Absorbed into Wye College

1949: Land purchased by Kent County Council for a new Horticulture Institute

Article: Donald L. Opitz, “‘A Triumph of Brains over Brute’: Women and Science at the Horticultural College, Swanley, 1890-1910” Isis 104 (2013): 30-62.

Film at: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/land-students-in-training

Cheshire School of Agriculture (1890)
also known as Reaseheath Farm Institute

1890: Agricultural Instruction Committee established in Cheshire

Later renamed Worleston Dairy Institute

1895: Holmes Chapel College of Agriculture established in association with University of Manchester

1919: Activities transferred to Reaseheath Hall

1921: Renamed Cheshire School of Agriculture

1926: Closure of Worleston Dairy Institute

1967: Becomes Reaseheath College

Lancashire College of Agriculture (1892)

1892: Agricultural courses established by county council at Preston Institute for the Diffusion of Knowledge (Harris Institute) in Avenham

1894: Lancashire County Institute of Agriculture established at Hutton south of Preston

1948: Winmarleigh Hall added to school

1967: Renamed Lancashire College of Agriculture

1969: College reopens as a new site at Myerscough

1979: Renamed Lancashire College of Agriculture and Horticulture

1993: Incorporated independent of county council as Myerscough College

1997: Winmarleigh site abandoned*

1999: Hutton site sold

Web: http://www.myerscough.ac.uk/?page=history

East Anglian Institute of Agriculture, Chelmsford (1893)

1893: Established as Essex Technical Laboratories

Other names: Essex Institute of Agriculture, Writtle Agricultural College; now Writtle College

Uckfield Agricultural and Horticultural College (1894-1915)

1894: Established by Sussex County Council

1915: College closed

The county council replaced Uckfield with the East Sussex Agricultural Institute

Web: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=179-pac&cid=0#0

South Eastern Agricultural College, Wye (1894-2009)

2000: Removed from independence within University of London system; becomes Imperial College at Wye

2009: Closed by Imperial College London

Ridgmont Agricultural Institute, Bedfordshire (1895-1911)
Possibly Ridgmont Farm School

1896: Opens to students

1911: Closes after its funds are embezzled

Web: http://www.bedfordshire.gov.uk/CommunityAndLiving/ArchivesAndRecordOffice/CommunityArchives/Ridgmont/WarrenFarmAndTheAgriculturalInstituteRid.aspx

Midland Agricultural (and Dairy) College, Sutton Bonington (1895)

1895: Midland Dairy Institute established at Kingston-on-Soar

1905: Name changed to Midland Agricultural and Dairy College

1913: Expansion planned at Sutton Bonington; buildings completed in 1915

1943: Enters into close relationship with University of Nottingham, Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture

1946: Advisory staff move to Shardlow Hall, Derbyshire

1948: The College is absorbed into the newly chartered University of Nottingham

Web: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/biosciences/schoolinformation/history.aspx

Cumberland and Westmorland Farm School, Newton Rigg (1896)
aka. Newton Rigg Farm School

2011: Activities at Newton Rigg campus transferred from University of Cumbria to Askham Bryan College

Hampshire Farm Institute, Sparsholt, Winchester (1899)

1899: Establishment of Hampshire Farm School in Basing, by Hampshire County Council

1914: Transfer to Westley Farm, Sparsholt

now Sparsholt College

Web: http://www.sparsholt.ac.uk/pages/template.aspx?idSection=54&idPage=36

West of Scotland Agricultural College (1899)

1899: Established from Agricultural Department of Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (est. 1887) and Scottish Dairy Institute

1900: Located at Blythswood Square, Glasgow

1927: College obtains Auchincruive/Girvan estate in Ayr

1974: Blythwood Square site closed

1990: Merged with North of Scotland College of Agriculture and East of Scotland College of Agriculture to form Scottish Agricultural College, which retains original campuses

Edinburgh and East of Scotland Agricultural College (1901)

1901: Established, absorbs Edinburgh School of Rural Economy, which had begun offering extension courses in 1894.

1990: Merged with West of Scotland Agricultural College and North of Scotland Agricultural College to form the Scottish Agricultural College, which retains the original campuses.

Harper Adams Agricultural College, Newport (1901)
contains National Institute of Poultry Husbandry

now Harper Adams University College

Studley Castle Horticultural and Agricultural College for Women (1903-1969)

1898: Coleyhurst hostel (Lady Warwick Hostel) offers agricultural training to women in association with Reading College

1902: Association with Reading College broken

1903: Lady Warwick College opens at Studley Castle

1908: Named changed to Studley College

1926: Official recognition by Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

1969: Closed

For more information, see: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=007-war5&cid=0#0

Also: http://edwardianpromenade.com/education/lady-warwicks-horticultural-agricultural-college-for-women/

Also: Anne Meredith, “Horticultural Education in England, 1900-1940: Middle-Class Women and Private Gardening Schools,” Garden History 31 (2003): 67-79.

North of Scotland Agricultural College, Aberdeen (1904)

1904: Established

1990: Merged with West of Scotland Agricultural College and North of Scotland Agricultural College to form the Scottish Agricultural College, which retains the original campuses.

Greenmount Agricultural College, Antrim (1912)

1912: Established as Antrim Agricultural School

Later Greenmount Agricultural College

2004: Greenmount merges with Loughry and Enniskillen agricultural colleges to form the College of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Enterprise

Monmouthshire Institute of Agriculture (and Horticulture), Usk (1913)
Also known as Usk College of Agriculture

Presently part of Coleg Gwent

Madryn Castle Farm School, Pwllheli/Glynllifon Agricultural Institute (1913)

1913: Established by Caernarvonshire County Council

1952: Closed and moved to Plas Glynllifon, becoming Glynllifon Agricultural Institute

1954: Renamed Glynllifon Agricultural College later Coleg Glynllifon

1993: Merged with Coleg Meironnydd to form Coleg Meiron-Dwyfor; Glynllifon campus retained

2010: Coleg Meiron-Dwyfor merges with Coleg Llandrillo Cymru

Seale-Hayne Agricultural and Technical College, Newton Abbot (1915-2005)

1919: Opens to students

1978: Name changed to Seale-Hayne College

1989: Joins with Plymouth Polytechnic, and incorporated into Polytechnic South-West

1992: Becomes Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Land-Use at new University of Plymouth

2005: The University of Plymouth closes the college

Llyfasi Farm Institute, Ruthin (1919)

1920: Officially opens as Llyfasi Farm Institute under the Denbighshire County Council

c1967: Renamed Llyfasi College of Agriculture*

2010: Merger of Llyfasi College with Deeside College

Web: http://www.deeside.ac.uk/llysfasi/history.php

Sittingbourne Farm Institute/Kent Farm and Horticulture Institute (c1919)

1919: Land purchased at Grove End Farm, Tunstall, near Sittingbourne for the Sittingbourne Farm Institute, Kent Farm Institute, or occasionally Borden Farm Institute

1929: Nearby Borden Grammar School is occupied by the Farm Institute

Web: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/09/a1993809.shtml

1949: Swanley property purchased, forming the Swanley Horticultural Institute or Kent Horticultural Institute

1958: The farm and horticultural institutes merge to form the Kent Farm and Horticulture Institute

1960: Property purchased at Hadlow to bring the two institutes closer together

1966: The agricultural institute moves to Hadlow

1967: The horticultural institute moves to Hadlow, and the combined institute is renamed the Hadlow College of Agriculture and Horticulture

Presently Hadlow College

Chadacre Agricultural Institute, Hartest, Bury St. Edmonds (1920-1989)

1920: Founded by Edward Guinness, First Earl of Iveagh

1989: Closed

Web: http://www.chadacre-trust.org.uk/index.htm

Rodbaston Farm Institute (1921)
Also known as Staffordshire Farm Institute, Rodbaston

1921: Established as Rodbaston Farm Institute under Staffordshire County Council

1967: Renamed Staffordshire College of Agriculture

1994: Becomes independent, renamed Rodbaston College

Presently part of South Staffordshire College

For additional information, see the note below by Tim Johnson.

Hertfordshire Agricultural Institute, Oaklands, St. Albans (1921)

1921: Founded as Hertfordshire Agricultural Institute by the Hertfordshire County Council

Later named Hertfordshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture

Also known as Oaklands Farm Institute

1991: Hertfordshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture merged with De Havilland College and St. Albans City College to form Oaklands College

Somerset Farm Institute at Cannington Court (1921)

1921: Established

Later called Cannington College

Evidently merged into Brymore School and Cannington Centre for Land-Based Studies at Bridgwater College

Northamptonshire Farm Institute, Moulton (1921)

1921: Established as Northamptonshire Farm Institute

Later called Northamptonshire Agricultural College

Presently Moulton College

East Sussex School of Agriculture/Plumpton College of Agriculture (1926)

1919: Estate bought by the county council

1926: First intake of students at East Sussex Agricultural Institute

1934: Renamed East Sussex School of Agriculture

1967: Renamed Plumpton Agricultural College

Presently part of Plumpton College

Film (1967): http://www.britishpathe.com/video/farming-school

Web: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=179-pac&cid=0#0

Web: http://www.plumpton.ac.uk/pages/viewpage.aspx?PageClass=Information&PageID=445&PageTitle=College%20History&DepartmentID=117

Durham College of Agriculture and Horticulture, Houghall (1938)
Also known as Houghall College; possibly earlier as Durham School of Agriculture, Houghall

1999: Incorporated as part of East Durham and Houghall Community College

Now known as East Durham College

Surrey Farm Institute, Merrist Wood (1945)

1945: Founded as Surrey Farm Institute, Merrist Wood, Worplesdon

1967: Renamed Merrist Wood Agricultural College

2003: Becomes part of Guildford College

Web: http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHCOL_5387

Shuttleworth Agricultural College (1946-1996)

1988: Absorbed into Cranfield Rural Institute of Cranfield Institute of Technology

1996: Shuttleworth activities transferred to Silsoe College

Web: http://www.shuttleworth-sca.co.uk/index.php?page=history-of-the-college

Bicton Farm Institute/Agricultural College, East Budleigh, Devonshire (1947)
Also known as Devon School of Agriculture

1947: Established as Bicton Farm Institute

1967: Renamed Bicton Agricultural College

2002: Renamed Bicton College

Web: http://www.bicton.ac.uk/about/history_of_bicton_college.php

Warwickshire Institute of Agriculture, Moreton Morrell (c1948)
Presently Moreton Morrell Centre of Warwickshire College

Kesteven Farm Institute, Caythorpe Court (1948-2002)

1948: Established

c1965: Renamed Kesteven Agricultural College

1980: Amalgamated with Lindsey College of Agriculture and Holbeach Agricultural Centre to form the Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture

1994: Absorbed into De Montfort University as its School of Agriculture

2001: Lincolnshire School of Agriculture moves from De Montfort to the University of Lincoln

2002: Caythorpe campus closed; activities relocated to the Riseholme College campus

Web: http://www.parksandgardens.ac.uk/component/option,com_parksandgardens/task,site/id,740/tab,history/Itemid,/

Yorkshire Institute of Agriculture/Askham Bryan College of Agriculture and Horticulture (1948)

1948: Opens to students as Yorkshire Institute of Agriculture

1967: Renamed Askham Bryan College of Agriculture and Horticulture

Presently Askham Bryan College

Derbyshire Farm Institute/Broomfield Agricultural College (1948)
Later called Broomfield Agricultural College

2002: Merged with Mackworth Tertiary College and Wilmorton Tertiary College to form Derby College; Broomfield campus retained

Gloucestershire Farm Institute (1948)

1948: Established as Gloucestershire Farm Institute at Hartpury House

Later called Hartpury College

Dorset Farm Institute, Kingston Maurward (1949)
Later changes names, likely to Dorset College of Agriculture

Presently Kingston Maurward College

Shropshire Farm Institute (1949)

1979: Renamed Walford College of Agriculture*

2001: Merger with North Shropshire College to form Walford and Northshropshire College

Film (1952-3): http://www.macearchive.org/Archive/Title/shropshire-farm-institute-walford/MediaEntry/181.html

Web: http://www.wnsc.ac.uk/index.php?id=2234

Norfolk School of Agriculture/College of Agriculture and Horticulture, Easton (1949)

1949: Established as Norfolk School of Agriculture

Also known as Norfolk Farm Institute

Later Norfolk Colleges of Agriculture and Horticulture

1974: Easton College formed by merger of Norfolk College of Agriculture and Norfolk College of Horticulture

Riseholme Farm Institute/Lindsey Agricultural College (1949)

1949: Established

Renamed Lindsey Farm Institute

1966: Renamed Lindsey College of Agriculture

1980: Merged with Kesteven Agricultural College and Holbeach Agricultural Centre to form the Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture

1994: Absorbed into De Montfort University as its School of Agriculture

2001: Lincolnshire School of Agriculture moves from De Montfort to the University of Lincoln

Web: http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/riseholmecollege/Non%20Course%20Pages/history.htm

Berkshire Institute of Agriculture (1949)

1949: Established

1968: Renamed Berkshire College of Agriculture

Web: http://www.bca.ac.uk/history-of-bca/

Wiltshire Farm Institute/Lackham School of Agriculture (1950)

1945: Lackham Farm purchased for use as a farm institute, but loaned for training of ex-servicemen

1950: Wiltshire Farm Institute founded under the county council

Name changed to Lackham School of Agriculture

c1966: Name changed to Lackham College of Agriculture following 1966 Pilkington Report

1993: Named changed to Lackham College

2000: Lackham, Trowbridge, and Chippenham Colleges merge to form Wiltshire College

Web: http://www.lackham.co.uk/history/documents.asp

Kirkley Hall Farm Institute/Northumberland College of Agriculture (1951)

1951: Established as Kirkley Hall Farm Institute

1968: Becomes Northumberland College of Agriculture

1989: Becomes Kirkley Hall College

2000: Becomes part of Northumberland College

Web: http://www.communigate.co.uk/ne/friendsofkirkleyhall/

Golden Grove (Gelli Aur) Farm Institute, Carmarthenshire (1952)

1952: Founded as Golden Grove Farm Institute

Later Carmarthenshire Agricultural College

Gelli Aur Farm now part of Coleg Sir Gar

Pershore College (c1954)

1954: Founded as a horticultural station

2007: Merges into Warwickshire College, now Pershore Centre

Bishop Burton Agricultural College, Yorkshire (1954)

Presently Bishop Burton College

Norwood Hall Institute of Horticultural Education (1955)

1955: Founded as Norwood Hall Institute for Horticultural Education

Later part of Ealing Tertiary College

1996: Closed, students transferred to Capel Manor College

Web: http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk/gardens-online-record.asp?ID=EAL037

Film (1960): http://www.britishpathe.com/video/norwood-hall-horticultural-school/query/Perry

National College of Agricultural Engineering/Silsoe College (1960)

1960: Established

1962: Opens at Boreham House, Chelmsford

1963: Moves to Silsoe

1975: Merges into Cranfield Institute of Technology

1983: Name changed to Silsoe College within Cranfield Institute of Technology

1987: Cranfield Rural Institute formed

1988: Shuttleworth College joins Cranfield Rural Institute

1999: Silsoe College becomes Cranfield University at Silsoe

2007: Silsoe farm retained; academic activities moved to main campus of Cranfield University.

Web: http://www1.bluemoose.org.uk/pmwiki.php

Otley Agricultural and Horticultural College (1960)

1960: Agricultural Research Centre established at Witnesham by the East Suffolk County Council

1970: Site moved to present location

1983: Name changed to Otley College of Agriculture and Horticulture*

Holme Lacy Agricultural College (1963)

1963: Founded

2007: Becomes Holme Lacy campus of Herefordshire College of Technology

Web: http://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/smrSearch/Monuments/Monument_Item.aspx?ID=30474

Capel Manor Institute of Horticulture (1967)

1967: Founded as Capel Manor Institute of Horticulture

1986: Becomes Capel Manor College of Horticulture

1996: Becomes Capel Manor College

Cambridgeshire Farm College, Milton (1968)

1968: Cambridgeshire Farm College founded at Milton

1987: Merged with Isle of Ely College, Wisbech to form Cambridgeshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture

1998: Combines with Norfolk College of Arts and Technology

2006: Merges with Isle College, Wisbech, to form the College of West Anglia

Limited Information

Kirton Agricultural Institute (est. c 1925?)
aka Holland Farm Institute near Boston, Lincolnshire

Pibwrlwyd Farm Institute, Carmarthen

Alconbury, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire (c1948)

Ethy, Barton, Cornwall


1. Dominic Berry - March 26, 2012

A handy resource indeed! I’d be interested to know what you are planning on using this for? If some of them didn’t move around I might be tempted to make a google map…no, I mustn’t, back to work.

The only one I can think of not on here off the top of my head is the Royal Veterinary College.

If you’re going to update this I’d recommend taking a look at the Board of Agriculture’s ‘Annual report on the Distribution of Grants for Agricultural Education and Research’. Just opened the one for 1908 and I can see you’ve left out Armstrong College (Newcastle). If that’s because it’s attached to a university then fair enough, although it also gave out college diplomas, so could be a tricky distinction to maintain. Anyway, very excited to see this post! Let’s have more like it!

2. Will Thomas - March 27, 2012

Hi Dominic — I haven’t included explicitly veterinary education or universities in this list, but you’re quite right to note there’s not a clear line. The Royal Veterinary College evidently dates back to 1791, which makes it contemporaneous with some of the earliest attempts to establish agricultural research: Edinburgh established its agriculture chair in 1790, and the Sibthorpian chair at Oxford was established in 1796 (though all the secondary sources seem to view the Sibthorpian chair as unimportant — according to them Oxford didn’t get serious about agriculture until the 20th century). As Morris Berman noted, it’s not inappropriate to include the 1799 formation of the Royal Institution here either.

Here are some other tentative university dates I have on file:

University College of North Wales, Bangor (c1888)
Durham University (Armstrong College) (1891)
Leeds (1891)
Nottingham (1892-1900; 1948)
University College Reading (1893)
University of Aberdeen (1893)
University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (1893)
Cambridge University (1899-197X)
Bristol (1912)

Then, there are probably a few more besides that, but I don’t have them listed. Plus you have to start worrying about genetics research, mycology, and that sort of thing, and whether or not it “counts” as “agriculture” and things get out of hand rather quickly….

One of the interesting things with both the colleges and the university programs is that they tend to grow in spurts, suggesting the existence of some sort of booster network. I haven’t seen anything detailed on this, but that may be because I haven’t looked in the proper literature. I suspect there’s more to be written.

As my own project has to do with state experts, my interest in this is to get a sense of the background of these experts, to figure out who they are. Geneticist plant-breeding experts are all the historiographical rage these days, but most state support and regulation of agriculture is more prosaic, and I want to know what generally the state was trying to accomplish, and using what resources.

On Google Maps, I’ve started one of various experimental husbandry and horticulture farms, plus some assorted other locations:


This is very scattershot, but it might be interesting to make it a collaborative map.

Dominic Berry - March 27, 2012

As for the ‘counting’ as agriculture question I think pluralism is the way forward, particularly by looking at what a given scientist gets up to. If they:
1. Spend time working on economically important viruses, fungi, insects etc. they count.
2. If they dedicate part of their time to providing demonstrations, they probably count.
3. if they give public lectures to agriculturalists, they probably count.
4. If they write in the agricultural press (the non-scientific press I mean) they probably count. And so on.

The question of the extent to which their work altered agricultural practice (let alone improved it) can be asked afterwards.

So I don’t ruin your map, can I have some clearer guidelines? I see you have Rothamsted on there, do you want ALL institutions that devoted themselves to agricultural science, or just the places that ran field trials?

Scotland is empty, do you want to restrict yourself to England and Wales? This is not necessarily an illegitimate thing to do, as the English were always trying to get the Scottish to conform and the Scottish departments in turn set about doing their own thing.

3. Will Thomas - March 27, 2012

I agree — pluralism is the watchword, accept no non-porous boundaries! In fact, I’ve probably spent a bit too much time looking at the history of biological research on the rationale that it is related, and not enough time out of my comfort zone in policy history. But one should delimit posts like these on some reasonable basis.

The map, however, is not so delimited; it’s just something I threw together some months ago to give my spatial imagination a little help in digesting some of the material I was looking at. However, it makes no pretence whatsoever to being a comprehensive portrait of anything in particular. Ideally, I think it could be expanded to include whatever kind of institution one wanted to put on it.

Here at Imperial, I’ve been pushing an internal wiki to keep track of “what we know”. (Ostensibly, this is to try and make reading groups into a cumulative enterprise, rather than as an opportunity to exercise critical faculties against haphazardly chosen articles and chapters). I would envision it being opened up to the outside world if ever it became presentable, but that would not be in the near future.

However, the map might be thought of as an alternative project “born open”. The only stipulation I can imagine is that ideally one should be able to pinpoint a location, not just drop a pin in a general region. (I think I’ve actually violated this in one or two cases, lamentably….) I wasn’t going to do anything with it, but since you mentioned mapping agricultural colleges (however distracting the task may be!), I figured rather than having a bunch of people mapping the same stuff privately, it would be a good idea to lay our cards on the table, so to speak.

Andrew Humphries - April 17, 2012

The first college primarily practicing farmers was established at Aspatria in Cumberland in 1874 and functioned until World War 1 as a pioneer institution which was also linked to the Aspatria Agricultural Cooperative the oldest surviving one in the UK. Aspatria was followed by the Cumberland and Westmorland Farm School that opened in 1896 as an innovative collaborative venture between Cumberland and Westmorland – one of the first four Farm Institutes.

Will Thomas - April 17, 2012

Thanks Andrew. You’ve sent me scrambling to Paul Brassley’s chapter, “Agricultural Science and Education,” in The Agrarian History of England and Wales, 1850-1914, and I see that I missed his reference to Aspatria there, as well as a similar institution at Tamworth, both of which I’ve now included on the list above.

4. William Burns - April 18, 2012

Incidentally, witness the latest incarnation of the experimental husbandry farm – the ‘NIAB Innovation Farm’ – http://www.innovationfarm.co.uk.

Dominic Berry - April 18, 2012

You guys should come and visit NIAB next time you’re in Cambridge, they’re all very friendly and will usually be more than happy to show people around the grounds (depends on how busy they are). Not much husbandry on innovation farm though, more a breeding showcase.

William Burns - April 20, 2012

Thanks Dominic. Your NIAB project looks interesting – I took a look at your web page. Please do keep in touch as I am interested in these matters from a policy perspective.

5. Will Thomas - April 20, 2012

Thanks William and Dominic — William has now left Imperial to work with the Society for General Microbiology, where he has a lot of contact with the scientific community. I still must get into contact with some of the organisations I’m looking into as part of this project.

Just to clarify William’s point for those not privy to our prior discussions: we developed an interest here in Experimental Husbandry Farms (and Horticulture Stations), because it seemed to us a lot of the historical literature was interested in the relation between agricultural research and practical farming. These farms and stations were set up after the war as a way of facilitating this relation (testing research farm results in local settings, and that sort of thing), and a lot of them are still run by ADAS. But I don’t think anyone has really written on them. Of course, there were demonstration centres as well, which is quite a different thing, though their function is in some ways analogous (presenting research products to broader publics). I gather this is what the Innovation Farm is.

6. Peter Pearson - May 2, 2012

You might want to look at/include the National Institute for Research In Dairying at Reading – founded in 1912 and closed in 1985



Will Thomas - May 2, 2012

Hi Peter, thanks for the comment — this list should be cross-referenced with this earlier list of agricultural research centres in Britain. That one’s not complete either, but NIRD is to be found on there. Hopefully someday this will all be synthesised together into some publicly available resource.

Thanks also for the map link, I don’t think I had a good specific location for it.

7. Will Thomas - May 18, 2012

I just recently found references to a number of farm institutes/agricultural colleges, apparently mainly founded in the postwar period, a number of which still exist in another institutional form. I’ve updated the above list with the following:

Surrey/Merrist Wood
Wiltshire/Lackham (the linked website has a rich history of agricultural education history put together by a former principal of Lackham, and put online by Tony Pratt, a member of the garden staff at Wiltshire College)
Northumberland/Kirkley Hall
Carmarthenshire/Golden Grove/Gelli Aur

and then I found references to Alconbury and Ethy in Cornwall, but I haven’t yet seen actual evidence that these were operating colleges, though I haven’t looked very hard.

8. William Burns - May 30, 2012

Dear Will & Dominic, Is this a re-incarnation of an experimental husbandry farm – ‘Farm Research Platform’ (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/food-security/2012/120524-pr-globally-unique-farm-research-platform.aspx)?

The ‘Platform’ is located at North Wyke in Devon, which I think was once the location of a Fisons fertilizers experimental station. Ironically, the new Farm Research Platform is going to conduct research on fertilizers. It also benefits from ‘9km of French drains’ (?).

As the website reveals, it is a Rothamsted initiative (BBSRC, ex-ARC). Did Rothamsted have a site at North Wyke, historically speaking?

Will Thomas - May 30, 2012

William, according to my records, the North Wyke facility belonged to Fisons from 1955 to 1981, when it was sold to the Grassland Research Institute (initially George Stapledon’s initiative, as you’ll recall — note that the current Director of the British Grassland Society is among those posed in the promotional photo). All of the Grassland Research Institute’s work was moved from Hurley to North Wyke by the time Hurley closed in 1992. The facility was put under Rothamsted’s umbrella in 2008.


I think we’re a little hung up on the experimental husbandry farms here. The whole point of them was that they existed as a series of farms throughout the country, so that research results could be tested in local contexts. A lot of the original ones still exist under ADAS, though some have been closed.

It’s actually a little difficult to tell from the news release how this facility differs from an ordinary research station, but I gather that the new North Wyke “capability” is almost the opposite of an EHF, in that it is a step toward almost recreating isolated laboratory conditions at the field level (albeit with a strong husbandry component). At least that’s how I interpret: “Because each farmlet is hydrologically isolated the researchers will be able to monitor closely everything that goes into and comes off each one [thus the French drains], such as nutrient and carbon fluxes as well as financial records. This will allow scientists to come up with an accurate balance sheet of inputs and outputs under different treatments.”

9. William Burns - May 30, 2012

Thanks for that Will. To be clear what I am looking for is a readily usable, and historically-stable (to near approximation), taxonomy of ‘research stations’ that I can use to assess change in the farming sector. In other words, is there more interest now in agricultural research than last year, or ten years ago, etc.? The point is to decipher claims for true novelty, a problem that comes up very often in my work, which is often about tracking trends and deciding where they might lead in the next five years – and, accordingly, advising others on the ‘true’ status of these trends.

10. Dominic Berry - May 31, 2012

Taxonomy of research stations = tricky! Probably the best you (or rather I) could do is a set of sliding scales:



local/state (management)



(I happen to think ‘pure’ agricultural science is a contradiction in terms, but it’s remarkable how many times people have been able to call upon this rhetoric successfully. I suppose you could say some researchers are LESS concerned with field application than others.)

I’m not quite sure I understand your claims to novelty comment, do you mean when people claim to have created a new kind of research station? In which case I think the Janus-faced historian’s duty is to bellow “Nothing new under the sun” while slapping those who over-generalize.

Dominic Berry - May 31, 2012

Small clarifying point, I’m not that convinced of ‘pure’ research claims in general, but was just making the point that in agriculture the notion seems entirely misplaced.

11. William Burns - May 31, 2012

Thanks Dominic,
On novelty, I mean both. Yes, surely you are right that there is nothing new under the sun, but there is also difference.

Novelty, as you say, is a rhetorical stance and most scientists probably know it is just that. I think the question is how one uses the invented arguments of novelty (and continuity) to drive home one’s point. That is a hard tension to craft well. If a historian can click into this tension and use it as a starting point for advice, I guess he or she will get the attention of scientific folks (or so I would hope!)

More specifically, what I think I mean mostly is how can we decipher governments’ & scientists’ rhetoric around a ‘rejuvenated interest’ in applied agricultural research (‘translational science in agriculture’). Getting hold of the financial accounts is just too hard (short of a freedom of information request), and then plotting such data over time would be impossible even, I guess, for a professional accountant.

What I want actually is a line graph that shows the number of research stations of different types 1900-present. I admit this is a small point really, so sorry to have clogged up Ether Wave so much with it! (throws up hands!)

Will Thomas - June 1, 2012

Don’t worry about clogging up EWP — we have plenty of electrons to spread around, and this is the best possible use for a blog.

One needs a few overlapping taxonomies in order to evaluate current projects in light of historical precedent. So, here, I would map very closely onto what Dominic says. I would divide experimental farms up into 1) research, 2a) trials 2b) demonstration, and 3) education. The question is whom the farm serves, which I would divide up into the research literature, consultants and visitors (thus the reason why the EHFs and EHSs went to ADAS), and students. Obviously, farms can serve multiple purposes, but I think they will generally have a major audience.

By the way, you’re right to want to chart funding (and I would think you should be able to get research council reports on this), but also look at staffing levels. A lot of research institutes stick around, but with reduced staffing. Then there are issues with institute amalgamation — often this has been done with an eye to making research more collaborative and efficient, which it may, but it is also usually accompanied by staff reductions. If you look around on the internet, you will find a number of discussion groups by former research station and agricultural college employees, usually accompanied by laments for the dwindling resources put into agricultural research and (to a lesser extent) education.

Now, this said, one should also consider that certain lines of research might run the well dry. Old fashioned plant breeding might have continued after the advent of genetics in the early 20c. So, did it make the most sense to switch research to genetics, given that research is supposed to be ahead of the practical game, not coincident with it? So, one should be on the look out for changes in research strategy, and this includes mission changes at research institutes as well.

All this requires digesting a lot of information, but if historians and generic science-studies scholars really want to be involved in this sort of thing as anything other than a trendy sort of consultant, that’s the level it’s going to have to be at.

I agree with Dominic on the “pure” agricultural research question, but that terminology has always made the most sense as a relative measure. So, studying plant genetics is comparatively pure to studying the prevalence of different fungi with different levels of moisture, or something like that. Having a good reference taxonomy of research types would be useful in avoiding confusion, though.

12. William Burns - June 7, 2012

Great replies Will & Dominic. I will now start plotting my graphs according to your taxonomy of ‘audience’ (rather than the more usual taxonomy of funding sources), and a good point about staff numbers. I am going to call it an ‘end-user taxonomy’. Perhaps it has some similarities to ‘history of technology in use’.

The financial information is very hard to decipher, I must admit. The current Research Council ‘Delivery Plans’ seem very light on financial detail, tending to lump vast sums of money together, without a cost breakdown for each programme or institute. The MRC’s plan is particularly vague on that account.

I guess one needs to drill down to the individual research establishments, and get the data from them (I suspect that will be a laborious task). Incidentally, the Department of Business have taken the Research Council establishments off ‘block’ grants completely (I think that was the headline) – I wonder if this will make it easier or harder to decipher the allocations, for outsiders & the accounting laity (such as myself).

Ministry of Defence (i.e., Dstl) establishments at Porton, Fort Halstead and Portsdown West contract site management to private corporations (Serco, Robert McAlpine, et al.). Not sure if the Research Councils do/are planning to do similar.

What I’m looking for is a good forensic accountant!

13. William Burns - June 7, 2012

The other question, and this came to me after a conversation with an agricultural scientist interested in ‘alternative technologies’, was how does our taxonomy parse places like the Centre for Alternative Technology, CAT (http://www.cat.org.uk/)? In other words, why do ‘we’ always talk about Rothamsted, and assume it represents the near totality of what matters?

Are places like CAT compatible/should they be compatible with an account of research institutions in, say, the agricultural sphere?

Are such institutions currently excluded, or pushed off into the ‘alternative’/’small is beautiful’ realm for out-dated political reasons and should we reconfigure our accounts to include them in the same breath as the government-owned (&, for that matter, the commercial) research establishments?

Accordingly, and assuming one could construct such an all-inclusive account, should government, in its now far less solid financial relationship with the ‘official’ research establishments, establish a level playing field and support whom and whoever looks good (according to some pre-set criterion), i.e., CAT are the same as Rothamsted, and vice versa?

14. Will Thomas - June 7, 2012

You have very interesting problems these days, William. I guess it’s not too surprising that the major reports are thin on financial particulars. I suspect this is a good opportunity to break into the world of the intensive policy researcher, which involves working with research and administrative staff to obtain the data you need.

The task may be laborious, but perhaps not as bad as you think. The reason the data aren’t more readily available is either a) because there’s no demand for it, or b) they don’t want it to be available. I suspect the answer here might be “a” more often that we suspect. If they are willing (i.e., they are not “b”), the key to getting answers would be to ask for figures that they can readily cull from their records. It might be worth doing some preliminary investigation to see how they organize their accounts, before you ask for actual figures.

My uninformed guess is that most research council- or government-funded organizations will spiritually fall into “a”, no matter who does the actual administration. Private organizations (companies, ADAS…) might be less forthcoming, but it can’t hurt to ask. As Dominic noted above, NIAB has been very friendly to him. Also, professional organizations query private industries where their members work quite often, and, I gather, do receive some level of response.

I suspect, by the way, you might discover that there is an underlying reason why the historian and the policy researcher appear to have such different methods. I suspect you might well be able to get some unpublished information voluntarily from research organizations, but that it won’t actually go very far back.

On your second comment, the obvious philosophy with respect to “our accounts” is the more the merrier. If we’re only looking at Rothamsted, then we’re clearly only getting part of the picture, even if it is, by some definition, the most important site. I can’t imagine anyone would actually object to being more inclusive in one’s portraits of agricultural and agriculture-related research, even if the new things being included look rather small by comparison.

As to the question of “support” (which involves expending actual resources, rather than mere narrative space), there are some well-established, and often contradictory philosophies at work: “making the peaks higher”, “levelling the playing field”, “economies of scale” (i.e., only large efforts can hope for important results), supporting things that can make a practical difference, supporting long-range possibilities that are presently marginal, etc. Establishing a strategy from those philosophies involves making an assessment of how much one can tolerate risk, small accomplishment in the short run, competing with activities markets might sustain, and so on. Whether we can ascribe existing strategies (i.e., practical mixes of general philosophies) to some generic political conception of “how things should be” is unclear. I suspect inertia from established practices has more weight on present strategy than some dominating abstract idea or narrative that exists in the heads of the people who run the funding agencies.

15. tom earl - July 3, 2012

Will (Thomas), I live at Ethy and would be very interested to know where you saw the reference to Ethy as a possible educational farm? many thanks, tom.earl@total.com

Will Thomas - July 3, 2012

Hi Tom, thanks for the question. The reference is from a list of “farm institutes” attached to files relating to the reorganistion of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’s Land Use Division, dated October 1949. They don’t say anything specific about it.

Along with a number of other new institute locations, it has an asterisk beside it, indicating “Sketch plans prepared and amendments to Architects schemes”. So it must have still been in the planning stage. Since I have found no other references to it, I assume that the plan fell through. But I have no hard evidence concerning it one way or another, so I’ve left the door open on the question.

Embarrassingly, my note indicating the archive location of the file refers to another file I had out at that time, so I would have to consult my archive order history to clear up the confusion. I don’t think I can do this unless I am actually on the computers at the Kew archives, and I don’t have any immediate plans to visit (though I live close-by). I assume, though, that you don’t need the exact reference.

Will Thomas - July 3, 2012

I did a little more poking around and found a reference in Ministry of Education files (ED 174/138), “Lostwithiel: proposed establishment of a farm institute at Ethy Estate”. The contents span 1948 to 1952.

16. Rob Dunn - January 7, 2013

Will, this is a fascinating read; you’ve obviously put a great deal of work in to this. During my career I have worked at five land-based colleges…Myerscough, Plumpton, Bicton Cannington and Holme Lacy in Hereford to which there is no reference. Not sure of your original source but if you would like me to pull together some dates/history I’d be happy to assist.

Will Thomas - January 7, 2013

Hi Rob, this list was pulled together from a wide variety of sources, mostly scattered across the internet, and some published sources. A major reason for doing so was because it is a bit of a chore that if anyone else wanted to know about this stuff, they should at least have something to give them a good start. I see that Carrie de Silva’s list is also missing information on Holme Lacy, so if you could track down even an outline history, it would be very useful. Cheers!

Robin Knott - January 7, 2013

Further to Rob Dunn email Holme Lacy was originally Hereford School of Agriculture

Will Thomas - January 8, 2013

Thanks Robin — if anyone has access to any major dates, that also would be very useful.

17. Steve Dowbiggin - January 11, 2013

Hi Will,
I know we are new boys on the block and were not formed until after your 1960 deadline but I wonder whether Capel Manor College is worth a mention.?
Formed 1067 as the Capel Manor Institute of Horticulture
1986 the constituted as the Capel Manor College of Horticulture
Renamed Capel Manor College 1996
With 3,000 students all on landbased courses we are probably visible to many.
Also I note that you have not included Norwood Hall the Middlesex County Horticultural College. It was big in its day with notable Principals such as the famous Frances Perry. It closed in 1996 and all its staff and students transferred to Capel Manor College

Will Thomas - January 11, 2013

Hi Steve, thanks for pointing out the omission. There are definitely no firm boundaries on the list, and I’m very glad to have the information. I’ve updated the list to include both Norwood Hall (British Pathé even turned out to have an old film of it), and Capel Manor.

I’m always amazed by the interest this post attracts. This project got put on the back-burner, but given the scope and interest in it, I must pick it back up if I get the opportunity.

18. Will Thomas - April 9, 2013

There is a new article out on the Horticultural College at Swanley: Donald L. Opitz, “‘A Triumph of Brains over Brute’: Women and Science at the Horticultural College, Swanley, 1890-1910” Isis 104 (2013): 30-62

niabarchive - April 9, 2013

Good sport, cheers!

niabarchive - April 9, 2013

Meant “spot”. I’m not THAT English.

19. Tim Johnson - April 18, 2013

Re Staffordshire Farm Institute:
The County had identified a site (1912)the First World War but it was not persued because of the impending war. The Rodbaston estate became available during the was and was purchased by the CC. Part was used for the Institute and part for small-holdings. Rushton was the first Principal, followed by Bates who was working in Norfolk. I have the manuscript of his ‘Fens ‘ history written during the second War as requested by the MoS b was never published. Bates died suddenly and he was followed by Wells – an arch-enemy an Staffordshire County Agricultural Officer. Wells had been transferred to Staffordshire from Derbyshire by the Minister of Agriculture who ‘sacked’ his Staffordshire predecessor for incompetence.

Will Thomas - April 18, 2013

Hi Tim, thanks for the additional info — I’ve added a note above pointing down to your comment.

20. Mike - December 28, 2015

A tiny typo – Chadacre was at Hartest.

Will Thomas - December 28, 2015


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