[Rothamsted Experimental Station] | Drawings and Plans of the Lawes Testimonial Laboratory

  • First and only edition of this uncommon set of lithographs depicting the first purpose-built laboratory at one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, the Rothamsted Experimental Station (now Rothamsted Research), most famous for the Park Grass Experiment, which has been running continuously since 1856. WorldCat locates copies only at Harvard, Illinois, and the Royal Danish Library.

    Rothamstead was founded in 1843 by the chemist and entrepreneur John Bennet Lawes (1814-1900) who made significant experiments on fertilizers at his family estate during the 1830s and was awarded a patent for the process of using sulphuric acid to decompose bones so that their calcium phosphate could be taken up by plants. His fertiliser manufacturing plants earned a considerable fortune, which he reinvested in agricultural research.

    “Lawes invited Joseph Henry Gilbert (1817–1901) to join him at Rothamsted as chemist, and in practice to be director in charge of the day-to-day management of agricultural experiments. This began a lifelong association, and virtually all the results of the Rothamsted experiments, certainly from the mid-1850s onwards, were published under the joint names of Lawes and Gilbert. The establishment of the Rothamsted Experimental Station also effectively dates from 1843, when the previous superphosphate trials ceased and the continuous recording of the wheat yields from Broadbalk Field began. This was—and continues to be—a ‘control’ plot on which wheat was grown continuously without any manure, and it became the most famous field in the world” (ODNB).

    Many in the farming community “appreciated the generous way in which he freely publicized the results and thus provided extremely valuable guidance on which fertilizers, or farmyard manure, and in what amounts, to use on which crops. His growing reputation for liberality and support of objective and disinterested agricultural research helped him to win the patent cases; it moved the farmers, initially of Hertfordshire and then of the country at large, to raise a public testimonial to him in 1853 in recognition of his contributions to the improvement of agriculture. The money was used to build the Testimonial Laboratory at Rothamsted, which replaced the original barn. This was a pretentious and poorly constructed building, which collapsed in 1912” (ODNB).

    Despite this, the research station was a resounding success. The work undertaken there “laid the foundations for the systematic study of the effects of fertilizers and nutrients on soils and plant growth... less well-known experiments with farm animals, mainly conducted between 1848 and 1864, initiated controlled research into the effects of different diets on weight-gain in cattle, sheep, and pigs, and, crucially, into measuring the chemical composition and manurial value of the excreta produced by the different diets” (ODNB). All scientific work at the station was undertaken for practical agricultural purposes, and “Rothamsted became so frequently and intensively visited that a marquee with beer and other refreshments for visiting groups was almost permanently in use. This reputation was further enhanced by Lawes's announcement that he would give £100,000 from the proceeds of selling his factories to provide for the long-term future of the Rothamsted station. He redeemed this promise in 1889 by establishing the Lawes Agricultural Trust with that endowment, to which the laboratory, and the several fields of the home farm which were used for the experiments, were assigned on long lease” (ODNB).

  • ...Rothamsted, Herts. London: F. Dangerfield, 1860.

    Oblong folio (370 x 540 mm). 2 tinted lithographic views and 2 lithographic plans, stitched in buff wrappers with lithographed title. Stitching a little loose, adhesive residue along one edge of the wrappers where original cloth backing is lacking, dampstain affecting the upper left corners of the contents but not affecting the images, some nicks and creasing. Very good condition.