Old News

New Laboratory for J B Lawes at Rothamsted, Harpenden

From the Illustrated London News, No 754, Saturday, July 28, 1855


A DEMONSTRATION of an interesting character, in connection with the agricultural pre-eminence of Hertfordshire, took place, on Thursday week, in that county, when Mr .J. B. Lawes, of Rothamsted Park, was presented with a public acknowledgment of the valuable services he has rendered to agriculture by his varied and extensive experiments, of the results of which the farmer may profit, without incurring the expense and risk of experimenting for himself. The Testimonial originated about eighteen months since, with some farmers and others resident in the neighbourhood of Harpenden ; a public meeting was held at the Town-hall, St. Albans, a committee was formed, when the movement extended from a local to a national object, in which the leading agriculturists of the various counties of the kingdom have contributed their aid. It was then decided, on the suggestion of the Kentish Committee, that the Testimonial should consist of a piece of plate, as an heirloom; and of a new laboratory for the further prosecution of the scientific investigations which Mr. Lawes had undertaken. Subscriptions were opened for the purpose; and in July (last year) the first stone of the new laboratory was laid by Master C. B. Lawes. The building, which is placed on the grounds of Mr. Lawes, immediately facing Harpenden-common, and almost adjoining the high road, has been completed, at the cost of nearly £1000. The design (by Mr. J. H. Gilbert, architect, of Nottingham) contains a laboratory and museum; a back laboratory; a private laboratory; and store-room, balance-room, furnace-room, private room, &c. The " heirloom" is a handsome silver candelabrum, of characteristic design, by Hunt and Roskell, bearing the following inscription:— "Presented to John Bennet Lawes, Esq., as an heirloom; at the same time with a Laboratory at Rothamstead, Herts, in acknowledgment of the eminent services he has rendered to the science and practice of agriculture. July 19,1855." 

"We have engraved the new Laboratory wherein Mr. Lawes will here-after conduct his experiments, in place of the old building, " perhaps the only barn in the world ever devoted to such scientific pursuits."

The presentation took place on Thursday week, at a public dinner given to Mr. Lawes, by the subscribers to the Testimonial. Before the company sat down a large number of gentlemen inspected the experimental crops on the Rothamsted estate, when Dr. Gilbert, the conductor of the chemical experiments at the laboratory, explained to the company the various processes adopted, and the results, in the several fields visited. The fields under experiment are divided into plots, which are unmanured, or manured with farmyard manure, or cultivated with various artificial manures. The crops, which showed the results of the different modes adopted, were very clean and luxuriant. The dinner, which was supplied by Mr. Fuller, of the Bull Inn, took place in a marquee in the rear of the new laboratory. The Earl of Chichester presided ; the guests numbered 160; and, after dinner, a large number of the ladies of the neighbourhood entered the marquee, and occupied seats which had been set apart for them.

The after-dinner proceedings were unusually interesting. The customary loyal toasts having been drunk, the Earl of Chichester presented the plate to Mr. Lawes, in an able address, wherein his Lordship remarked upon the great services which Mr. Lawes has rendered to agriculturists ; the noble chairman adding that, as one of the oldest and most zealous members of the Royal Agricultural Society, he had watched with interest the progress of Mr. Lawes' experiments, and had read with delight those able papers which he had contributed to the society's journal. The Earl of Chichester concluded by formally presenting the Laboratory and the Candelabrum, which may be regarded specially as the testimony of the most experienced practical farmers of Hertfordshire, who have watched and appreciated Mr. Lawes' labours.

Mr. Lawes, in thanking the company for the handsome gifts, referred to the insufficiency of the old laboratory, adding that it was the 'only place he had for the purpose, except the bed-room in his house, which he had hitherto used. Mr. Lawes then adverted to the neglect of the study of chemistry in our schools and universities. He then took a rapid view of the progress of agricultural chemistry: characterising Sir Humphry Davy's book as productive of scarcely any improvement in the practice of the day ; and tracing the most important results to the publication of Baron Liebig's work in 1840. Mr. Lawes then drew a comparison between the respective benefits of science to manufactures and agriculture, in which he showed the disadvantageous position of the latter; and, in conclusion, Mr. Lawes spoke in high terms of the valuable services of Dr. Gilbert.

Several toasts were drunk, including "the Science and Practice of Agriculture "—proposed by the Rev. Mr. Huxtable, and replied to by Dr. Gilbert, who explained at some length, the mode of operation pursued by Mr. Lawes in the experiments which he conducted. He also referred to the importance to agriculturists of accurate and careful scientific experiments, as a means of placing the practice of agriculture on a foundation of fixed principles. Mr. F. Woodward, from Worcester, in proposing the health of the Acting Committee, stated that he had profited to the extent of some hundreds of pounds, and had no doubt that many agriculturists had profited to the extent of some thousands, by the experiments of Mr. Lawes. The party broke up at seven o'clock.

We should add, that the festival was kept as a rural holiday in the village of Harpenden ; a triumphal arch was erected in honour of Mr. Lawes; and after the dinner an ode, composed by a lady of the village, was sung by Mr. Fielding.

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