John Bennet Lawes was an archetypal Victorian - scientist, entrepreneur and benefactor. He became interested in science after leaving Brasenose College, Oxford and, on assuming responsibility for the management of the Rothamsted Estate, started a number of small-scale experiments in pots in 1837-39 and in the field in 1840-41. In 1842 he took out a patent for the manufacture of superphosphate fertilizer and in 1843 started production at a factory in Deptford, London.
In the same year he recognised that field trials should be conducted in a systematic and comprehensive manner and appointed Dr. Joseph Henry Gilbert to help manage the experiments that he planned at Rothamsted. Lawes’ appointment of Gilbert is regarded as the foundation of Rothamsted Research. Lawes, a practical farmer and successful businessman, and Gilbert, a meticulous chemist, were a formidable partnership. Working together for 57 years they laid the foundations for much of modern agricultural science.
Today, Lawes and Gilbert are known worldwide for the series of field experiments on farm crops that were started between 1843 and 1856. Seven of these still continue and are known as the “Classical” experiments; they are the oldest continuing field experiments in the world.
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John Lawes, Rothamsted Research have prepared a small exhibit illustrating his life and work as a scientist, entrepreneur and benefactor. Members of the public are invited to visit the exhibit on Saturday 6 December 2014, 1-4pm.