Rothamsted is almost certainly the oldest agricultural research station in the world. Its foundation dates from 1843 when John Bennet Lawes, the owner of the Rothamsted Estate, appointed Joseph Henry Gilbert, a chemist, as his scientific collaborator.
As a young man, Lawes had been interested in the effect of fertilisers on crop growth and, in 1842, started the first factory for the manufacture of artificial fertilisers. Lawes was not only a successful entrepreneur, he was destined to become one of the great Victorian scientists.
The scientific partnership between Lawes and Gilbert lasted 57 years, and together they laid the foundations of modern scientific agriculture and established the principles of crop nutrition.
In 1843 they started the first of a series of long-term field experiments - some continue to this day. The main object of these experiments was to measure the effect on crop yields of inorganic and organic fertilisers. These so-called "Classical Field Experiments" are an increasingly valuable experimental resource for today's scientists.
By about 1900, the vast amount of data accumulated from the "Classical Experiments", together with the inherent variability of agricultural field experimentation, led to the need for a sound approach to statistical methods. Indeed, Rothamsted is known as the birthplace of modern statistical theory and practice.
Researchers at Rothamsted have made many other significant contributions to science over the years, including the discovery and development of the pyrethroid insecticides, as well as pioneering contribution in the fields of virology, nematology, soil science and pesticide resistance.