Rothamsted Research

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Correspondence of John Bennet Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert 1846 to 1900

John Bennet Lawes wrote to Henry Gilbert on experimental and administrative matters. Gilbert replied with his own views and describes his scientific activities. Gilbert retained both Lawes' letters to him and fair copies of his letters to Lawes. Because of his poor eyesight some of these were made by laboratory staff.

Lawes' letters have been abstracted, with transcriptions for the period 1856 - 1860. Gilbert's letters are too long and detailed to be transcribed or abstracted here but significant points have been noted. No editorial comments have been added to either set of 'letters'.

John Bennet Lawes

Topics include:

Henry Gilbert

The correspondence of Lawes and Gilbert was edited and compiled by Margaret Harcourt Williams in 1988-89. The web version is unchanged apart from minor amendments. This is only part of the Rothamsted archives, which include numerous other letters on the Rothamsted experiments and on developments in agricultural science.

Further reading:

  • Dyke, G. V. (1993) John Lawes of Rothamsted: pioneer of science, farming and industry. Harpenden: Hoos Press.
  • Dyke, G. V. (1991) John Bennet Lawes: the record of his genius. Taunton: Research Studies Press.
  • Harcourt Williams, M. (1993) Rothamsted and the correspondence of Sir John Lawes and Sir Henry GilbertThe Local Historian 23(2) p.85-91. PDF available with the permission of the British Association for Local History

Lawes' letters to Gilbert

These abstracts are from original letters dating from the early years of the men's partnership until Lawes' death in 1900.

The majority are from Scotland, which Lawes visited each summer and autumn, staying at various houses including Morenish House and Ardchattan Priory. The letters are short eg. instructions for experimental work and harvesting, manuring and sowing crops, especially on Broadbalk.

Gilbert's letters to Lawes

Gilbert's letters cover the same topics as Lawes', but have been treated in a more summary way because of their length and detail. They show clearly the meticulous care with which he approached his work.

Of particular interest are his descriptions of meetings with European scientists from the 1860s onwards and of his attendance at European scientific conferences.

They offer considerable scope for further study.