British agriculture was going through a period of depression in the last years of the 19th Century mainly due to severe competition from overseas which affected all sections of the industry and not least dairying which provided an important part of farm income in the region. Education was seen as a way to improve the quality of locally produced butter and cheese so the recently formed county councils, with money available from the Technical Instruction Grants, financed travelling dairy schools to tour the rural districts and town dairies. The sessions were generally well attended but the ten day courses were found to be too short and the equipment which could be moved around too limited for adequate instruction. So thoughts turned to the provision of a permanent centre in the region.
The County Councils of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lindsey agreed to fund an educational establishment for this purpose. Lord Belper of Kingston-on-Soar offered the lease of his Home Farm of 160 acres with farm buildings suitable for conversion for instruction purposes.
The grand opening ceremony of the Midland Dairy Institute, the name chosen by the counties, took place on Tuesday afternoon 17 September, 1895. This was performed by the Duke of Devonshire and attended by some 1,000 people.
The initial staff of three were supported by lecturers from the recently formed Department of Agriculture at University College, Nottingham. Dormitory accommodation for 20 female students was provided and the small number of men were lodged in local farmhouses and villages. The initial course was of six weeks duration.
From this basic beginning longer dairying courses were offered, a men's hostel was built to take students from the agriculture course at University College (the Agriculture Department had closed in 1900) and a poultry husbandry course was started.
In 1905 the name was changed to the Midland Agricultural and Dairy College. An electricity supply was provided in 1907. The means of speedy transport was the railway with Kegworth station 1½ away reached by "the fly Black Maria" with parts of the route to be negotiated "in the pouring rain and gypsum mud....having ruts like young ravines".
A poster advertising the College for this period offers courses for farmers' sons of ten weeks duration in theoretical and practical agriculture commencing in October, January and April at fees of £5 per term for students resident in the contributing counties and £7-10s for others. Board and lodging were charged at 15/- per week for men and 12/- for women.
Of interest to former students is that the Old Students' Association was started in 1900 and in 1911 the first number of what was to become a regular annual publication was issued called then the M.A.D.C Magazine which we now know as "Agrimag".
The College was a success: courses were filled, advisory services through the County Agricultural Organisers (appointed in 1914) were in great demand and at this time the Board of Agriculture designated the College as its scientific headquarters for the midlands area.
Its very success underlined the inadequacy of the accommodation at Kingston and in view of this an application was made to the Development Commissioners in 1913. The subsequent grant from the Board of Agriculture together with money from the supporting counties (which now included Rutland) enabled Lodge Farm and the adjoining Elms estate to be bought at Sutton Bonington and an administration and lecture block built, together with a hostel for male students
The buildings were completed in 1915 but their first use was as a prisoner of war camp for German Officers. The site was not formally handed over to the College until October 1919. Despite the shortage of space at Kingston and serious staff depletions the basic courses continued throughout the war and in addition small groups of War Service girls were trained.
When the new buildings were released by the War Office the Agriculture Department moved to Sutton Bonington while the Dairy and Poultry Departments remained at Kingston.
Immediately after the war the advisory services based at the College were greatly expanded and new specialist advisers for chemistry, dairy bacteriology, veterinary problems and economics were appointed who supported the extension work and broadened the range of instruction which could be offered.
In 1924 an application was made to the Ministry of Agriculture and the contributing counties for the completion of the building scheme at Sutton Bonington to include a dairy and a women's hostel.
A student from this period was Frank Fraser-Darling (1920 - 23) who after short term appointments in England (and marriage to a former student) moved to the Imperial Bureau of Genetics in Edinburgh and subsequently spent many years in the north west of Scotland studying the natural history. He was invited to give the 1969 series of Reith Lectures on BBC radio which were then published as "Wilderness and plenty" and introduced the general public to ecology. He was knighted in 1970.
SUTTON BONINGTON – PRISONER OF WAR CAMP – 1916-1918
Opened as the Midland Dairy Institute in 1895 at New Kingston, it became the Midland Agricultural and Dairy Institute in 1902 and three years later was upgraded in status to a College. In Agrimag 1915 the Editorial had this to say: “In spite of the War, College people are watching intently the development of the New Agricultural College at Sutton Bonington. Building operations were commenced in October and the walls are now rising rapidly.” In a later piece about the “New” College – “It is doubtful whether the new College will be ready, as was hoped, for occupation in October next, but as far as can be judged at the present, the buildings ought to be finished by the beginning of 1916.
Nottinghamshire County War Agricultural Committee recorded in the minutes of July 1918 that German Officers were held at the Midland Agricultural College. The college was completed in 1915 and immediately commandeered, along with Lodge Farm, by the War Department for an internment camp. German Officers were held there from the summer of 1916 until 1918.
Agrimag 1916 Editorial diplomatically reports that “The New College at Sutton Bonington is nearing completion, but the fitting out of the various Departments will not be completed until after the war.” The takeover of the campus for prisoners of war must have been a huge blow but it is not mentioned at all in the 1917 and 1918 Agrimags.
In a letter from the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire to the Under Secretary of State, the Home Office on 1 October 1917 he reports that “at 4.30am on the 25 September 1917, a Sergeant Richards and his men had re-captured three escaped POWs; Lieuts Lutz, Lehmann and Landsberg who had escaped, along with nineteen more, from the camp at Sutton Bonington.” They had escaped through a narrow tunnel which they had made underneath the barbed wire enclosure. Soil from an escape tunnel was later found hidden under the floor of tiered lecture room in the Main Building (now Lecture Room 1). They had been caught in the West Bridgford area of Nottingham. Eighteen had been captured on the evening of 28 September 1917. The other four were arrested in Chesterfield on the 30th. The Chief Constable was most critical of the system of having soldiers on guard duty, as they had no training for doing the job. Apart from personal items, two of the officers had knives and all three had a pipe and tobacco. They also had in their possession a suitcase containing: twelve tins of sardines, seven tins of milk, two packets of bacon, one tin of rolled ham, one tin of cheese, four 2lbs bags of prunes, a number of German sausage, several packets of cheese, a large quantity of biscuits and eight packets of dried toast. They had excellent maps, evidently traced from the British Ordnance Map and several had in their possession ingenious hand made compasses. Many of the prisoners who escaped had done so before, some several times.
A prestigious internee at Sutton Bonington was Commander Karl von Múller, Captain of the Emden. This was a cruiser which was heavily disguised with a fourth funnel and caused havoc with Allied Shipping. Engaged in a running battle with the heavier gunned Australian cruiser Sydney she took a direct hit on her munitions hold. Half the Officers and two fifths of the crew were killed. The remainder including Múller were captured.
In the minutes of the County War Agricultural Committee which took place on 28 January 1919 item 17 records: “German Prisoners and the Agricultural College – The following resolution was adopted:- That in view of the demand for training in Agriculture and allied subjects, this Committee is strongly of the opinion that the Midland Agricultural College building now occupied by German officer prisoners, should be immediately evacuated, and that suitable courses of training should be arranged as quickly as possible.”
In 1919 the editor writes: “In the past many disappointments have been suffered with regard to the New College, but, “things are now moving.” It is believed that most of our “foreign visitors” will have commenced their homeward journey ere our Magazine is completed. We have reason to believe also that, by the time of our next publication, the Midland Agricultural Dairy College will be fairly installed at Sutton Bonington.” The Sutton Bonington Buildings were occupied with Kingston still in full use in July 1919.
The two sites continued to operate in tandem for some time. The students Association reported in 1920/21 Agrimag that “the greatest of all difficulties is the distance between Kingston and Sutton. Those two weary miles between the two branches have much to answer for; but the day will come, and we hope it will come speedily, when Kingston comes to Sutton for ever. May the students of future years be thankful that they have not that difficulty, at any rate, to contend with, particularly if they happen to be on the Dance Committee!”
With thank to Mrs Sue Golds, Division of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
The new buildings were opened in 1928 and the Dairy Department moved in immediately. The Kingston site was then relinquished.
Some facts and figures of the College at the end of this period are of interest. The courses offered and student numbers were:
Agriculture Certificate 19
Diploma, 1st year 12
Diploma, 2nd year 7
Dairying Short course (12 weeks) 12
Diploma, 1st year 7 Diploma, 2nd year 11
Poultry Short course 8
Diploma, 1st year 5
Diploma, 2nd year 5
Horticulture Short course 2
A few students entered for the external London BSc (Agric) degree through an arrangement with University College, Nottingham.
In 1935 there were 112 students with an average age of eighteen and three quarters, 55% were the sons and daughters of farmers and those closely connected with agriculture and 74% from the contributing counties.
A survey of the employment of former students was undertaken by the Principal. He found that of 181 men and 184 women questioned three quarters were engaged directly in farming as farmers or farmer's wives and most of the others were engaged in such occupations as teaching, advisory work and selling to farmers. The running costs for the session 1935-36 were met as follows:
a) Grants from the participating counties £6,550
b) Grant from the Ministry of Agriculture £3,000
c) Student fees £2,274
d) Miscellaneous £386
Additionally, grants for capital expenditure were received as follows:
a) From the participating counties £1,750
b) From the Ministry of Agriculture £2,123
c) From College revenue £1,714
In this session there were 26 visits from groups from the counties, several conferences including a National Poultry Conference, 1230 advisory visits, and 2785 samples collected for laboratory analysis for such materials as feedstuffs, fertilisers and milk.
Kesteven became a contributing county in 1936.
The war initially had a devastating effect on the College with all courses being cancelled in September 1939 and some students transferring to Reading University. Instruction was dedicated to month long basic training for Women's Land Army girls who came mainly from London, Essex and Middlesex. With a change in Government policy normal courses were resumed in January 1940.
The contacts with farmers in the region were strengthened by a greatly increased advisory function and the secondment of six members of staff to the County War Agricultural Committees.
Just prior to the outbreak of the war a lease had been taken for the 275 acres of Manor Farm, Kingston, so doubling the farm size available to the College to over 500 acres.
Negotiations for a closer association with University College, Nottingham were successfully carried through by 1943 with the Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture being formed comprising a Faculty Board of 11 representatives from University College and 17 from the Midland Agricultural College. The Principal, H G Robinson, became the first Professor of Agriculture in the following year.
The character of the campus and its close links with local farmers which had been built up from the early days changed radically with the formation of the National Agricultural Advisory Service and the move of most of the advisory staff to Shardlow Hall, Derbyshire, in 1946.
The transfer of the property from the County Councils to University College, Nottingham took place on the 1 April 1946 and the University received its Charter in 1948. The certificate courses ended in 1945 to make way for degree and diploma courses but the latter were phased out during the period, apart from the National Diploma in Dairying.
The standing of the new Faculty was greatly increased by the Easter Schools programme on major topics in the agricultural sciences with participants coming from all over the world and the subsequent editing and publishing of the proceedings.
To provide for increases in student numbers (230 in 1951 of which 60 were in local lodgings) a new "temporary" refectory was built in 1949 which in fact remained until 1983. For teaching purposes plans were made at this time for a new laboratory block but cuts in government expenditure meant that a wooden building had to be acquired and this was put up behind the Men's Hostel. The permanent building, now known as the North Laboratory, was completed in 1958.
Principals of the College
M J R Dunstan - 1895-1902
Director of Agricultural Education for Nottinghamshire (1891)
Head of the Department of Agriculture University College Nottingham (1892-1900)
J F Blackshaw - 1902-1910
W Goodwin - 1911-1922
T Milburn - 1922-1935
H G Robinson - 1935-1946
Director to 1954
In 1996 work was started on a new Food Science Building, occupying the site previously used for the Summer Ball Marque. It was Opened in 1997 by the Agricultural minister, Dr Jack Cunningham. In 1997 there was also investment in Sports resources for the campus. The Faculty of Agricultural and Food sciences merged with the Department of Life Science at University Park to become the School of Biological Sciences the same year.
The former Food Science building became a student amenities building sponsored by the alumnus donation. A four year undergraduate Masters in Dietetics was introduced in 1998. In 1999 Professor Don Grierson was elected to Fellow of the Royal Society.
In 2000 the School of Biological Sciences was divided into the School of Biosciences (based at Sutton Bonington) and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences ( based at University Park). Environmental Science colleagues moved to University Park in Nottingham and Plant Sciences colleagues from University Park moved to Sutton Bonington. The Octagon extension to the JCR Bar was completed (financed by the alumnus donation) the same year.
In 2001 an all weather sports pitch was started as well as the Sensory Science Unit in Main Building. In the campus saw another extension in the form of a £7.5 million Plant Sciences building which was opened by Lord Sainsbury, Office of Science & Technology, Department of Trade and Industry.
Colleagues from the Environmental Science section of the former School of Life and Environmental Sciences were incorporated into the School of Biosciences: their home division was renamed Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. A new dairy centre was also completed in 2003.
A five year teaching review was completed in 2004 which concluded that the school was operating at the highest standard. Extension to the Food Sciences building was also completed that year as well as major refurbishment of existing Bonington Hall houses into self-catering flatlets.
In 2005 the School, for the first time ever, passed the 1000 students mark. Another extension was also completed of the National Arabidopsis Stock Centre which is based at Sutton Bonington. There was also a National Student Survey which placed the University in top position. The University that year maintained its top rating in Agriculture in National League Tables for Undergraduate courses; Environmental Science was second.
2006 brought the opening of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, which was built on the old orchard / weather station by the Landcroft Lane entrance. Three new accommodation blocks (Standford, Zouch and Barton) were also built providing additional 300 bedrooms on Campus.