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The history of Nuffield

Nuffield Farming Scholarships as seen through the eyes of Captain John S. Stewart, O.B.E., F.R.Ag.S. Written circa 1997.
Note: Captain John S. Stewart, OBE, FRAgS, served in The Royal Marines for 17 years and farmed at Weston Underwood in Buckinghamshire from 1957–1980 when back trouble forced his retirement. He was a Nuffield Scholar in 1964 and Winston Churchill Fellow in 1974. He was Director of Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, from 1969–1989, now being an Honorary Trust.

The foundation

William Morris left school at 12 and started work in Oxford, repairing punctures of undergraduates’ bicycles. Quite early on, he showed considerable engineering skills, and soon constructed his own bicycle, and then a motorbike. The first Morris car followed, to found one of the great marques of the early twentieth century at Cowley.

Morris himself was a man of simple tastes, cantankerous but single minded in his love of Britain and the Commonwealth, and in his dislike of Socialism. In 1943 he seems to have had a gut feeling that the Socialists would come to power after the War, which was, at that time, at a particularly difficult stage, and wished to see his considerable fortune safeguarded from Government takeover.

He, by then, Lord Nuffield, had already given away more than £20m to various charitable bodies, from one of which I derived considerable benefit. The Nuffield Trust for the Forces of the Crown built Clubs for Officers and Other Ranks which were widely appreciated and later built recreational facilities and sailing boats for the Services. But in 1943 he endowed the Nuffield Foundation with 4 million five shilling Morris Motors shares, which were then standing at about 50 shillings each.

His financial advisor, Sir William Goodenough, who, at 24 years of age, had been Morris’s bank manager in Oxford, became Chairman of the Foundation, whose objects were “The advancement of health and social bell-being, and the care and comfort of the aged poor”. The early years were notable for the quality of distinguished persons who became trustees – men and women eminent in medicine and science – who included Professor Sir Frank Engledow, who was Drapers’ Professor of Agriculture at Cambridge. Goodenough had sat on several committees with Engledow and was impressed with his wide interests in the field of health, as well as agriculture. At the centre of the Nuffield web was Leslie Farrer-Brown, ex LSE and Government, who was to become the Foundation’s first Director at the age of 40, and who remained at the helm for 21 years.

There was provision made by the Foundation for the awarding of Fellowships and Scholarships in medicine, but it was the intervention of Jack Maclean, at the time Vice-President of the National Farmers’ Union, which precipitated the Foundation’s entry into agriculture. Goodenough, Engledow and Maclean found themselves sitting on a Government Committee to consider the post war future of agricultural education and, at an apparently very convivial lunch, Maclean floated the idea of scholarships for farmers to study overseas. His original idea was to reward those who had made conspicuous efforts in food production during the war, and emphasised the connection between the Foundation’s concern with health and agriculture with food. It would also enable them to pick out developments which had occurred during the war.

Early days

The idea fell on good ground and one or two prominent farmers were sent out on pilot studies. One of these, E.M. (Ted) Owens recalls being sent off to USA with a very broad brief to “look at dairy farming in the States”.

In 1947 the Foundation launched its first Nuffield Farming Scholars in the persons of Jane Bennett-Evans, daughter of the laird of the Black Mountains, who went to New Zealand to study hill farming, sheep and wool; John Rowsell, who went to USA and New Zealand to study Herbage Seeds and E.D. Stokes who studied cereals, dairying and grassland in USA and Canada. These were the pioneers. Their funding came from the Foundation, backed up by grants from the National Farmers’ Union to assist with farm management in their six months absence. All three produced reports which are models of clarity and resource, and blazed a trail which many were to follow.

The Assistant Director responsible for Fellowships was then General Bullen-Smith, who had commanded the 21st Highland Division at the end of the War. He, with Maclean and a small group of distinguished agriculturalists, formed a Selection committee, which chose the scholars, who were drawn from the whole of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Numbers selected varied from the first three to eight in 1957. This was a particularly prolific period. Communications in the farming world were not especially good or swift and the scholars were able to bring back many ideas which were of lasting benefit to British farming.

I do not intend to mention many scholars by name as this would be both difficult in their selection and also invidious, but one or two achieved fame for their discoveries. Amongst them was W.R. (Dick) Merricks, a Romney marsh farmer who, on his tour to New Zealand, found Godfrey Bowen and was so impressed with his new shearing techniques that he brought him to Britain to demonstrate them. They are now standard throughout the world. Jill Hutchinson-Smith returned to pioneer the farm production of one of the finest blue cheeses ever made – a classic to rival Roquefort and Stilton.

Scholars did not always pursue the subject they had studied abroad. A.E. (Alan) Beckett’s visit to USA to look at dairying stimulated his business interests and management ideas which led him into the egg production field with great distinction and into the chairmanship of Midland Shires Farmers Ltd.

W. (Willy) Hamill’s study of dairying and grassland management changed the face of farming in Ulster. Finally in this remarkable, and by no means comprehensive, list came Geoffrey Sykes who studied poultry in USA. He was so impressed with what the Americans called “Broiler chickens” that he smuggled fertile hatching eggs into Britain hidden in the Kitbag of a US soldier, starting the Broiler industry in the UK.

For ten years the Foundation primed the pump and, in 1956, Maclean was told that if the scheme, by now well known and well respected, was to continue, the farming industry was to find the money to fund it. The challenge was taken up by the farming “establishment”, notably the four Farmers Unions, Milk Marketing Boards and others, and a fund was established under the control of the Foundation. Brigadier Kit Huxley had succeeded Bullen-Smith and Maclean had formed a Management Council made up of representatives of fund – providing organisations. Selection of scholars continued as before and around eight scholars were selected each year. Air travel was now available and tours were shortened somewhat – more could now be achieved in a shorter time.

In 1960 R.J. (John) Cyster was awarded a scholarship to study hops in USA and Canada. Cyster, on his return, was asked to represent the Hops Marketing Board on the Management Council. This appointment was to prove significant several years later.

My own scholarship, to study beef production in Europe, came in 1964 and being already a member of the Council of the NFU, I was asked to represent the Union on the management Council in 1965. The two of us were the only Scholars and the Council and the importance of this will be seen later.

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