Experiment to Last 90 Years, 1930

In the mid-80s I went on a school trip to Hastings, as we were learning about 1066 and all that. One thing which captured my imagination and stuck in my memory (or, at least, I think it did) was visiting a cave with an arrow sticking out of the wall. The guide told us it marked the spot where a chronicle (a copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle perhaps?) was hidden, one which marked the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold. The hole in the wall would be opened in the year 2000 – very carefully, as the contents could crumble into dust once the air was let in.

How frustrating this was. 2000 was over 15 years away, an impossibly long time for an 8 year old to wait. But not as frustrating as the fact that, looking over the internet now, I can find no trace of this great opening, or reference to the cave at all. Did it really happen? Was it invented especially for kids on school trips? Was it like that time I went on a ghost tour of Chester, which actually consisted of the guide quite obviously making his own stories up as we went round. Challenged by one of our party at the end, he was happy to admit it, “Just a bit of fun, isn’t it?” He thought, well, ghosts aren’t real so what does it matter what I tell them? But he missed the point. Taking such a tour is really all about learning about real events that happened in local history, to discover and imagine moments which took place where you are standing right now. The ghosts are merely a garnish, and you don’t need to believe in them to enjoy the history and atmosphere. Unless someone has the ghost story skills of M. R. James, paying for a man to lead you around saying whatever nonsense pops into his head is just a waste of time.

Anyway, that’s all a bit of a digression by way of explaining how interested I was to read the below article. A very long-term experiment was due to begin in 1930 at Rothamsted, I saw in a copy of the Dundee Courier from the 6th August of that year. Meaning it was due to finish in the very near future of 2020. No waiting for years to find out the result!

Dundee Courier, 6th August 1930

Dundee Courier, 6th August 1930

Rothampstead agricultural experimental station, or Rothamsted Research as it’s now called,  is one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, dating its origin to 1843. They run long term experiments, very long term in some cases – the Park Grass Experiment, measuring the effects of fertiliser on hay yields has been running since 1856. This 90-year experiment was to cover the effects of 15 different types of fertiliser on 5 different crops, all the combinations of which would account for the long timescale.

I wrote to Rothamsted to ask them about it. They were fantastic in their fast response, but it turned out that not only was the experiment no longer running, but no scientists there could even find out what the experiment was that this article was referring to. I guess this means that it was stopped a long time ago, maybe disrupted by the Second World War or for some other reason it turned out not to be viable. The reason, anyway, now lost in time.

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