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Celebrating Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)

Celebrating Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)

Celebrating Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)

Deputy Lieutenant Fiona Rogers-Coltman attended the unveiling of a memorial plaque for Sir Albert Howard who is considered by many to have been, along with Lady Eve Balfour (founder of the Soil Association), one of the founders of organic farming.

Albert Howard was born in Bishop’s Castle (Shropshire) in 1873, the son of a farmer, Albert went on to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge University before entering his career as an agricultural scientist.  Albert worked in India and Pakistan for over 25 years where he learned from the local famers and among other things, he developed and documented what is now known as the Indore composting process which put the art of composting onto a scientific basis.  

Albert was one of the earliest pioneers to recognise the connection between soil health, nutrition and human health.  His research focussed on understanding soil and the relationship between soil and agriculture.  Albert would say that he saw Nature as his teacher, and pests and weeds as the professors.  In his 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, Albert emphasised the importance of maintaining humus, keeping water in the soil, and the role of mycorrhizae.  He actively promoted the importance of on farm applied research, famously saying that that he had spent too many years in laboratories “learning less and less about more and more”.

HM The King (Prince of Wales at the time) delivered the Sir Albert Howard Memorial Lecture in 2008 where he spoke about Albert’s research and approach in the context of today’s challenges within the food system.  See link for full text and video:

A larger than expected number of people from the communities around Bishop’s Castle and beyond filled the Town Hall where a memorial plaque to Albert Howard was unveiled by Richard Howard (great nephew of Albert and Charlotte Matthaei (great niece of Albert’s wives, Gabrielle and Louise Matthaei) who were both very influential in their own right.  This is believed to be the first memorial to Sir Albert Howard in the UK and fitting that it should be in Albert’s birthplace of Bishop’s Castle.  The plaque was cast by Grosvenor & Barr foundry in Wolverhampton and the head was designed by Bishop’s Castle artist, Steve Merchant.  Trevor Chalkley of Bishop’s Castle had led the fund raising for the plaque following a chance meeting with an agronomist from the Ministry of Agriculture in Brazil who came to Bishop’s Castle 10 years ago looking for an Albert Howard statue.  

Following the unveiling ceremony, the people of Bishop’s Castle gathered for a series of activities and talks at the SpArC community theatre and a sell-out screening of the film “Six Inches of Soil” that tells the inspiring story of 3 young regenerative farmers.  Mark Tinsley, a farmer’s son from Roveries Hall in Lydham moderated a lively discussion / Q&A after the screening between the audience and a panel of local farmers, James Evans (Grassroots Farming Co) and Clare Hill (Planton Farm), and local food producers Karen & Jonathan Hartnell-Beavis from Havenhills Field and Kitchen.  The discussion covered a wide range of issues and questions including i) food security, ii) food supply chains, iii) how to increase the low level of organic food production in the UK (from 3%), iv) are regenerative farming practices scalable ?, v) can we manage without glyphosate ?, vi) the connection between soil health, nutrient density of food, and human physical and mental health.

Shropshire Rural Support who provide free confidential support to Shropshire farmers and rural people raised money by selling sandwiches (provided by Roveries Hall), samosas (provided by The Ganges restaurant) and cakes (provided by the Shropshire Good Food Partnership).  Shropshire Rural Support won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2021

It was a great community event bringing together farmers from all backgrounds and agricultural practices, with people from across the local communities in Shropshire to discuss the challenges and opportunities for agriculture and the food system.

Celebrating Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)
Fiona Rogers-Coltman DL with Charlotte Matthae
Celebrating Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)
Mark Tinsley & Trevor Chalkley