Sir John Bennet Lawes – 1814-1900
Sir John Bennet Lawes was born at Rothamsted Manor in 1814. He was educated at Eton and Oxford but left without a degree.
He turned one of the bedrooms in the manor into a laboratory and conducted experiments on fertilisers using bones, guano, potash and superphosphates. In 1843 he founded the Rothamsted Research Station with Joseph Henry Gilbert. The research station became, and remains, the biggest of its kind in the world.
Sir John opened his factory at Deptford in 1843. He later purchased land at the remote area of Creeksmouth, in Barking, in 1856-7. Siting his new fertiliser and chemical factory in this remote spot was problematic for his workers as they had to travel a long distance, across the marshes, to reach it. He rectified this obstacle by building cottages for his men and their families. The middle three cottages, facing the river, were knocked into one and used as a school. About 50 years later, when the Barking School Board built a new school in the village, Mr Bennet Lawes consented to the local vicar’s request to use the empty schoolroom as a mission church. He even paid for all the alterations, including new pews, font, altar and stained glass windows.
In 1872 Sir John sold the Creekmouth factory to a group of businessmen. He wanted to devote more time to scientific agriculture, continuing his experiments into fertilisers. In 1969 the factory went into liquidation and became Seabright Chemical Co. Ltd.
Sir John was a very considerate benefactor to his workers and the villagers, as a whole. He funded tea parties and day trips for them and was very heedful of their wellbeing . In his home county of Hertfordshire he gifted a swathe of land for the sole purpose of building a school – The John Lawes School. He also bequeathed land for the building of The British School and The National School, also in Harpenden. He supported the local church, St Nicholas,and purchased land for his labourers to use as allotments, “for their comfort and enjoyment.”
If Sir John Bennet Lawes had not decided to build his factory on the banks of the River Thames, at Creeksmouth, the village, and all its ensuing history, would never have transpired. The people of Creeksmouth, then and now, have much to be thankful to him for.
Credit to Lawes Agricultural Trust and Rothamsted Research.