Our History

Landmarks in agricultural, biological and land-based studies at Aberystwyth

Institutions and individuals in Aberystwyth have made significant and substantial contributions to the development of agricultural, land-based and biological sciences. Indeed, Aberystwyth rapidly acquired an international reputation for the high quality of its research and teaching in these scientific areas from its inception.

The empirical and theoretical work has always been underpinned by a firm foundation of practical work. The remarkable men and women who established Aberystwyth’s excellence in so many areas were never afraid to soil their hands in the application of principles into practice. Co-operation and collaboration have also been notable features.

The willingness of progressive farmers to allow generations of students onto their farms and to provide land for experiments has been a crucial factor in the work of several departments over many years. Similarly, many scientists have collaborated on experimental research irrespective of administrative boundaries.

This timeline delineates only a few of the main landmarks and characters of the story. Click on the date links below for a breakdown of key events:

Photograph: The Original College Building - uncompleted, and before the fire of 1885.



The University College of Wales, with 26 students and 7 members of staff, opens in a bankrupt hotel on the seafront in Aberystwyth.


Professor Henry Tanner of the Royal Agricultural College and Harry Parnall, Vice President of the University, seek to establish agriculture as a subject on the curriculum. Parnall financed and Tanner delivered a series of lectures on ‘The Principles of Agriculture’ which were subsequently published in both English and Welsh. These initiatives were curtailed by the economic difficulties of the ‘Great Depression’.


L. Lyell is appointed to the staff of the University with a ‘range of teaching which would have daunted even the most confident’. Lyell teaches classes in Chemistry, Physics and Zoology, Botany, Physical Geography and Geology.


Three instructors in Dairying are appointed to establish travelling dairy schools to provide local training in butter and cheese making. Instruction in dairying becomes a prominent feature of agricultural training at Aberystwyth.


The Department of Agriculture opens under the direction of Thomas Parry. Practical instruction in farming methods through extra-mural classes is a major feature of the Department, as are Short Courses and Advanced Short Courses.


Aberystwyth becomes a constituent part of the University of Wales and the degree of B.Sc. is established.


The Agricultural Society is established, under the presidency of Principal T. F. Roberts, to promote the study and development of agriculture in the University. It is to play an important role, not only within the University, but also in the agricultural development of Wales.‌


The first University farm is acquired at Tanygraig, a holding of some 180 acres to the south of the Ystwyth Valley.


Sir C. Bryner Jones is appointed as Professor of Agriculture. Jones becomes a figure of immense influence in the agricultural development of Wales, particularly following his appointment as Agricultural Commissioner for Wales. He is involved in the development of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, the establishment of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, the Welsh Journal of Agriculture and the University’s Department of Agricultural Economics.


An Advisory Service for farmers is established. Amongst the first appointees are R.G. Stapledon (Advisor in Agricultural Botany), T.W. Fagan (Advisor in Agricultural Chemistry) and D. D. Williams (Livestock Officer) – three figures of immense influence in the life of Wales in the inter-war years.


R. D. Laurie succeeds H. F. Fleure as Head of the Department of Zoology. Through the generosity of the Honourable Samuel Vestey a new chair in Zoology is established and Laurie is appointed Professor in 1922. In an age of financial stringencies, Laurie proves to be an inspirational leader. Unable to persuade the University authorities to fund a building for the fledgling Zoology Department, Laurie together with his staff and students build their own. Laurie was also active in improving the working conditions of Britain’s university staff. He was the founder, the first President and Honorary Secretary of the Association of University Teachers.


‘The golden years’ of agricultural education in Aberystwyth.


Sir Lawrence Phillips provides the University with a capital grant of £10,000 and annual subventions of £1,000 to establish the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. New laboratories are equipped in the Agricultural Buildings and a ‘field laboratory’ purchased at Frongoch Farm.


Sir R. G. Stapledon is appointed Professor of Agricultural Botany and the first Director of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. A graduate of Cambridge, Stapledon had worked in the production department of the Agricultural Board in the First World War. In the 1920s and 30s, under his inspirational leadership, the Welsh Plant Breeding Station pioneers the study of the botany and ecology of the Gramineae, the development of a broad variety of grasses and clovers, and acquires an international reputation in the science and technology of grassland and upland improvement. In 1938, Aberystwyth’s preeminence as the centre for land-based research is confirmed when it hosts the International Grassland Conference.


The Parliamentary Secretary of the UK Department of Agriculture finally opens the UCW Agricultural Department buildings in Alexandra Road. The Department of Agricultural Chemistry is established with the ‘mercurial’ T.W. Fagan serving as Head of Department. Amongst the areas of research conducted by the department is pioneering work which proves the superiority in nutritional content of the leaf over the stem, the necessity for frequent defoliation to produce high pasture output and the chemical characteristics of various plants. The Department serves as an Advisory Centre for Mid- and South Wales, providing practical advice to farmers on soils, manure and fertilisers.


A.W. Ashby is appointed as Advisor and Lecturer in Agricultural Economics. In 1929, Ashby is appointed to the first chair in Agricultural Economics in Britain. The Department of Agricultural Economics provides advisory services for farmers which prove vital in this period of severe and prolonged depression.


Dr Lily Newton is appointed as Professor of Botany. Under her leadership, the department expands and establishes a considerable reputation for the excellence of its research and teaching. Later, in 1952, Professor Newton becomes Acting Principal of the University.


Four year degree courses are available in Agriculture, Agricultural Botany, Chemistry with Agricultural Chemistry, Zoology with Agricultural Zoology and Economics with Agricultural Economics. Diplomas are also available, the most popular, particularly with farmers’ daughters, being the Dairy Diploma.

October 1939

The Agricultural Research Building opens on Penglais Hill to house the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, the Imperial Bureau of Plant Genetics and the Department of Agricultural Economics.


Many members of staff of the Agricultural Departments and the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, including D.W.Davies, E.T.Jones, Trevor Thomas, Moses Griffith, W.Ellison, T.J Jenkin and Iorwerth Jones are seconded to the service of the Ware Agricultural Committees. The work of the Departments is wholly reconstructed to support the Food Production Campaign. The efforts of the government to increase the productivity of Britain's land are achieved through the genius of Sir R.G.Stapledon and colleagues. Sir Reginald Dorman Smith, Minister of Agriculture from 1947, would later claim that without the achievements of Stapledon, Britain would have starved and could not have been capable of mounting any military challenge.


T.W.Stephenson succeeds R.D.Laurie as Professor of Zoology. Over the next 21 years, his researches on seashore fauna and flora give him the status of a world recognised authority and lead to his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society.


The munificence of Lord Milford enables the University to establish a Department of Animal Health with A. N. Worden as the first Professor. The Department undertakes extensive parasitological work and produces a detailed survey of animal health in Wales. Close collaboration develops between the Department of Animal Health and colleagues in Zoology.


Plas Gogerddan, ancestral home of the Pryse family, is purchased and becomes the permanent home of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station in 1953.


Hugh Rees in appointed to the staff of the Department of Agricultural Botany. After a distinguished record of service in the war, Rees had graduated from Aberystwyth and then pursued research in Birmingham. His achievements in the study of cytogenetic receive international recognition and election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1976.


P.T.Thomas is appointed Professor of Agricultural Botany at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, and Director of the Plant Breeding Station. During his time at WPBS, he integrates science disciplines and increases the focus on plant breeding. He serves as President of the British Grassland Society in 1965 and is elected the First President of the Federation of Welsh Grassland Societies in 1966 before his retirement in 1974.


Professor Philip Wareing is approached by the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, to accept the Chair of Botany. In the succeeding decade, he builds up a large and well-equipped research group in plant physiology. He plays a major role in establishing environmental science at the University and forms a School of Biological Sciences incorporating several previously separate departments. An excellent administrator, he serves as Vice-Principal from 1977-1979, retiring in 1981.


T.W.Goodwin, a biochemist of international renown, is appointed to the chair of Agricultural Chemistry and establishes a thriving research school in Agricultural Biochemistry.


These years see considerable expansion in the Department of Agricultural Economics. The Department is particularly active in aspects of international development, with strong links to the developing world. In 1966, the Department broadens into marketing with a lectureship in the subject supported by the National Farmer’s Union Development Trust. In 1978, a chair in Agricultural Marketing is established.


The School of Agricultural Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences are established.


The Institute of Rural Studies opens on Penglais Campus, with an extension added in 1973.


The Welsh Agricultural College is established with David Morris as its first principal. In an unusual arrangement, the College is financed through a joint committee composed of representatives of all the Welsh local authorities. Its original mission to provide vocational education in agriculture is achieved by providing National and Higher National Diploma courses. Later diversification includes courses in countryside management and equine studies. A degree scheme in Agriculture, including a sandwich year, offered jointly with the University’s Department of Agricultural Sciences, follows in 1982.


A highly successful joint teaching and studentship venture is initiated between the School of Agricultural Sciences and Bunda College of the University of Malawi.


Gwendolen Rees is awarded a Personal Chair in the Department of Zoology and elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Professor Rees is the first woman working in Wales to be elected as a Fellow of this prestigious Society. A founding member of the British Society of Parasitology, Rees was an acknowledged expert in trematodes and cestodes.


J. Gareth Morris, previously a Research Fellow at Oxford and a Rockerfeller Fellow in California, is appointed Professor of Microbiology. In recognition of the excellence of his research in microbial biochemistry and physiology, Morris is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1988. He serves as a member of the Universities Funding Council and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1991.


Professor John Cooper is appointed Director of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station and also Professor in the Department of Agricultural Botany. His Outstanding research on the genetics and physiology of crop plants is recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1977. Under his leadership, WPBS greatly extends its national and international reputation for research excellence. Professor Cooper is awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 1983, the year of his retirement.


WPBS receives the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement for the development and successful commercialisation of tetraploid hybrid ryegrasses. The philosophy of carrying basic cytological research through to practical application had been developed by Dr Les Breese, Head of the Herbage Plant Breeding Department.


Royal Society Research Professor Jack Heslop-Harrison, Director of the Botanic Gardens, Kew, from 1971-1977, comes to the Welsh Plant Breeding Station where he continues research on plant cell physiology originally begun in Belfast in 1959. In 1985, he is appointed Honorary Visiting Research Worker and remains so until his retirement in 1993.


WPBS moves from the college to form the new AFRC Institute of Grassland and Animal Production (IGAP).


Professor John Stoddart is appointed Research Director of the Institute of Grassland and Animal Production (IGAP). In recognition of his outstanding personal achievements and record of service to the agricultural industry, he is elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies and a CBE. He retires in 1993, by which time IGAP has become AFRC Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER).


The Institute of Biological Sciences is established.


John Harries succeeds Robin Gill as Principal of the Welsh Agricultural College.


Professor Chris Pollock is appointed Research Director of IGER. A botany graduate from Cambridge University, he had been at the Institute since 1974 and was previously Head of the Environmental Biology Department. During his time as Director of IGER, Professor Pollock chairs the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) and the Research Priorities Group for Sustainable Farming and Food, also serving on the Awards Panel for the Royal Agricultural Society of England. He is an Honorary Professor at the universities of Aberystwyth and Nottingham and is awarded an OBE for service to the environment in 2002. Before retirement from IGER in 2007, he is invited to chair the Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Science Panel for the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.


The Welsh Agricultural College joins the University and merges with the Department of Agricultural Sciences to form the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, (WIRS) with Michael Haines appointed as its first Director. WIRS is later renamed the Institute of Rural Sciences.


Will Haresign, Professor of Agriculture since 1996, is appointed Director of the Institute of Rural Sciences.


Mike Wilkinson is appointed Director of the Institute of Biological Sciences.


The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research merges into the University and, with the Institute of Biological Sciences and the Institute of Rural Sciences, forms the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS). Professor Wayne Powell is appointed first Director of the new Institute.