In 1881 an experimental farm was set up at Whiteman's Green on land lent for the purpose at Beech Farm by Major Warden Sergison (1835-1888) of Cuckfield Park.
It was set up by Professor Thomas Jamieson (1829-1913), an agricultural chemist and geologist from Aberdeen. He had been the Lecturer on Agriculture Research at Aberdeen University between 1862 and 1867.
He was also elected to the Geological Society of London in 1862. His views on the geological history of Scotland were well ahead of contemporary thinking and only gained full acceptance in the late 20th century. In his obituary in the Aberdeen Free Press, of 26 May 1913: ‘… in 1884 the professor's services were recognised by the University, which conferred on him it’s honorary LL.D.’
Jamieson was most associated with his studies of ice age geology, especially the Quaternary - the period of glacial retreat. Could his interest in the Cuckfield project stemmed from his geological interest in Beech Farm being adjacent to the field where Gideon Mantell’s Iguanodon and other marine fossils were found, 60 years before? Major Sergison may have met the Professor through the Geological Society's interest in the site on his estate.
Immediately prior to the Cuckfield project, in 1875, he set up the Aberdeenshire Agricultural Association. The Scottish census shows that he lived on the estate of Ellon Castle both in 1881 and 1891 in Aberdeenshire. He managed 300 acres and employed seven men and two women. He had a wife and five children. Ellon was where he was buried.
In the late nineteenth century a small smock mill was visible evidence of the Sergison farm at Whiteman's Green. It was built in 1873 on the roof of the ‘model farm buildings’. Like West Blatchington windmill in Brighton, this appears to have been a utility mill, used not only for driving grinding stones but also used for driving farm machinery as well.
Jamieson’s experimental work, when he was in his 50s, included trying various plot sizes. Maybe things didn’t go so well at Cuckfield, as Jamieson was criticised in a damning review of his work published in Nature in 1905 'for using overly small plots and in, the establishment opinion is apparent … we can only admire the innocence in which Mr Jamieson has managed to preserve his mind. Not for him the knowledge of good or evil that comes of reading other men’s work ...!'
The experimental farming project ended in 1891 and the windmill fell into disuse in 1910, and was largely demolished in 1922 with the stub of the tower and barns surviving into the 1970s. In an age when science and discovery was the fashionable thing for the wealthy to be engaged in, maybe this model farm was Warden Sergison's pet project.
The fact that he appears to have been busy running an estate in Aberdeenshire suggests that the Professor may have only paid occasional visits to Cuckfield. Was his project more successful than ‘Nature’ suggests? Sadly we may never know the answers to these questions.
Short history of agricultural education and research by Carrie de Silva, Harry Adams Unversity, 2015
Which refers to:
Sir John Russell’s A History of Agricultural Science in Great Britain 1620-1954 published in 1966
Wikipedia: Thomas Jamieson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jamieson
Obituary Aberdeen Free Press, of 26 May 1913 at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/209059677/thomas-francis-jamieson
Photo: 'Harvest time c1897', a scene from the Lawrence Collection Irish Life series. [Public domain image]
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.