February 27, 2013

Professor Martin Griffiths Jones: Professor of Agricultural Botany, Kings College, Durham University

By Dr Deric Charlton

Martin Griffith Jones was born in 1897 at Ruel Assif farm, Llanfihangel Geneu’r Glyn, Cardiganshire, Wales, where his parents had been tenant farmers for many generations.  There were 10 children in the family and all survived.

Four of Martin’s brothers became farmers, a sister married a farmer and Martin after attending Ardwyn Grammar School, and helping on his parents’ farm, he entered the University College of Wales in nearby Aberyswyth to study agriculture. 

He was followed in his career of pasture science by his younger brother by 8 years Iorwerth, who also became an agronomist at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. 

After University Martin became one of the first research staff at Plas Goggerdan, where Sir George Stapledon had established the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. Ironically at first he mostly worked with oats, evaluating oat selections for growing in the harsh Welsh climate.

Martin Jones left the Welsh Plant Breeding Station to join I.C.I. in 1928 to work at Jealott’s Hill Research Station, Nitram, and then at ICI’s research farm in Berkshire.  In 1937 he was then appointed grassland adviser at the North of Scotland Agricultural College in Aberdeen, and remained there throughout the Second World War, applying his acquired pasture experience to the region’s farms.

Then in 1947 he was appointed Professor of Agricultural Botany at Kings College, Newcastle upon Tyne which was a campus of the University of Durham, where for 15 years he enthused and motivated his students in his unique manner.

Iorwerth Jones worked at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station from 1928 to 1971 and between 1929-1933 alone, 848 acres on 231 different farms in Wales were sown to crop trials.  This was a massive exercise in ‘technology transfer’ and scientific endeavour even by today’s standards.

I knew both Martin and Iorwerth professionally, and learned that they didn’t always see eye to eye on things, and when I knew them they were hardly on speaking terms.  They used a young scientist Alison Davies to carry messages between them!