Winifred Brenchley


©Rothamsted Research Ltd


The research institute where I work, Rothamsted Research, recently named a number of new rooms after prominent female scientists who had previously worked there. One room was named after Winifred Brenchley a weed researcher. As this is my particular field of interest I decided to read a bit more about her and the advances she made.

Winifred Brenchley

“perhaps Britain’s leading authority on weeds in the early twentieth century”

Clinton L. Evans The War on Weeds in the Prairie West: An Environmental History Calgary, Univ. of Calgary Press, 2002 p.219

Winifred Brenchley was the head of the Botany department at Rothamsted, where she worked for forty-two years[1]. After joining the institute as a student in 1906 she became the first permanent female member of staff just a year later[1]. At the start of her time at Rothamsted she developed the technique for growing plants in water culture and made steps toward discovering the essential role of copper and zinc in plant nutrition[2], as detailed in her book Inorganic Plant Poisons and Stimulants (1914, revised 1927).   Katherine Warington’s discovery of the role of boron as a micronutrient in 1923 and the subsequent investigations into the effects of boron are perhaps the best known work from her laboratory[2].

She was also particularly interested in weed ecology with her work Weeds of Farmland (1920) being the first comprehensive scientific study of weeds in the UK[2].  She was also interested in how weed flora can change over time. She studied this using the Park Grass experiment at Rothamsted[1]. This experiment is still used today and in fact celebrates its 160th anniversary this year.  Her work on the Park Grass plots resulted in the book Manuring of Grassland for Hay (1924) describing how lime and fertilizers affect the botanical composition of grasslands[2].

Brenchley was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1910[2]. In 1920 she became a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society[2]. She was awarded the OBE in 1948, the year she retired[2].

[1]Nature 162, 727-727 (06 November 1948)