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Bakewell, Robert (1725-1795) (DNB00)


BAKEWELL, ROBERT (1725–1795), grazier, was born at Dishley, otherwise Dixley and Dishley Grange, near Loughborough, Leicestershire, in 1725. His father, who had been born at the same place, was a farmer, renting a farm there of 440 acres; and Robert Bakewell, having qualified himself for experiments in husbandry and cattle-breeding by visiting farms in the west of England and other parts of the country where various modes of procedure prevailed, took charge of the farm on the failure of his father's health, about the year 1755, and succeeded to the entire management of it on his death in 1760 (Gent. Mag. vol. lxv. part ii. pp. 969, 970). He aimed at obtaining a better breed of sheep and oxen, believing 'that you can get beasts to weigh where you want them to weigh, i.e. in roasting pieces and not boiling pieces' (Young, Farmers' Tour, 1771, pp. 102-35). He succeeded in producing the new Leicestershire breed of sheep, which 'within little more than half a century spread themselves over every part of the United Kingdom and to Europe and America' (Youatt, On Sheep, p.318), and thus England 'had 2 lbs. of mutton where there was only 1 lb. before' (Husbandry of Three Celebrated Farmers, p. 15). Bakewell succeeded in producing the Dishley cattle, called also the new Leicestershire long-horn, 'a small, clean-boned, round, short-carcased, kindly-looking cattle, inclined to be fat' (Culley, Observations on Live Stock, p. 26), which 'the grazier could not too highly value,' though 'their qualities as milkers were greatly lessened' (Youatt, On Cattle, p. 192); and he produced a breed of black horses, remarkable for their strength in harness on the farm, and for their utility in the army. In this capacity of breeder, Bakewell, in his desire to obtain the 'barrel' shape, was the first to carry on the trade of ram-letting on a large scale, and he established a club, the Dishley Society, for the express object of insuring purity of breed. Amongst his own stock, prices rose with so much rapidity that whereas in 1760 his rams were hired for a few shillings the season, by 1770 they fetched 25 guineas, and a few years later still he made 3,000l. a year by their hire, deriving in one year from one particular ram, known as 'Two-pounder,' as much as 1,200 guineas. Measurements of his rams and ewes were taken in 1770, and published as remarkable examples of careful breeding (Nichols, Leicestershire, p. 759); a sketch of one of his sheep was taken by Schnebblie in 1790 (ib. p. 763); and other sketches of his stock appear in Garrard's 'British Oxen,' and in Youatt 'On Cattle,' p. 196. In 1785 Bakewell exhibited a famous black horse for some months in London; the king, George III, had previously had it brought before him by Bakewell in the courtyard of St. James's Palace. Many of the present humane notions regarding animals were anticipated by Bakewell, his stock being treated with marked kindness, his sheep being 'kept as clean as race-horses, and sometimes put into bodyclothes' (Throsby, Views in Leicestershire, p. 411), and even his bulls were remarkable for obedience and docility.

In Bakewell's experiments on feeding and housing stock he was as bold as in breeding. He stood first in the kingdom 'as an improver of grass-land by watering' (Marshall, Rural Economy of Midland Counties, i. 284 et seq.); he flooded his meadows, making a canal of a mile and a quarter in length, and was able by means of irrigation to cut grass four times a year (Monk's Agricultural Report): he had methods, by double floors to his stalls, of collecting farm refuse and diluting it, in order to obtain liquid manure. On these accounts his farm was visited as a curiosity by all classes. All were shown the boats in which he carried some of his crops; his wharf for these boats; his plan of conveying his turnips about the farm by water (in his own words, 'We throw them in, and bid them meet us at the Barn End'); his teams of cows instead of oxen; his collection of skeletons of animals, and of carcases of animals (in pickle), to test where breeds varied in bone and flesh; and, there being no inn near at hand, his visitors were hospitably entertained by him (Gent. Mag. vol. lxiii. part ii. p. 792 et seq.).

Bakewell died, unmarried, on 1 Oct. 1795, aged 70, and was buried at Dishley, where, however, no monument was erected to him (Nichols). His nephew, Honeybourn, succeeded to his farm, which maintained its reputation for some years; but though the name and recollection of the new Leicestershire cattle will never be lost, the breed itself has completely passed away (Youatt, On Cattle, p. 208), and the first expenses of Bakewell's experiments would appear to have exceeded his profits, for he was bankrupt in November 1776 (Gent. Mag. xlvi. 531).

[European Magazine, vol. xxviii.; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; The Husbandry of Three Celebrated British Farmers, Messrs. Bakewell, Arbuthnot, and Ducket, by the secretary to the Board of Agriculture (Young), 1811; British Husbandry, 1831; Humphry Davy's Lectures, p. 321, where, however, Davy is mistaking Bakewell for the subject of the succeeding article; Annual Register, 1771, pp. 104-10; Royal Agricultural Journal, iv. 262, vi. 17, viii. 2, xvi. 223, xvii. 479, xxiii. 73.]

J. H.