Jethro Tull (1671-1741) is best known for inspiring the name of a successful prog rock band, but many people will be dimly aware that the band’s name was taken from an agronomist and inventor of the seed-drill. What is less well-known is that his invention inspired an agricultural revolution in 18th century Britain.
Tull was born in Basildon, Berkshire, the son of a farmer, and initially trained as a barrister. A protracted illness let to a period of convalescence in France and Italy. There, he observed new techniques being used by vine-growers, which he later brought back to Wessex.
Tull promoted a scientific approach to agriculture, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, in an age when Virgil’s Georgics was still the standard agricultural textbook. The agricultural revolution that followed in his wake included innovations such as four-field crop rotation, an increase in farm sizes, the use of artificial fertilisers, the selective breeding of livestock and the enclosure acts. The latter had a baleful influence, and led to an uprising among the people. But that’s a subject for another article.