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The ‘modern’ management of rats: British agricultural science in farm and field during the twentieth century

  • KAREN SAYER (a1)


During the period from 1919 to 1970, rat killing was ‘modernized’: official, scientific, commercial, agricultural and county advisers sought ‘rat control’. Scientific expertise on rat parasites and rat control circulated internationally. The risks posed to human health through plague, as traced by researchers who were already expert on the third pandemic, led in the UK to the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act 1919; and the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture, at Hot Springs, Virginia, USA, 1943 informed its replacement, the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949. Anticoagulants such as Warfarin developed in the USA at first sold widely in the UK, then later British research on resistance informed subsequent American research. This UK application of international policy and science paralleled the emergence of an official case at Parliamentary level for the national, multidisciplinary and multi-agency approach to rats. Within the UK, animal ecologists under Charles Elton mapped rats in the emergent field of population studies; and new forms of economic costing at MAFF quantified the damage done to farm buildings and machinery and the consumption, soiling and contamination of food, seed and fodder in store. Yet nineteenth-century rat catchers already had an excellent and long-established grasp of rat behaviour, a necessity in either taking or executing their subjects. Though characterized as inefficient, picturesque and craft-based, that vernacular knowledge was reproduced and formalized in the twentieth century through empirical research and evidence-based practice, shaped by experiences at the intersection of human demand, the interests of the (wild and domesticated) animals that humans have preferred, and the endeavours of the rat.

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1 Claremont, C.L., ‘The ministry's research (rat) laboratory’, Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture (April 1921–March 1922, November 1921) 28, pp. 712718, 712.

2 MAFF leaflet, Farmers! Kill Those Rats, London: HMSO, c.1941, MERL P4160 Box 1/01.

3 ‘You versus pests’ Infestation Control Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, 1957, MERL PB4160, 34662-8. Rat incisors grow constantly, so to keep teeth in good condition they gnaw hard substances. Sometimes a trace of this type of rat activity can be found in the archive: ‘A lead plant label acquired by the Museum from the Department of Agricultural Botany at the University of Reading. It has been nibbled on the edges by rats.’ C. 1964, MERL, at, accessed 20 July 2016. Rat activities were often tabulated in standard advisory texts after the war, e.g. Infestation Control: Rats and Mice, London, HMSO, 1946 , on observing signs of rubbing, rat runs etc.; farmers were advised to bait or block.

4 In the same way, Eleanor Ormerod (1828–1901) had captured the ‘injurious insect’ pest for the new field of economic entomology. See John Finlay Mcdiarmid Clark, ‘Ormerod, Eleanor Anne (1828–1901)’, ODNB; Clark, J.F.M., ‘Eleanor Ormerod (1828–1901) as an economic entomologist: “pioneer of purity even more than of Paris Green”’, BJHS (1992) 25, pp. 431452 ; Sheffield, Suzanne Le-May, Revealing New Worlds: Three Victorian Women Naturalists, London & New York, Routledge, 2001 .

5 Yarwood, Richard and Evans, Nick, ‘Taking stock of farm animals and rurality’, in Philo, Chris and Wilbert, Chris (eds.), Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human–Animal Relations, London: Routledge, 2000, pp. 98114, 98.

6 Cragoe, Matthew and McDonagh, Briony, ‘Parliamentary enclosure, vermin and the cultural life of English parishes, 1750–1850Continuity and Change (2013) 28, pp. 2750 . Lovegrove, Richard, Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 14, 27–29, 44–45, 7479 ; Fissell, Mary, ‘Imagining vermin in Early Modern England’, History Workshop Journal (1999) 47, pp. 129 . For examples of studies on rodent and other vermin (mostly rabbits) in environmental and agricultural history for the modern period see Sheail, John, Rabbits and Their History, Newton Abbot: Country Book Club, 1972 ; Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control in England and Wales’, in Short, Brian, Watkins, Charles and Martin, John (eds.), The Front Line of Freedom: British Farming in the Second World War, Agricultural History Review, Supplement Series (2006) 4, pp. 5566 ; Martin, John, ‘The wild rabbit: plague, policies and pestilence in England and Wales, 1931–1955, Agricultural History Review (2010) 58(2), pp. 255276 .

7 Burt, Jonathan, Rat, London: Reaktion Books, 2006 ; Pemberton, Neil, ‘The rat-catcher's prank: interspecies cunningness and scavenging in Henry Mayhew's London’, Journal of Victorian Culture (2014) 19, pp. 520535 .

8 McCormick, Michael, ‘Rats, communications, and plague: toward an ecological history’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History (2003) 34, pp. 125 ; John McCann, ‘The introduction of the brown rat (Rattus Norvegicus)’, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History (2005), pp. 139–141; Reilly, Kevin, ‘The black rat’, in O'Connor, Terry and Sykes, Naomi Jane (eds.), Extinctions and Invasions: A Social History of British Fauna, Oxford: Windgather Press, 2010, pp. 132145 ; Hufthammer, Anne Karin and Walloe, Lars, ‘Rats cannot have been intermediate hosts for Yrsinia pestis during medieval plague epidemics in Northern Europe’, Journal of Archaeological Science (2013) 40, pp. 17521759, 1754–1755, 1759. Note: the zooarchaeological literature keeps being updated on the presence and absence of both R. rattus and R. norvegicus in the UK; lab mice are discussed by, for example, Rader, Karen, ‘“The mouse people”: murine genetics work at the Bussey Institution, 1909–1936’, Journal of the History of Biology (1998) 31, pp. 327354 ; lab rats are addressed by, for example, Burt, op. cit. (7), pp. 89–114, 170 n. 12; Lynch, Michael E., ‘Sacrifice and the transformation of the animal body into a scientific object: laboratory culture and ritual practice in the neurosciences’, Social Studies of Science (1988) 18, pp. 265289 .

9 For a related argument with reference to animal suicide see Wilson, Duncan and Ramsden, Edmund, ‘The suicidal animal: science and the nature of self-destruction’, Past & Present (2014) 224, pp. 201242, 203.

10 McTavish, Llianne and Zheng, Jingjing, ‘Rats in Alberta: looking at pest-control posters from the 1950s’, Canadian Historical Review (2011) 92, pp. 515546 .

11 Examples of recent work treating the farm in this way with reference to livestock production include Holloway, Lewis, ‘Subjecting cows to robots: farming technologies and the making of animal subjects’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space (2007) 25, pp. 10411060 ; Sayer, Karen, ‘ Animal Machines: the public response to intensification in Great Britain, 1960–1973’, Agricultural History (2013) 87, pp. 473501 ; Michael J. Watts, ‘Afterword’, in Philo and Wilbert, op. cit. (5), pp. 291–302; Woods, Abigail, ‘Rethinking the history of modern agriculture: British pig production, c.1910–1965’, Twentieth Century British History (2011) 23, pp. 165191 ; Coppin, Dawn, ‘Foucauldian hog futures: the birth of mega-hog farms’, Sociological Quarterly (2003) 44, pp. 597616 ; Cassidy, Angela, ‘Vermin, victims and disease: UK framings of badgers in and beyond the bovine TB controversy’, Sociologia Ruralis (2012) 52, pp. 192204 ; Jones, Susan, ‘Becoming a pest: prairie dog ecology and the human economy in the Euroamerican West’, Environmental History (1999) 4, pp. 531552 .

12 Stallybrass, Pete and White, Allon, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986, p. 130 .

13 Another example (not on rats) is Kean, Hilda, ‘Imagining rabbits and squirrels in the English countryside’, Society & Animals Forum (2001) 9 , at, accessed 25 February 2014.

14 Hendrickson, Robert, More Cunning than Man: A Social History of Rats and Men, New York: Dorset Press, 1983 ; Serres, Michel, The Parasite, trans. Schehr, L.R., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982 .

15 Soper, Kate, What Is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-human, Oxford: Blackwell, 1995, p. 86 ; Baker, Steve, Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity and Representation, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993, pp. 148149, 154156 ; Burt, op. cit. (7), p. 49.

16 Robinson, D.H. (ed.), Fream's Elements of Agriculture, 14th edn, London: John Murray, 1962, pp. 711712 .

17 Benson, Etienne, ‘Animal writers: historiography, disciplinarity, and the animal trace’, in Kalof, Linda and Montgomery, Georgina M. (eds.), Making Animal Meaning, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011, pp. 316, 1113 .

18 The census data suggest that there were a few professionals, classified under the heading X(1) ‘vermin destroyer’ in 1851. At the time there were 1,732 males of all ages in England and Wales, and 516 in Scotland. The total women in this classification at the same time, for the whole of Great Britain etc., was five. 1851 Census, pp. ccxxiii, ccxxix, ccxxvi. By 1921 the professional operators have been subdivided into ‘Rat Destroying & Trapping (Agricultural)’ code 019, and ‘Vermin Destroying (non-agricultural)’ code 809. However, 019 was ‘Other Agricultural Industries’ and 809 ‘Other Industries’, so the total figures given – 6,492 and 6,904 respectively – probably cover more trades and professions than rat catching. 1921 Census, pp. 5, 13, 16, 206.

19 Cragoe and McDonagh, op. cit. (6). ‘Vermin’ has historically been a very elastic category. Note: rat and sparrow clubs generally gave a penny a tail, which could form a useful additional income, as recorded in Kightly, Charles, Country Voices: Life and Lore in English Farm and Village, London: Thames and Hudson, 1984, pp. 1920 .

20 For example, see the advice given by Hovell, Mark, Rats and How to Destroy Them, London: J. Bale and Danielsson, 1924 .

21 Wright, James, Observations upon the Important Object of Preserving Wheat and Other Grain from Vermin, Covent Garden: Cooper Graham, 1796 ; Barkley, H.C., Studies in the Art of Rat-Catching, London: John Murray, 1896 ; Boelter, W.R., The Rat Problem, London: John Bale, Sons and Danielsson, 1909 .

22 Anon., ‘Rats’, Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, January 1854–November 1897, 18 August 1860, pp. 110–112, 111.

23 Anon., op. cit. (22) pp. 110–111.

24 Pemberton, op. cit. (7), pp.

25 Anon., op. cit. (22), pp. 111–112.

26 Hansard, Commons Sitting of Monday, 23 May 1898, records a question raised about a case of a rat, on a string, being worried by dogs, and if this was against the law; this tested and therefore established the law – so that it clearly related to domestic animals – more than it changed the definition or place of the rat in human culture.

27 Hufthammer and Walloe, op. cit. (8), p. 1752; Echenberg, Myron, Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague, 1894–1901, New York: New York University Press, 2007, p. 265 .

28 Reports and papers on suspected cases of human plague in East Suffolk and on an epizootic of plague in rodents’, Reports to the Local Government Board on Public Health and Medical Subjects (new series, no 52), London: HMSO, 1911, p. ii.

29 Van Zwanenberg, David, ‘The last epidemic of plague in England? Suffolk, 1906–1918’, Medical History (1970) 14, pp. 6374 .

30 Hufthammer and Walloe, op. cit. (8), p. 1757; Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress, Appendix Volume VI, Minutes of Evidence (95th to 110th days and 139th and 149th days), with appendix, Cd. 4978, 1910.

31 See Echenberg, op. cit. (27), for a global history of the third pandemic.

32 For example, ‘The menace from rats’, The Times, 11 November 1910, p. 9. The topic of plague was reported by organizations such as the Association of Schools of Public Health, for example ‘Japan: report from Yokohama Inspection of Vessels. Fumigation of vessels for rat destruction. Plague. Meeting of sanitary officers of the empire’, Public Health Report (1896–1900)  (4 June 1909) 24(23), p. 789. As it progressed, the subject also attracted the attention of the press overseas as well, for example America (25 February 1911), 4(20), p. 459.

33 Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health to the Local Government Board Report for 1911–12 (Local Government: Medical Supplements), Cd. 6341 Vol. 36, p. lxxix.

34 ‘Reports and papers on suspected cases of human plague’, pp. iii–v; ‘Rat plague in East Anglia’, House of Lords Hansard, Lords Sitting of Tuesday, 22 November 1910, Fifth Series, Vol. 6, cc. 826–828.

35 ‘Rat plague in East Anglia’ op. cit. (34), p. 740.

36 ‘Reports and papers on suspected cases of human plague’, p. vi; see also Donaldson, H.H., The Rat, Philadelphia: Wistar Institute, 1924 , cited by Elton, Charles, Animal Ecology, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927, pp. 5253 , which reiterate this point.

37 Date of first record for the brown rat according to DEFRA is 1720, and ‘The GB pre-breeding population was estimated to be at least 6.8 million animals in 1995’. DEFRA, ‘Brown rat, Rattus norvegicus’, at, accessed 20 July 2016. Date of first record on DEFRA for Rattus rattus is 250; its current population is small and its range limited to seaports. DEFRA, ‘Ship rat, Rattus rattus’, at, accessed 20 July 2016.

38 Alfred Moore Hogarth, The Rat: A World Menace, London: John Bale, Sons and Danielson, 1929; A.G. Racey: cartoon, 32.2 × 33.2 cm, pen and ink, 1915: ‘A British bulldog wearing a collar on which is inscribed “British Navy” is holding a rat on which is written “Blucher” in between his teeth’, Wellcome Library, Iconographic Collection 571935i, at, accessed 20 July 2016. SMS Blücher sank on 24 January 1915 at the Battle of Dogger Bank.

39 Alan Buckle, ‘Rat control 1: impact on farm’, at, accessed 13 February 2013; he also states, ‘Based on today's prices, the damage on farm caused by rats is estimated to cost the UK farming industry £14 to £28 million a year.’

40 ‘Rat Destruction Bill [H.L.]’, House of Lords Hansard, Lords Sitting of Thursday, 24 July 1919, Fifth Series, Vol. 35, c. 1038.

41 Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), p. 56.

42 ‘Rat Destruction Bill [H.L.]’ op. cit. (40), cc. 1037–1045.

43 Webster, J.P. and Macdonald, D.W., ‘Parasites of wild brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) on UK farms’, Parasitology (1995), 111, pp. 247255, 254. They tested the rats (not all of whom were killed) for macroparasites and microparasites, i.e. from fleas and lice to viruses and bacteria, many of which ‘contribute to zoonotic disease in humans and domestic animals in a farm or rural environment’. Ibid., pp. 247, 248, 253.

44 Knight, John, Natural Enemies: People–Wildlife Conflicts in Anthropological Perspective, London: Routledge, 2000 , Introduction.

45 Wright, op. cit. (21), pp. 12–13.

46 Wright, op. cit. (21), pp. 13–14, 17–19.

47 ‘Destruction of rats: provisions of the new bill’, Manchester Guardian, 30 December 1919, p. 12; ‘The ratcatcher’, Manchester Guardian, 21 July 1920, p. 14.

48 ‘Destruction of rats: provisions of the new bill’, Manchester Guardian, 30 December 1919, p. 12; ‘The ratcatcher’, Manchester Guardian, 21 July 1920, p. 14.

49 ‘Damage by rats’, House of Commons Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 29 July 1927, Fifth Series, Vol. 209, cc. 1665W.

50 Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), p. 56.

51 MAFF, HC Deb, 19 April 1921 vol. 140, cc. 1731–1842, Minister of Agriculture (Sir Arthur Boscawen), p. 1741.

52 Kill That Rat, British Pathé, 1919, at, accessed 11 February 2014; ‘National Rat Week’, Glasgow Herald, 27 October 1922, p. 5, col. f; ‘National Rat Week’, House of Commons Hansard, Commons Sitting Written Answers, 14 November, 1938, cc. 518-9W; National Rat Week’, Nature (14 October 1939) 144, p. 661 .

53 Claremont, op. cit. (1), p. 714; ‘Notes on the analysis and use of red squill in rat poisons’, read at Conference VI-Rat Officers, Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, Perspectives in Public Health (September 1921) 42(5), pp. 311–318; images of the lab and factory environs at and, accessed 20 July 2016.

54 ‘Rat skins’, House of Commons Hansard, Commons Sitting of Monday, 25 April 1921, Fifth Series, Vol. 141, cc. 37–38.

55 MAFF Bulletin No 78, A Selected and Classified List of Books on Agriculture, 1939.

56 ‘Rat skins’, House of Commons Hansard, Commons Sitting of Monday, 16 February 1920, Fifth Series, Vol. 125, cc. 515–516.

57 ‘Rat skins’, op. cit. (54).

58 Anon., ‘Skins for commercial use: those of the alligator, frog, lizard, and rat find favor among manufacturers of leather goods’, New York Times, 15 June 1897.

59 Laut, A.C., The Fur Trade in America, New York: Macmillan, 1921, p. 139 , cited by Matheson, C., ‘The domestic cat as a factor in urban ecology’, Journal of Animal Ecology (1944) 13, pp. 130133, 132.

60 See Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), pp. 56–57.

61 Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), pp. 58–61; e.g. ‘Ratting time’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 11 October 1941.

62 Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), pp. 58–59.

63 Crowcroft, P., Elton's Ecologists: A History of the Bureau of Animal Population, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 10 .

64 Elton, op. cit. (36), p. xvi.

65 Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), pp. 59–60, 63; Hardy, Alister, ‘Foreword: Charles Elton's influence in ecology’, Journal of Animal Ecology (1968) 37, pp. 38, 6.

66 The Agriculture Act 1947, at, attempted to support farmers during post-war reconstruction, and reflected a concern not to ‘desert’ agriculture in the way that was perceived to have happened in the UK after the First World War.

67 It remained on the Irish statue book; see, accessed 14 February 2014; Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), pp. 63–65.

68 The 1943 Hot Springs conference was very influential in shaping the post-war agricultural policies of all forty-four signatory nations, and had the declared intent of achieving ‘the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all peoples’, though the exact details of which types of food ought to be produced, and exactly where, worldwide, were to be established. For example, for a history of and response to this event at the time see Black, John D., ‘The international food movement’, American Economic Review (1943) 33, pp. 791833 .

69 Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949, 12 & 13 Geo. 6. Ch. 55, accessible via, the National Archives,, accessed 11 February 2014; the Act has been amended several times.

70 Anon., ‘Food damage by pests’, Manchester Guardian, 24 February 1949, p. 6.

71 ‘Rat catching’, House of Commons Hansard, Written answers (Commons) of Thursday, 4 December 1952, Fifth Series, Vol. 508, c. 161.

72 1956–57 Cmnd. 145 Agriculture in Scotland. The report of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland for 1956, pp. 43–54, 46, 79; on myxomatosis in England and Wales see Martin, John, ‘The wild rabbit: plague, policies and pestilence in England and Wales, 1931–1955’, Agricultural History Review (2010) 58(2), pp. 255276 ; on rabbits see Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6).

73 According to Crowcroft, Elton successfully rewrote a grant bid avoiding the ‘vague’ word ‘climate’ and replacing the word ‘disease’ with ‘health’ under advice. Crowcroft, op. cit. (63), pp. 8–10.

74 Mackenzie, Andrew, ‘History of the Agricultural Research Council Institute for Research on Animal Diseases at Compton’, Veterinary History (2016) 18, pp. 228240 .

75 Elton, Charles S., ‘The use of cats in farm rat control’, British Journal of Animal Behaviour (1953) 1, pp. 151155, 152–153; Elsa Bonnaud, E. Vidal, D. Zaroso-Lacoste and F. Torre, ‘Measuring rodent incisors from scats can increase accuracy of predator diet studies: an illustration based on island cats and rats’, Ecology/Ecologie, via Science Direct, doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2008.07.001, p. 690.

76 Elton, op. cit. (75), p. 154.

77 For example, for time-and-motion/farmwork studies of the period in the USA see Case, Harold Clayton M. and Johnston, Paul Evans, Principles of Farm Management, Chicago: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1953 ; for an example in Britain see Branston, Brian, Time and Motion on the Farm, London: Faber & Faber Ltd, c. 1952 .

78 Whetham, Edith H., ‘The search for the cost of production, 1914–30’, Journal of Agricultural Economics (1972) 23, pp. 201211, 210–211.

79 Elton, op. cit. (75), p. 155. Elton viewed the use of surveys and observational methods as essential to the documentation and interpretation of species interactions.’ Leibold, M.A. and Wootton, J.T., introduction to Elton, Charles S., Animal Ecology (reprint), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001, p. xliii .

80 Sheail, ‘Wartime rodent control’, op. cit. (6), p. 64.

81 Buchanan, A., ‘War against rats: the value of cats’, The Lancet (19 October 1907) 170, p. 1099 .

82 Studies of cats were still relatively novel: Shepherd, W.T., ‘The discrimination of articulate sounds by cats’, American Journal of Psychology (1912) 23, pp. 461463 , described an early experiment to determine if cats could tell human vocalizations apart, but it was not until 1944 that the cat was studied for its vocalization by Moelk, Mildred, ‘Vocalizing in the house-cat: a phonetic and functional study’, American Journal of Psychology (1944) 57, pp. 184205 . Ecologists showed an interest in wild cats in Taylor, W.L., ‘The wild cat (Felis silvestris) in Great Britain’, Journal of Animal Ecology (1946) 15, pp. 130133 ; and Matheson, op. cit. (59). Matheson also published on rat populations: Matheson, C., ‘A survey of the status of Rattus rattus and its subspecies in the seaports of Great Britain’, Journal of Animal Ecology (1939) 8, pp. 7693 .

83 Sean L. Tuck, Camilla Winqvist, Flávia Mota, Johan Ahnström, Lindsay A. Turnbull* and Jane Bengtsson, ‘Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis’, Journal of Applied Ecology, accepted manuscript online, 30 December 2013.

84 Turnbull et al., op. cit. (83). Where pesticides drift, pollinators may still be affected on farms bordering an organic farm.

85 Winqvist*, Camilla, Bengtsson, Jan, Aavik, Tsipe, Berendse, Frank, Clement, Lars W., Eggers, Sönke, Fischer, Christina, Flohre, Andreas, Geiger, Flavia and Liira, Jaan, ‘Mixed effects of organic farming and landscape complexity on farmland biodiversity and biological control potential across Europe’, Journal of Applied Ecology (2011) 48, pp. 570579, 575–576.

86 Palladino, Paolo, ‘Ecological theory and pest control practice: a study of the institutional and conceptual dimensions of a scientific debate’, Social Studies of Science (1990) 20, pp. 255281, 255–256.

87 Winqvist et al., op. cit. (85). Winqvist et al. found the greatest diversity and richness of plant and bird species in landscapes that were both subject to organic farming practice and more complex, but this was not the case for ground beetles.

88 Palladino, Paolo, Entomology, Ecology and Agriculture: The Making of Scientific Careers in North America 1885–1985, Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996, pp. 12 ; Sheail, John, An Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain, Houndmills: Palgrave, 2002, pp. 235236 .

89 Sayer, op. cit. (11).

90 Boyd, William, ‘Making meat: science, technology, and American poultry production’, Technology & Culture (2001) 42, pp. 631664, 633, 634.

91 Gray, E., Diseases of Poultry: Their Aetiology, Diagnosis, Treatment and Control, 4th edn, London: Crosby Lockwood and Son, 1955, p. 39 .

92 Woods, Abigail, ‘From cruelty to welfare: the emergence of farm animal welfare in Britain, 1964–71’, Endeavour (2012) 36, pp. 1422, 20; Sayer op. cit. (11).

93 Blount, W.P., Hen Batteries, Bailliére: Tindall & Cox, 1951, p. 247 .

94 For example, Tweeten, Luther, Terrorism, Radicalism, and Populism in Agriculture, Ames: Iowa State Press, 2003, p. 102 .

95 ‘Ratting on derelict poultry farm’, J.C. Brocklebank, Glos. rat, rabbit and weeds officer, black-and-white photograph of men, having tipped up a hen house, letting dogs underneath to chase rats, MERL H.20, 9/40.

96 Robinson, op. cit. (16), p. 698.

97 Fream, W., Elements of Agriculture: A Text-Book Prepared under the Authority of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, London: John Murray, 1892 , Preface.

98 Goddard, Nicholas, ‘“Not a reading class”: the development of the Victorian agricultural textbook’, Paradigm (1997) 23 , e-text at, accessed 12 December 2013.

99 Gray, op. cit. (91), p. 106.

100 Gray, op. cit. (91), p. 107.

101 For example, ‘Murphex Warfarin’ and ‘Ratero’ advertisements, Farmer & Stockbreeder, 20 May 1952, pp. 30–31; ‘Ratin service’ advertisement, 10 June 1952, p. 32.

102 Robinson, Leonard, Modern Poultry Husbandry, London: Crosby Lockwood & Son Ltd, 1957, p. 676 .

103 Link, Karl Paul, ‘The discovery of Dicumarol and its sequels’, Circulation (1959) 19, pp. 97107 ; see also M. Scully, ‘Warfarin therapy: rat poison and the prevention of thrombosis’, The Biochemist (2002), pp. 15–17, 15.

104 Pearson, F.A., Myers, W.I. and Warren, S.W. (New York State College of Agriculture), Farm Economics (March 1951) 179, pp. 46384642, 4641; Rogers, E.M., ‘Categorizing the adopters of agricultural practices’, Rural Sociology (December 1958) 23(4), pp. 345354, 349: using data from an Ohio study of Warfarin use, Rogers gave the percentage of adoption completed as 78 per cent.

105 MAFF, Pest Infestation Control: Combining the Report of the Infestation Control Laboratory 1968–70 and Pest Infestation Research 1970, London: HMSO, 1973, p. 70 .

106 Link, op. cit. (103), pp. 104–105.

107 MAFF, op. cit. (105), pp. 49–50, 52–54, 55–56.

108 MAFF, op. cit. (105), p. 51.

109 MAFF, op. cit. (105), pp. 54–55; Robinson, op. cit. (16).

110 J. Greaves, ‘How super rats survive’, New Scientist, 19 October 1972, pp. 156–158; anon., ‘A perfect rat poison at last?’, New Scientist, 19 July 1973, p. 125; also advertisements for government posts: New Scientist, 5 December 1974, p. 775, 15 May 1975, p. 413, 1 June 1978, p. 789.

111 Elton does not discuss the consequences for cats of the use of (pre-Warfarin) rat poisons.

112 MAFF, op. cit. (105), pp. 41–49.

113 MAFF, op. cit. (105), p. 37.

114 L.A. Walker, N.R. Llewellyn, M.G. Pereira, E.D. Potter, A.W. Sainsbury and R.F. Shore, ‘Anticoagulant rodenticides in predatory birds 2010: a predatory bird monitoring scheme (PBMS) report’ (2012), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster, UK, at, accessed 7 February 2014; ‘Pesticide poisoning of animals 1998: investigations of suspected incidents in the United Kingdom. A report of the Environmental Panel of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides’, at, accessed 7 February 2014. See also Major Scheme Publications Produced since 1976, at, accessed 7 February 2014.

115 ‘Rat infestation’, House of Lords Hansard, Written answers (Lords) of Monday, 1 July 1996, Fifth Series, Vol., 573, c. WA86.

116 C. Tudor, Jimmy Bell's Cobbler's Shop during the 1930s (date unknown), oil on board, 35 × 43 cm; Rats and Flower Sack, 1945, oil on board, 34 × 46 cm; Rats and Boots (1947), oil on board, 34 × 44 cm, all bequeathed to the Lakeland Arts Trust collection by Miss C.E.F. Tudor, 1992 (the artist's daughter). No further details are available, reference email from Suzannah Brown, documentation assistant, Lakeland Arts Trust collection, of 09:45, Thursday 2 July 2015, to the author.

117 Crompton, Richmal, ‘William the rat lover’, in Crompton, William the Detective, London: George Newnes Ltd, 1935 . In this story the protagonist William Brown, on being horrified at the destruction of rats during national ‘Rat Week’, promotes and cares for the creatures in his “Rat Fortnight” – itself an alternative to a week dedicated to the care of birds.

118 Drummond, David, British Mouse Traps and Their Makers, Dorking: Mouse Trap Books, 2008 .

This paper comes out of research funded by the Museum of English Rural Life Gwyn E. Lewis Fellowship; the author is very grateful to the staff at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading, UK, for their assistance during the period of the fellowship. Paper first given at the Annual Conference of the BSHS, Swansea, July 2015, as part of the Travelling Rat, 1850–1950 panel session with co-speakers Neil Pemberton (Manchester University) and Kaori Nagai (University of Kent). I also wish to thank the following who saw earlier versions of the paper and offered valuable comment: the peer reviewers of BJHS; the audience members of the joint plenary with C. Griffiths at the Agricultural History Society annual conference in Lexington, USA 2015; and the Animal Histories seminar, Kings College London, January 2017. Thanks also go to Richard Thomas, reader in archaeology, for zooarchaeological advice and access to Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus reference skeletons in the Animal Bones Collections, held in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester.


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