The Museum of English Rural Life challenges perceptions about rural England by revealing the historical and contemporary relevance of country life. Come and discover our new interactive, immersive galleries which explore questions of identity, environment, technology, culture and health.

We are a part of the University of Reading and work with Reading Museum as the Arts Council England-funded Museums Partnership Reading.

What's on



  • February 27 - August 26
  • Normal opening times



  • April 24 - July 31
  • Usual opening times
  • Free

No booking required.



    • July 12 - September 30
    • 12:00 am - 11:59 pm

    Did you know families used to pick hops on holiday?

    Hop picking holidays allowed city families to earn money. Pickers were paid with tokens, which were used in local shops or exchanged for wages.

    Did you know

    ...Elizabethan mattresses were used for both childbirth and corpses?

    Mattresses, plaited from sedges, were made to support a mother during childbirth or a corpse after death. After use it would have been burned.

    Did you know used to sow seeds by fiddle?

    Sowing by hand can be slow and inaccurate. Seed drills were developed in the 1800s to sow seeds quickly in a straight line at regular intervals.

    Did you know

    ...Lady Eve Balfour (1898-1990) was one of the earliest organic farmers and co-founded the Soil Association?

    Women continue to play a key role in this movement, with organic farms employing significantly more women than chemical farming.

    Did you know

    ...Suttons Seeds invented the seed packet?

    The local Reading firm, founded in 1806, popularised paper packets of seeds for gardeners.

    Did you know

    ...villages often used to run their own fire services?

    The National Fire Service was only created in 1941.

    Did you know


    Our Country Lives - Latest Blog Posts

    Our blog explores the people, places and issues of the historic and contemporary English countryside and rural life, uncovering and exploring our collections, the exciting activity around the MERL and the people we with.

    ‘Handling’ by poet in residence, Jack Thacker

    A guest post ahead of the launch of his first book

    The MERL and Reading Museum: Working together

    In a further boost to Reading’s cultural renaissance, the Museum of English Rural Life and Reading Museum will be working together as Museums Partnership Reading until 2022.

    The partnership is funded by Arts Council England’s (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation scheme, and will see the two museums using £250,000 per year to improve educational opportunities for young people, host joint exhibitions, provide new online experiences and invest more in volunteering.

    The funding is a vote of confidence in Reading as a cultural destination, building on the recent successes of the MERL’s redevelopment in 2016, this year’s reopening of the Reading Abbey Ruins and three previous ACE partnership projects, including the most recent: #digiRDG: Town and Country.

    Annual exhibitions

    Both museums have strong art collections, which together range from Ladybird books to Aldermaston Pottery. The Sir John Madejski Art Gallery at Reading Museum will host a joint exhibition for every year of the project, drawing on the strengths of each museum. There will also be a joint public programme of events and activities exploring each year’s theme.

    We cannot reveal the subject of the 2019 exhibition yet, but rest assured it will be a powerful draw for visitors both local and further afield!


    Our collections

    The core of every museum is its collection, and it is our duty and responsibility to care for our objects so they can inform and inspire present and future visitors.

    Part of our ACE funding will pay for a Collections Officer role, which will assist with a planned move of Reading Museum’s external store of objects, to assist plans for a revamped Silchester Gallery at Reading Museum, to unlock more of the MERL’s collections through its website and to expose our collections and engage with people on social media and blogs.


    After the recent #digiRDG project, we are still embedding much of what we learned about how digital technologies and social media can make our museums better.

    ACE funding will pay for a role leading on digital activity for both museums, including the training of staff in new skills and the use of those skills in unlocking the stories and meanings behind our objects through online content. It also means dabbling in new technologies and finding new ways of making the museums more interesting places to visit, whether that’s exploring the potential of 3D technologies, working with local geeks and artists or simply making better videos.


    Schools and learning

    Reading Museum is famous for the memories it makes for visiting schools and children, and the MERL has been delighting young visitors for years with its special events and workshops. As the lessons our collections tell become increasingly relevant to the curriculum, we want to join up our two museums’ Schools offer to make us into a one-stop shop for booking educational days out, workshops and things to do back in the classroom.

    We also want to start thinking about a broader strategy for involving young people and empowering them in exploring their heritage. We’re currently advertising for someone to help us with this, with a plan to start delivering the strategy in our second partnership year.

    We’re also partnering with the University’s ArtLab to help local secondary schools achieve ArtsMark awards. The MERL has already worked on several projects with ArtLab, resulting in things like our Sensory Cow and a future VR experience (currently under wraps!).

    Volunteering is an essential part of our museums, and their help is essential in delivering the projects, events and community work that both museums do. To make volunteering easier we will be combining the recruitment process for both museums and create a shared pool of volunteers, giving people opportunities to get involved across the MERL, Reading Museum and the Abbey Ruins.


    What changes will you see?

    Our first year of activity runs from April 2018–April 2019, and it is unlikely you will see a lot of changes in that year. That’s because we’ll be figuring out how we can best make our partnership work and making plans for doing more exciting things in our second year for and with you, the public.

    Much of our partnership will be subtle — we are not trying to create a joint museum, but instead enhancing what both museums offer. There will be a lot of work behind the scenes, with both museums helping each other out with time, resources and skills to deliver public projects at both or either museums. We’ll be making sure that we’re working in tandem rather than in competition, ensuring that we are not duplicating work and treading on each other’s toes but instead helping each other save time and effort.

    If you want to keep up to date with the nitty gritty of behind-the-scenes work we will be posting blogs on our new shared Medium blog, but we’ll also be posting a quarterly update on both ours and Reading Museum’s blogs. We hope you’ll enjoy what our partnership comes up with over the next four years!

    Life of the People

    Stories of rural life and work by Chip Colquhoun

    Join Our Community

    Monday, July 16th, 2018 at 1:36pm
    @botanistlaura Thanks Laura! We have various large-format booklets about the place which show off our photographic collections - you may have missed them because they're in camouflage grey...

    (did you also see our last few unit t-shirts in the shop?)
  • The Museum of English Rural Life

    University of Reading

    Redlands Road


    RG1 5EX

    Need directions?