What's on

TEACHERS’ PANEL

Events and workshops

  • May 27
  • 4pm - 5pm
  • Free

Please email p.heath2@reading.ac.uk to book

THE STARS ARE BRIGHTER HERE

Events and workshops

  • July 7 - July 14
  • Various times
  • £10

Cost: £10, Booking required

Did you know

...city 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

...farmers 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.

Item from the Suttons Sees Ltd. archive collection

Did you know

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

The National Fire Service was only created in 1941.

Did you know

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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.

From chalk to cheese: the new display in the Our Country Lives gallery

Learn about the new artwork on display in the Our Country Lives gallery after our reopening

Updates on Coronavirus

Latest update: 10th May 2021

In line with the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap, we are delighted to announce that visitors will be able to return to The MERL galleries from Tuesday 18th May.

This follows the reopening of our shop, café, garden and reading room in April, and forms part of the combined reopening of Museums Partnership Reading (consisting of The MERL and Reading Museum and supported by Arts Council England).

Our museum galleries tell the story of rural England and its people, crossing the history of food, farming, crafts and the countryside. We are particularly excited to share with you the new display in the Our Country Lives gallery: a changeover of the wall-hanging from Kent to Cheshire, which you will be able to explore and enjoy from 21st May.

The Michael O'Connell wall-hanging in the Our Country Lives gallery. This will remain closed until 21st May whilst we complete the exciting changeover from Kent to Cheshire.
The Michael O’Connell wall-hanging in the Our Country Lives gallery. This will remain closed until 21st May whilst we complete the exciting changeover from Kent to Cheshire!

Like with our previous reopenings, we are implementing a range of health and safety measures throughout the museum to keep you safe and comfortable throughout your visit. This includes the return of our booking system and the requirement for you to book ahead of your visit.

Find out more about visiting The MERL and make your booking today!


Update: 14th April 2021

The MERL café, shop and garden are now open! In line with the Government’s roadmap. The galleries will reopen on Tuesday 18th May.

Full details and opening times are available on our Visit Us page.

The reading room is also open for general access, with booking required. Find out more information about arranging your visit to The MERL reading room.


Update: 29th March 2021

The MERL garden, café and shop will reopen on Wednesday 14th April, in line with Government guidelines for outdoor attractions, retail and hospitality. The museum galleries will remain closed, and will reopen as part of the next Step in the Government’s roadmap*. We will be open from 9-5 Wednesday to Fridays and 10-5 on Saturday and Sundays, and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The reading room will open for general access from Wednesday the 14th April. Booking is essential for all visits. Find out more information about arranging your visit to The MERL reading room.

The café will open for takeaway and outdoor consumption only, with toilets also available indoors. There will be no indoor seating, but outdoor seating will be available, with new parasols for protection from the elements. The MERL café offers a range of excellent teas, coffees and hot chocolate and cold drinks, individually wrapped snacks, cakes and sandwiches, as well as delicious Jude’s ice-cream tubs.

New ranges of exclusive MERL merchandise inspired by our collections, including our new ‘Absolute Unit’ T-shirts, will be available in the shop, alongside exclusive handmade items and carefully selected ranges of cards, gifts and treats.

The garden offers a peaceful and safe place to relax, picnic and play. From benches in the herb garden, to a large lawn, lavender beds and play-on tractor, there’s space for all visitors to spread out and enjoy. After a year of being left almost to its own devices, our slightly overgrown ‘re-wilded’ garden is a magical place to spend some time with a coffee and a book, or simply to let the children explore. Activities will be available for families and our Welcome Volunteers will be on hand to provide all the help and information you might need.

Social distancing and other safety measures introduced in September will remain in place, although booking will not be required until the galleries reopen. Visitors are asked to adhere to Government guidelines regarding social contact. Once outdoors, you can meet in groups of up to six people or two households. Please do not visit if experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. We will be monitoring visitor numbers in the garden and particularly in the shop and café where space is limited. Visitors may be asked to wait outside if the space is temporarily at capacity.

* From week beginning 17 May, the galleries at The MERL will also reopen. Please note that all of the above dates are subject to change in line with the Government’s roadmap. We will issue further updates here and full details on our Visit Us page as soon as arrangements are confirmed.


Update: 26th February 2021

Following the Government’s sharing of its roadmap out of lockdown on Monday 22nd February, we have been working on our own plans to welcome visitors back to The MERL.

We are aiming to open up gradually, in line with University guidance and depending on the Government’s decisions in the next few weeks and months. Further details will be available soon but these are our current plans:

From week beginning 8th March:
As part of the University of Reading, we will be providing access to collections via the reading room for academic research and teaching only from Wednesday 10th March. Please visit the reading room page for details

For all other research requiring access to the collections, we will continue to provide this through our digital access to collections service.

From week beginning 12 April*:
The reading room will be open for general access.

From the week beginning 12 April*:
The garden, cafe (for take away and outdoor consumption only) and shop will be open. Social distancing and other measures introduced in September will be in place.

From week beginning 17 May*:
The Museum galleries will also reopen.

We will issue further updates here and full details on our Visit Us page, as soon as we have arrangements in place.

*Please note that all of the above dates are subject to change in line with the Government’s roadmap.


Update: 5th January 2021

Following the introduction of the National Lockdown on January 5th 2021, the museum, galleries, shop, café and garden will remain closed until further notice. The reading room will also be closed. If you require access to the collections, we will aim to provide this  through our digital access to collections service. Please visit the reading room page for details.

Whilst The MERL is closed, there are many ways for you to explore our collections online and discover the history of the English countryside. Find out more about making a virtual visit to the Museum.


Update: 17th December 2020

Following the latest Government announcement that Reading will enter Tier 3 from Saturday the 19th December, The MERL will close from 5pm on Friday the 18th December until further notice.

This includes the museum galleries, shop, café and garden.

The reading room will be closed for Christmas from 4pm today. As soon as have information about the reading room’s reopening, we will update here and share the news to our social media feeds.

Whilst The MERL is closed, there are many ways for you to explore our collections online and discover the history of the English countryside. Find out more about making a virtual visit to the Museum.


Update: 27th November 2020

In line with the latest Government announcement that Reading will enter Tier 2 following the end of the national lockdown, The MERL will reopen on Wednesday 2nd December.

We kindly ask that when visiting the museum, shop, cafe and garden, you follow the Tier 2 regulations in place in our area.

Please find further details on our Visit Us page, where you will be able to book a timed slot.


Update: 2nd November 2020

Following the latest Government regulations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Museum of English Rural Life will close to the public at 5pm on Weds 4th November until the end of the lockdown period.

If you have booked a visit to The MERL beyond this date, please keep an eye on your inbox as we will be writing to you very soon.

As part of the University of Reading, we will be continuing to provide access to collections via the reading room for academic research and teaching.

We will miss our visitors hugely, but as with our closure earlier in the year, we will continue sharing on our website and social media the stories of our collections and the history of rural England that our audience loves.


Update: 11th August 2020

We are delighted to announce that on Tuesday the 8th of September, The Museum of English Rural Life will reopen for visitors!

This includes all the Museum’s galleries, our reading room, library and archive, and the shop, café and garden.

We have greatly missed you during these difficult months and are overjoyed to be so close to welcoming you back.

As we return to The MERL, we have taken many steps to ensure that you – our staff, visitors, and volunteers – will be safe and comfortable during your time at the Museum, and we will be sharing more news about this very shortly.

We look forward to updating you again very soon.


Update: 10th July 2020

Though the reading room and museum remain closed, we’re increasing digital access to collections from Monday 13th July, when copying services will restart for The MERL, Special Collections and Art Collections. Find out more…


Update: 24th June 2020

We welcome the announcement that museums will be able to reopen from 4th July. The MERL will not reopen straight away but we are working hard to put in place all the necessary measures to allow for a new kind of visit, ensuring the safety of all our staff and visitors.

Our reopening will be part of the phased reopening of all the University of Reading‘s campus buildings. We hope to be able to share more information about our plans very soon.

In the meantime, we will continue delivering our programme of online events, exhibitions and activities through our websites and social media and responding to your enquiries. We will also be introducing new digitisation services for researchers in the middle of July, which we look forward to sharing more about very shortly.

Much has changed while we have been closed; we have missed our visitors. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Museum and to being able to contribute to and enjoy being part of the amazing community and cultural life of Reading.


UPDATE: 13th May 2020

Our archive and library teams are continuing to run our enquiry service, but from this week they are operating with a reduced capacity. Our capacity to operate reprographic / image licensing services is also reduced. Responses may take longer than usual. Please be aware that any research queries or copying requests necessitating access to the physical collection stores will have to be postponed until we return to the workplace. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.


UPDATE: 2nd April 2020

In light of the latest government advice, and in line with the University’s position, all events and external visits due to take place at The MERL and Special Collections are now cancelled until the end of June. The museum and the reading room will be closed until further notice.

Although the museum & collections service will be closed, we will continue sharing our collections through social media and via our websites. We are also working on alternative digital ways to deliver elements of the exciting events and activities we had planned for the next few months, keeping everyone entertained whilst sharing useful educational resources.


18th March 2020

In light of the latest government advice regarding the developing COVID-19 situation, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all events and external visits due to take place at The MERL and Special Collections until the end of April. In addition, the museum and the reading room will close at 5pm on Friday 20th March until further notice.

We understand that this news will be disappointing. We would like to reassure you that it is not a decision we have taken lightly. We will review our plans beyond April in due course. For updates, please visit our website, join our mailing list and follow us on social media.

Our primary concern is to protect the health of our visitors, volunteers, students and staff. The University’s Major Incident Team is meeting regularly to monitor the situation closely and follow all government advice to help prevent the spread of the virus

Although the museum & collections service will be closed, we know that our visitors and audiences care about our collections just as much as we do. We will continue sharing stories of rural England, its history and its people through social media and our websites, keeping you entertained as best we can.

Thank you for your understanding.

51 Voices: Pleasure and Pain

This January, The MERL embarked on 51 Voices, a new year-long project celebrating the museum’s seventieth anniversary in 2021. Throughout the year, we will be working with a range of writers, artists and different communities to give contemporary voice to fifty-one objects and archives in The MERL collection connected in myriad ways to our founding year.

In this fourth monthly roundup of our 51 Voices work, join us as we reflect on four of the fifty-one objects which were given Voice in April (now live on the exhibition page) and explore how they are resonant in our lives and changing world today.

51 VOICES: APRIL

The four objects shared in our online exhibition during April are a straight split between the appealing-to-gaze-upon and the look-away-quick – at least for this writer. Although, our contributors remind us in all sorts of ways that beauty is only skin-deep, and what might make us uncomfortable requires fuller exploration to appreciate and understand.

So, let’s be brave and start with the two objects which are personally unpleasant on initial view.

The 1951 Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries ‘Death to Pests’ poster is a clear instruction to kill what one might term minibeasts to encourage children’s engagement and curiosity. To this beetle-rescuing, snail-saving soul, this is an anathema. However, the fear of post-war threats to any food supply cannot begin to be understood in these days of eating excess and doorstep Deliveroo. And we learn from Dr Sabine Clarke that many of the treatments were natural, and those that were chemical were also contributory to advances in protection from typhus and malaria.

Detail from Death to pests poster showing title and upper half (MERL 2010/149)
Detail from Death to pests poster showing title and upper half (MERL 2010/149)

Even more disagreeable are the cold, steel hard, Obstetric Forceps which appear eye-wateringly menacing, even bordering on torturous. Quite frankly even just the image makes me wince with the memory of their use. However, the case for forceps to aid the management of childbirth, saving mother and baby – as well as the advancement of female workers through midwifery – is compelling. We discover from volunteer Gillian that, incredibly, this invention dates back to the 1500s – that is a lot of life preserved, and not just human. She also shares how forceps have been repurposed for use as lambing tongs, reminding us of the bond of mammals to carry and care for young. And without forceps, my first little lamb would not have been delivered safely one April day fifteen years ago.

Stainless steel obstetric forceps (BMHC 2010.16.15). Image copyright Berkshire Medical History Centre.
Stainless steel obstetric forceps (BMHC 2010.16.15). Image copyright Berkshire Medical History Centre.

Conversely, the objects that at first appearances are aesthetically pleasing are revealed to be hiding truths or creating myths. The frontispiece illustration to Jacquetta Hawkes’ book ‘A Land’ by Henry Moore is enchanting in nature. The abstract human form is a hallmark of Moore and the image is romantically dream-like and gently surreal. The curves of both the landscape and the reclining female form are sensual yet subtly realised through a pastel and earthy palette. But ignore the Moore and, through the reflections of Dr Amara Thornton, delve into the book’s unwritten history to begin to reveal how ‘with the Festival opening, the process of forgetting had begun’.

Jacquetta Hawkes, A Land (London: Cresset Press, 1951) (MERL LIBRARY 1840-HAW)
Jacquetta Hawkes, A Land (London: Cresset Press, 1951) (MERL LIBRARY 1840-HAW)

The rural idyll is what estate agent stats indicate many have wanted to achieve in the last year  – county living and open private grounds with the promise that gentle gardening leads to an abundance of flowers. Environmental geographer Dr Alex Arnall explores this concept through the jigsaw puzzle, ‘Our Beautiful Island’. She asks: can the rural ever live up to popular ideas of what life in the countryside should be like? What changes might we see as a result of the pandemic? Do rural spaces live up to our expectations? The bonus with this home is not just one, or two, but three self-content children with not a device in sight. But as Arnall reminds us: there is a darker, harder side to rural life which ‘includes problems such as social isolation, lack of services and job, rural poverty and crime, and prejudice and discrimination’.

Our Beautiful Island, a jigsaw puzzle.Our Beautiful Island, a jigsaw puzzle.
Our Beautiful Island, a jigsaw puzzle.

Like the jigsaw, these April Voices prompt us to only be satisfied when we can see the whole picture.

EXPLORE 51 VOICES.

With thanks to the support of Arts Council England and the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund for making all this possible.

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