About Us

The Museum of English Rural Life is owned and managed by the University of Reading. We use our diverse and surprising collection to explore how the skills and experiences of farmers and craftspeople, past and present, can help shape our lives now and into the future. We work alongside rural people, local communities and specialist researchers to create displays and activities that engage with important debates about the future of food and the ongoing relevance of the countryside to all our lives.

We were established by academics in the Department of Agriculture in 1951 to capture and record the rapidly changing countryside following World War II. The Museum is based on Redlands Road in a building originally designed by Sir Alfred Waterhouse in 1880 for local businessman Alfred Palmer, of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit company. The house then became St Andrews Hall of Residence in 1911, and in 2005 a modern extension was built onto the house for the Museum.

The Museum was awarded £1.8million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 2014 for the redevelopment of the galleries, reopening in October 2016. The redevelopment strengthens and renews our links with agriculture as well as enhancing our position in supporting engagement opportunities for students and academics across a wide variety of disciplines, nationally and internationally.

The MERL and Reading Museum are currently in a strategic partnership as part of the Arts Council England National Portfolio 2018-2022. As Museums Partnership Reading we work together to provide cultural opportunities for Reading’s young people and diverse communities, through schools, volunteering, digital engagement and exhibitions.

Plans and Policies

Annual Reports

The Museum of English Rural Life and the University’s Special Collections are housed in the same building and run and managed by the Museum Director and Head of Service, Kate Arnold-Forster. Our Annual Reports include information about the activity of both the MERL and the Special Collections Service.

Our Annual Reports give a broad overview of what the MERL and Special Collections achieved each academic year. This includes what we have done in our public programmes, our involvement in research, our digital work, any new items we have received and much more.

If you would like to ask us a question about these reports, please contact us.