1918 Allotment, Oxford

Close up of snail on a leaf from JC Niala, 'Portal: 1918 Allotment' (Fig: Oxford, 2022), p.2

Between Spring and Autumn of 2021, JC Niala recreated an allotment in the style of 1918 on one of Fig’s plots on Elder Stubbs Allotments in Oxford. This online exhibition shares images and reflections from the resultant book. Entitled Portal:1918 Allotment, this formed a document of the project through poems, journal entries, and images. The […]

Migrant Workers: the Raspberry Planter

Detail from one of 30 ink and watercolour sketches by Sarah Hannis, provide an insight into the daily lives of migrant agricultural workers

This exhibition is part of a new series exploring the role of seasonal migrant workers in UK food security. Illustrations by Sarah Hannis provide an insight into the lives of migrant agricultural workers who came to the UK in 2020 and 2021. The accompanying story is based on interviews with workers and on photos they […]

‘Be ye kind to one another’: rural togetherness in times of crisis

A Friendly Society festival.

People in the countryside have always had a strong sense of community, and this has always been the most apparent during times of hardship. Whether these crises throughout history were caused by pandemics, natural disasters, or socio-economic factors, many examples can be traced throughout English history of rural people banding together to survive. In this […]

Changing Perspectives in the Countryside

As part of The MERL’s Building Connections project (funded by Arts Council England), we have sought to explore different stories and themes that live within our collection from the history of the English countryside. As we researched a range of themes and topics—from LGBTQ+ rural experience to the history of migration—it became clear to us that there were many […]

51 Voices

Featured image for the online exhibition.

The MERL is 70 | 51 Voices | 51 Objects To mark our 70th year, we will be exploring objects connected to 1951, the year the Museum was established. We will be working with artists and writers from many different communities and backgrounds to link these items to the priorities and passions of the past, […]

Superstition and folklore object trail

In rural communities of the past, people’s lives depended on bountiful harvests and healthy livestock. They would, therefore, be vigilant for any signs of looming disaster. When things did sour, the people lacked the viewpoint of modern science to determine cause. Instead, they would place blame at the door of the evil eye, of witchcraft […]

Fowler: National and International Steam Power

Featured image for Fowler exhibition

Ploughing is one of the most essential jobs on the farm, as it tills the earth and results in a stronger yield. Introduced in the latter half of the 19th century, steam ploughing began to mechanise the process. It allowed for greater productivity and speed at a time of enormous population growth which demanded more […]

The Commons: Re-Enchanting The World

The commons defines the natural capital that we all share: land, air, and water. It is a social system that cares for and preserves these resources. When the commons are made inaccessible, the effects are devastating. As part of our project The Commons: Re-Enchanting The World, six artists with different responses to the commons have […]

Space to Think: Rural Wellbeing

An image of the Space to Think display in The MERL Staircase Hall.

University of Reading, Third Year Museum Studies Students working with The MERL have curated this exhibition. They have planned the exhibition during lockdown, with restricted access to collections and while learning remotely. The online exhibition accompanies a physical exhibition on site at The MERL. This exhibition covers an issue many people encounter and shines a […]

Queer Constellations: The Histories of Rural Gay Men

Black and white photograph of two men looking at each other in a landscape setting, by Gemma Dagger.

Criminal archives are the most common source of gay histories, as male homosexuality was illegal until 1967. Through searching assize records on Ancestry, and investigating court reports via the British Newspaper Archive, we identified rural occupations for some of the men placed on trial. By comparing these occupations to objects in our collection, we aim […]