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 and devils, of envious fairies, knots of eels, and even mildly offended bees.

Explore the themes of superstition and folklore throughout the MERL galleries here:

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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 […]

Our Travelling Museum – Garland Junior

On 16th June 2021, we visited Garland Junior School to share a number of objects that explored ‘What it means to Travel?’ This forms part of our work for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller History Month (GRTHM), which you can learn more about on our blog and social media channels. We began by looking at a […]

GRT History Month: An Unfinished Painting

Whilst the origins of the below painting are somewhat shrouded in mystery, much can be learned from it about the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, even in its unfinished state. By exploring The MERL’s Bob Dawson Collection and the museum library, we have been able to identify the different aspects of Traveller life […]

Rural Queer Lives in Berkshire Criminal Archives 1861-1967

Entrance to HMP Reading

The Broken Futures project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2019 and seeks to explore the history of ‘ordinary’ men in Berkshire who were charged with buggery/indecent assault/gross indecency between 1861-1967. The project trained community volunteers in archival and genealogical research. The project is managed and delivered by Support U, the LGBT+ support […]

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, […]

Life Stories

Five children/evacuees standing in a row, smiling in the sun

Throughout the last year, The MERL has had the opportunity to partner with Age UK Berkshire and Younger People With Dementia to deliver a storytelling project focused on capturing the life stories of Reading’s older population. Age UK research suggests 16% of the over 65s often feel invisible or ignored. Loneliness can happen at all […]