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 […]

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 […]

Farmer Arthur’s Paper Theatre

A series of colourful paper puppet figures showing farm animals, vehicles, and rural features

Local artist Lisa-Marie Gibbs has joined our 70th anniversary celebration, 51 Voices. She is one of a handful of talented, creative people who have been commissioned to work with our diverse communities. Each partnership links to an item from the collection connected to 1951, our foundational year. Lisa-Marie worked with Downshire House to respond to […]

The Groundnut Scheme: A colonial failure

Still from film called 'The Groundnut Scheme at Kongwa' showing ploughing using tractors

The ill-fated Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme was planned and put into practice in the mid-twentieth century, coming to an abrupt end in 1951. The story of its collapse is a powerful example of why top-down, colonial approaches to agricultural development often struggled to produce the desired results. It raises important questions about why the voices of […]

The Evolution of Rural Protest

River Colne protest, courtesy of Gurpreet Kaur

It is often assumed that protest is an action of those who reside in towns and cities, as civil unrest circulates more freely where populations are denser. But those who live in the countryside are no less desiring of social and economic justice than city-dwellers. Join us as we explore several rural protests in England across […]

Reflections of Colonial India at The MERL

Black and white photograph showing a group of Indian labourers standing in a field

Throughout the course of the British Empire’s existence, India quickly became one of the United Kingdom’s key sources of trade and production, with colonial rule lasting from 1858 until 1947, when the country officially declared independence from Britain. This exhibition has been produced as part of a student placement project. Through extensive access to The […]

Unlocking our Lockdown Stories: Alana House and The MERL

Featured image for Alana House online exhibition, showing Caversham Bridge, Reading.

Inspired by the art collections held by the University of Reading, the MERL’s Learning and Engagement manager and Arts Collection curator recently completed a project with Alana House, a community organisation supporting women here in Reading. Together, we explored the importance of local landscapes and spaces for wellbeing, which took on a completely unexpected poignancy […]