The archives of The Museum of English Rural Life are a leading resource for the study of the history of British agriculture, the countryside and rural society.

The collections range from papers of individual farms and large estates through the institutional archives of major countryside organisations to the trade records of agricultural firms, as well as over a million rural photographs, films relating to the countryside, tens of thousands of engineering drawings, personal records and journals of farmers, farm workers, land girls and evacuees.

Caring for millions of individual documents, photographs and volumes, we are an Accredited Archive Service and a Place of Deposit for Public Records. The MERL Collections as a whole are Designated as outstanding by Arts Council England.

The best way to search through the collections is to use our A-Z index or search our online database. The archive collections can be roughly divided into the following groups:

Business records

These include substantial archives of agricultural engineering firms such as Ransomes, seed producers such as Suttons, and trade literature.  The records of many landscape architecture businesses are also in our collections.

Records of organisations / societies 

We hold the records of major organisations connected with agriculture and the countryside.  Examples include CPRE, the Open Spaces Society and the National Farmers Union.

Agricultural co-operative records

The archives contain an array of records of agricultural and rural co-operatives dating back to the 19th century. 

Farm and estate records

Our records of hundreds of individual farms across the UK, recording day to day farming routine, date back to the 17th century. There are particular strengths in smaller farms, the southern parts of England and the period after 1850. We hold the records of some larger estates such as the Wellington Estate in Hampshire.

Document collection

In addition to the above, we hold collections of documents – large and small – relating to rural crafts, research and innovation, and individuals from authors to collectors. Examples include the memoirs of children evacuated to the countryside during the Second World War; research papers of scientists Hugh Macdonald Sinclair and R.G. Stapledon, and the historian W.E. Tate; and documents from the author H.E. Bates and the poultry expert David Scrivener.

Photographic and film collections

With more than a million images and hundreds of motion picture films, we are one of Britain’s largest specialist sources for images and footage of farming and rural life.