Past Projects

Making, Using and Enjoying

As part of the Making, Using and Enjoying: The Museum of the Intangible project, we invited makers, writers and practitioners to produce a range of creative responses to the MERL’s collections as a way of exploring some of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) connected with them.

#digiRDG: Town and Country

#digiRDG: Town and Country was a collaborative project between the Museum of English Rural Life and Reading Museum, funded by Arts Council England from November 2016–May 2018.

The project explored new ways the museums could engage with audiences using digital technologies, how to train staff in digital skills and ran two diversity traineeships. For an overview of the project read the Project Manager’s blog Going digital is bloody difficult, download our full evaluation report or download our report’s executive summary.

Come Dine with Us

‘Come Dine with Us’ involved the women of Elizabeth Fry Approved Premises for Women in Reading, inspired by historic recipes in our archives.

We embarked on an incredible five-week programme and cooked a range of dishes, from Cornish pasties and macaroni cheese to caramel custard and toffee apples. The project created wonderful opportunities for team-working and learning new skills, and culminated with a three-course meal and cook book.

MERL in Photographs

During the museum’s closure, LLD/D Photography and Art students from Reading College (Activate Reading) used the museum spaces, collections and staff as inspiration for their photography. Throughout the five-month project students photographed the changing museum interior, its garden and took portraits of the museum staff, building their skills in a range of photographic techniques.

To learn more about our Hands on Rural Heritage Projects and to discover how your group might be able to get involved, please contact Phillippa Heath, our Audience Development Project Manager, at

Land Settlement Association Bursary

During 2018, thanks to the generous funding from an anonymous donor Alex Arnall has been awarded the Land Settlement Association Bursary. The Land Settlement Association was established in 1934 to provide employment on the land for unemployed industrial workers from depressed areas. Find out more here.

Collecting 20th Century Rural Culture

This four year project began in the autumn of 2008 supported by Heritage Lottery funding of £95,000. The purpose was to acquire material that builds, decade by decade, a picture of the countryside in the twentieth century. We looked for signal items that speak powerfully of their day and illustrate the wider cultural influence of the countryside on English society, ranging from Glastonbury Festival programmes and Corgi toys to Arts and Crafts furniture and industrial chemical advertising signs.

Heavy Metal Project

The Heavy Metal Project was funded by a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Partners of the project were The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) and the Road Locomotive Society. The project began in April 2007.

The project’s aim was to create access to the archives of steam and agricultural machinery manufacturers held at The MERL and by the Road Locomotive Society. The project catalogued Wallis and Steevens, International Harvester and Massey Ferguson archives held at The MERL.

Rural Crafts Today

Between 2006-2007, the Museum made films of ten craftspeople to relate its collections to the contemporary countryside. The films show craftspeople, such as the blacksmith, horse collar maker and potter, carrying out their work, bringing to life many of the objects on display in the Museum. The project was grant aided by the Designation Challenge Fund, part of the government’s ‘Renaissance – museums for changing lives’ initiative.

Download a copy of the booklet which accompanies the project. The booklet includes an introduction to the project by Roy Brigden, the film diary and details of research into rural crafts and trades collections by David Viner.

Full versions of the films are available to view on DVD in the reading room, where visitors can also consult materials relating to rural crafts in The MERL archives and library.

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