51 Voices: Digging Deeper

This January, The MERL embarked on 51 Voices, a new year-long project celebrating the Museum’s seventieth anniversary in 2021. Throughout the year, we will be working with a range of writers, artists and different communities to give contemporary voice to fifty-one objects and archives in The MERL collection connected in myriad ways to our founding year. In this […]

Festival Guide

Detail showing cover of Ian Cox, The South Bank Exhibition: A Guide to the Story It Tells (London: HMSO, 1951), featuring the Festival logo.

Ian Cox, The South Bank Exhibition: A Guide to the Story It Tells (London: HMSO, 1951) For many visitors who flocked to the Festival of Britain, this souvenir guide book provided a lasting reminder of the key highlights of this national celebration. Adorned with the striking Festival logo designed by Abram Games, the pages inside […]

Queer Rural Connections: queer history and belonging in the countryside

This summer, The MERL will host the Queer Rural Connections live promenade show and documentary film, which will share the stories and experiences of queer rural people. Below, Timothy Allsop, writer, actor, and director, tells us about the ideas behind the project, what he hopes it will achieve, and the challenges he has faced so […]

Friendly Society Polehead

Friendly society pole head (MERL 55/1180)

Likely created around 1800, this polehead belonged to the Patriotic Order of Oddfellows. The Order was a ‘Friendly Society’ which were initially formed to provide insurance in the case of sickness or death before government legislation improved in this area. The growth of Friendly Societies was a response to the Poor Law Amendment Act which placed responsibility […]


Founder of Glastonbury Festival, Michael Eavis' green wellies

Wellies are an essential part of English outdoor clothing. Come rain, flood, hail or snow, wellies will keep your feet warm and dry. These ones were owned and used by Michael Eavis, dairy farmer and founder of Glastonbury Festival. Wellies were designed for people who worked in the countryside, but you’re now just as likely […]

Shepherds Walking Stick

Detail of walking stick (MERL 55/6)

The patience and skill that have been poured into this practical work of art is obvious. That it took years to make is confirmed on the stick itself, which proclaims: ‘Carved by a Poor Shepherd in the years 1844 to 1849’. Alongside this, the shepherd artist also names himself as Henry Beecham from Kidlington, Oxfordshire. […]


Plaster cast hands (MERL 75/16)
These are plaster casts of Joseph Arch's hands. Joseph Arch (1826-1919) was the first person from a labouring background in Britain to become a Member of Parliament, from 1892-1900. He was also the President of the National Agricultural Labourers Union (1872-1896), the first successful union to be established. He lived in Barford, Warwickshire and worked as [...]

Miller’s Wagon

Meadcroft of Welwyn et. al., Miller’s wagon, circa 1880 This wagon was acquired by the Museum in 1951. Its survival is testament to the mid-century drive of collectors who sought to rescue rural heritage. Vehicles like these came under threat during the interwar period when other modes of transport came to the fore. This was […]

Wagoner’s Belt

Wagoner's belt (MERL 56/313)

This belt was given to a wagoner on his retirement, in recognition of his great skill. There was once a strict hierarchy on farms. Horsemen were at the top and worked with wagons and ploughs. Everyone knew their rank, referring to each other with terms such as ‘first man’ or ‘fourth boy’.

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