The past and the future

As you may remember from Connected, the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) is currently undergoing a refurbishment in order to meet the needs of today’s visitors. Here, alumna Maggie McNeil-Smith, tells of a past visit to MERL and why understanding our heritage is so important.

Carisbrooke 005-1Growing up in rural Somerset during the fifties and early sixties was in itself an education.  Country ways were the norm of our everyday life and The Archers was our daily evening entertainment.

In the 2011 edition of Connected, an article spoke about MERL and its 60 years association with The Archers, whose ‘every day stories of country folk’ on BBC Radio 4 were about to go on exhibition. Understandably as an avid Radio 4 Archer fan this was an invitation I could not resist, so I found myself making a special trip from Canada to Reading to see for myself just what it was the museum had managed to put together for this one-off exhibit and I certainly was not disappointed.

The display was wonderful with maps of Ambridge, pictures and explanations of Brookfield, Home, Bridge and Grange farms, the Archers family tree, and even a picture of The Duchess of Cornwall as a special guest alongside Caroline Stirling (played by Sara Coward).  An interesting and eclectic mix for avid Archer fans like myself who found the explanation for the birth of this incredibly popular radio soap absolutely fascinating; (and I quote)

“In June 1948 a meeting was convened to explore ways of making agricultural programming more interesting. Referring to the popular radio special agent one Lincolnshire farmer remarked that the industry needed ‘a farming Dick Barton’.  This inspired BBC producer Godfrey Basely to create the Archers.

In the aftermath of the Second World War the English countryside underwent a period of rapid and dramatic transformation.  Social change and technological advances were widespread, particularly in agriculture.  The Museum of English Rural Life was founded in 1951 as a direct response to these developments.  The first national episode of the BBC radio serial The Archers was broadcast on 1 January that same year.”




Equally interesting was the magnificent display of bygone farm implements which included a display of farm carts, adapted for each county according to usage, whilst tractors and other farm implements brought back memories of a golden age of innocence connected with our love of the land.

In fact those tales of country folk were exactly how we lived back then and it is with gratitude that I say a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to MERL for putting on this magnificent display.

You can read about the MERL refurbishment here.

To find out more about MERL, click here.