Discovering the landscape: landscape research bursaries available

This year, thanks to generous funding from the Landscape Institute, we are pleased to offer bursaries to encourage use and engagement with our varied and fascinating landscape collections.  Read more about our Landscape Institute collection here, including the collections of Geoffrey Jellicoe, Sylvia Crowe and Brenda Colvin.  See a full list of our collections here.

Details below, please apply by email to merl@reading.ac.uk

From AR COL A/6/5, Folder relating to Little Peacocks Garden, Filkins [Brenda Colvin's home from 1960s]

From AR COL A/6/5, Folder relating to Little Peacocks Garden, Filkins [Brenda Colvin’s home from 1960s]

Student travel bursaries

The purpose of the student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

We are offering 2 bursaries of £150 each.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line) will be invited from any student in part or full-time higher education. Interested applicants should submit a CV, and a short statement (max 400 words) outlining their interest in and current work on landscape, and stating how a bursary would be beneficial to their studies. Applicants should identify those materials in the archive that would be of most benefit to them.

Plate from 'The art and practice of landscape gardening', by Henry Ernest Milner, MERL LIBRARY RESERVE FOLIO--4756-MIL

Plate from ‘The art and practice of landscape gardening’, by Henry Ernest Milner, MERL LIBRARY RESERVE FOLIO–4756-MIL

Academic engagement bursary

The purpose of this award is to encourage academic engagement with collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

Successful proposals will attract a stipend of £1,000. The funding can be used to offset teaching and administration costs, travel and other research-related expenses. Appropriate facilities are provided and the successful applicant will be encouraged to participate in the academic programmes of the Museum.

The intention for this award is to create an opportunity for a researcher to develop and disseminate new work in the broad arena of landscape.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk  (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line).  Interested applicants should submit a CV and a statement (max 800 words) outlining their interest in, and current work on, landscape.

AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Geoffrey Jellicoe collection, AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Timetable

The timetable for the award of these bursaries will be:

1 September 2016 – applications open

31 October 2016 – applications close

30 November 2016 – successful candidates announced

Any work will need to be carried out and monies claimed by 31 July 2017.

For informal enquiries please email c.l.wooldridge@reading.ac.uk

We look forward to receiving your applications!

In the Garden: Reading Tree Wardens and MERL

It’s not every day that you spend the morning looking at trees, but recently a group of MERL staff did just that. Looking for information to be able to create interpretation in the gardens, we had called upon the expertise of the Reading Tree Wardens (http://www.readingtreewardens.org.uk/).

So on a gloriously sunny day back in July, Anna Iwashkin and Dr Michael Keith-Lucas came to the museum for several hours to help with the identification of trees in the front and back gardens, as well as from within the edible garden area next to the Reading Room.

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Dr Michael Keith-Lewis and MERL staff

As we moved around the garden the sheer amount of knowledge they demonstrated was incredible. Usually able to recognise trees with just a quick glance, Dr Keith-Lucas would rarely need to turn to reference books for a more precise identification.

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A rare shot of further research

Dr Michael Keith-Lucas would also provide some amazing facts about the trees seen during the visit. The first of these was about this 100+ year old Black Mulberry tree towards that back of the museum, where we learnt these were introduced to the UK in the 18th century by people wanting to encourage silk worms. This turned out to be a mistake as silk worms actually feed on White Mulberry.

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Black Mulberry

Other new information included that lime fruit won’t be growing on this row of small leaf lime trees. In this context, lime is actually a derivative of the word ‘line’. The bark fibres of the tree were used by our ancestors to produce string.

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Line of Small Leaf Lime

This Ginkgo is a living fossil and can be identified by it fan-shaped leaves. The tree, unchanged since the Jurassic period, has various uses in traditional medicine and its seeds are used in cooking.

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Ginkgo tree and leaves

The dark bushy undergrowth at the very back of the MERL garden is typical of Victorian planting which probably done when the Palmer family lived in the building. These plants are a deep green colour and originate from Japan. The family would have wanted to plant exotic, fashionable and impressive evergreen plants. During the period, plants were imported from the Southern Islands of Japan after the country opened its doors in the last half of the 19th century.

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Hidden away at the back of the MERL garden

A brief and fascinating trip meant that we were all taking lots of notes. Even then staff had to compile our observations which we used to create a basic map of the gardens.Plan

Come have a look at the gardens when we reopen in October. If you can find this root graft, you’ll have discovered our ‘star tree’ as selected by the Reading Tree Wardens.

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Root graft and our star tree

Discovering the Landscape: From London traffic to an Italian Prisoner of War camp

Book Production War Economy Standard stamp

Book Production War Economy Standard stamp

Over the course of a large scale cataloguing project, many hundreds of items pass through your hands.  Since acquiring the library and archive of the Landscape Institute in late 2013, we have made nearly 2500 books available to readers here at MERL.  Added to this figure are metres of journals and pamphlets – and this is to say nothing of the huge amount of varied and fascinating archival material that has been catalogued and made to available to readers so far (more on this next time).

Town Planning and Road Traffic by H. Alker Tripp (London, Edward Arnold & Co.,1942)

Within this wealth of material it is inevitable that some items catch your eye or stick in your memory more than others.  Striking cover designs, exquisitely illustrated plates, or an unexpected personal relevance are often those that stay with you.

Surprises keep things interesting!  Sometimes that faded cover, with its generic title, gives way to a book with a fascinating story or provenance – often raising more questions than you can answer – which transform the item you hold in your hands from every day to truly unique.

 

 

Town planning and road traffic, by H. Alker Tripp.

London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1942.

Title page with inscriptions in pencil relating to a prisoner of war camp

Title page with inscriptions in pencil relating to a prisoner of war camp

Sir Herbert Alker Tripp (1883-1954) was a senior English police official, who for much of his career, worked to find ways to address London traffic problems.  Blackouts and the blitz following the outbreak of WWII led to an even more complicated traffic situation in London.  In 1942 Tripp’s Town Planning and Road Traffic was published.  Tripp looked ahead to post-war reconstruction of urban areas and made pioneering suggestions about big new roads that could connect towns: motorways.

As with all of our LI books, Town Planning has an LI book plate pasted down on the inside cover.  It also has a small label which tells us that the book was donated to the LI library by Maria Shephard.

Bookplate showing previous life of the book as part of the LI library, donated to them by Maria Shephard (Tripp, Town Planning, 1942)

Bookplate showing previous life of the book as part of the LI library, donated to them by Maria Shephard (Tripp, Town Planning, 1942)

Maria Teresa Parpagliolo Shephard (1903-1974) was an Italian landscape and garden designer.  A member of the Landscape Institute (frequently contributing to their journal) and involved in the setting up of IFLA, Parpagliolo worked and travelled across Europe as a pioneer of European landscape design.  Parpagliolo trained with Percy Cane in the early 1930s and worked on a string of high profile projects including the Regatta Restaurant Garden at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

In 1946, Parpagliolo married Ronald Shephard, the “‘town major’ of the British military in Rome, whom she met during Rome’s liberation by the Allied Forces. She followed him back to England in 1946” (Dümpelmann, 2010).

Landscape architects gifting their books to the LI library after their deaths is not unusual in itself.

Pencil inscriptions and an ink stamp on the title page relating to a ‘Camp Leader’ at a ‘Campo Concentramento 82’ – however – are not something I have seen before.

Curiouser and curiouser.  Pasted on to the back of the title page is a label confirming that the book was sent to ‘The Camp Leader’ via the ‘Prisoner of War Post’.  According to the I Campi Fascisti project, Campo Concentramento 82 was a prisoner of war camp in Laterina, near Arrezzo, where the Italian fascist state held thousands of British, Greek, New Zealander, South African and Greek prisoners of war during WWII.

Prisoner of War Post label

Prisoner of War Post label

A further notable feature of the title is the ‘Book Production War Economy Standard’ stamp printed onto the back of the title page (you can see this at the top of the post).  We have a small number of other books within our collections which also feature this intriguing marking.

The book production war economy agreement the schedule with an introduction and notes on interpretation. 1942. MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY--070.5-PUB

The book production war economy agreement the schedule with an introduction and notes on interpretation. 1942. MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY–070.5-PUB

 

 

We have all heard of rationing during WWII, but did you know that even paper was rationed?  From 1940-49 paper was rationed, with publishing companies having to cut back on their use of paper by 60%.  In 1942 ‘The Book Production War Economy Agreement’ between the Ministry of Supply and the Publishers Association introduced strict guidelines which covered, for example, print size, words per page and blank pages.  Published in 1942, Tripp’s Town Planning could have been one of the first titles to published under this scheme.  It does contain one large fold out plate.  Despite these restrictions, demand for books grew during WWII.

 

 

Why was this title sent to a prisoner of war camp leader via the prisoner of war post?  Perhaps in the context of needing to rebuild urban areas after the war.  How did Maria Parpagliolo have this book?  Could a member of her family, or her husband, have been connected with the camp?  Perhaps she purchased it as a reference book and the provenance is incidental.  This fascinating book gives us a tantalising insight into this historical period – but raises more questions than answers!

Fold out plan at the back of Tripp, Town Planning, 1942

Fold out plan at the back of Tripp, Town Planning, 1942

Please contact us (using the form below or at merl@reading.ac.uk) if you have any further information.

For more on Maria Parpagliolo, Sonja Dümpelmann has published several articles and a book (such as Dümpelmann, S. (2010). The landscape architect Maria Teresa Parpagliolo Shephard in Britain: her international career 1946–1974, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 30:1, 94-113, DOI: 10.1080/14601170903217045).

For more on publishing in war time, Valerie Holman’s Print for Victory is a great start.

Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

Cricket farming Q&A with Newtri Foods (Part 2)

This is the second and final part of a Q&A with Matt Grant and Matt Hardy – Co-founders of Newtri Foods. Newtri Foods aims to be one of the first companies in the UK dedicated to the farming of crickets and the creation of cricket-based products (flour, protein bars and whole crickets) exclusively for human consumption.   [Click here to check out Part 1 of the cricket farming Q&A.]

Is farming crickets and making flour an energy efficient and environmentally friendly process?

There are many eco-friendly benefits to farming crickets for protein over current practices. We have listed a couple below which compare cricket and cattle farming:

  • Crickets emit 80 times less CO2 and require significantly less water than cattle rearing.
  • Farming Crickets takes 95% less land space than rearing cattle on farmland that is shrinking every day.
  • We hope to one day use solar power to heat our warehouse to reduce our environmental impact even further.

Has it been difficult to get started? Are the regulations for this burgeoning industry easy to navigate?

The process to get started can be lengthy due to the natural breeding and raising process of crickets and there are also health & safety guidelines and practices that need to be put in place like any other food manufacturer. There are a many online documents that make the regulation side a lot easier to navigate and get your head around.

Are there any incentives to get involved in edible insect farming?

There is currently no government support that we are aware of however we have had support from our local growth hub in Northampton. We are potentially looking at launching a KickStarter campaign to raise some extra funds to get our products out to the UK market quicker so everyone can enjoy the benefits of eating cricket-based products.

Who are your target clientele?

We have no set clientele and hope that our products will appeal to all those who are initially a little bit curious and adventurous but also willing to try an alternative, healthy protein source that comes with many other health benefits as well. We think there could be high interest within the sports and fitness market segment as their openness to new products with high protein content is high. Our products are gluten, soy and dairy free so we hope to be able to target a wide audience. People who love baking and want to make goodies that are a little healthier will also love our products.

We use cricket flour to make tasty brownies.

We use cricket flour to make tasty brownies.

How are you going to convince people that cricket flour is for them?

That is the million dollar question, the western world is not familiar with eating insects at present but we believe the tide is slowly turning. The US and Canada have several farms now and have reported great successes with many happy and healthy cricket-eaters. We believe the same can be done with the UK market and have already had interest from a local gym network as well as catering companies throughout the UK. Market research will of course remain a key tool to continuously work on product placement and branding to encourage uptake.

It took a many years to persuade the UK public to try sushi, but when they did the outcome was fantastic and now it is one of the most popular types of food that exists. We believe that one day insect-based foods can do the same!

Where will you sell your products?

We aim to market our products both online and in affiliated stores. Our interested clients operate across both platforms. We will also take our products to local and national markets and fairs to help promote awareness and get as many people to taste our products as possible.

What’s your favourite thing about cricket farming?

We both love that we are helping to develop a new frontier in both nutrition and sustainability of our planet. The health benefits that we have already seen through using cricket products are also something that continues to drive us. Although still in our early stages, we hope to one day be one of the key drivers of this industry as it grows and grows. Another great thing is the beautiful chirping sound they make. It may be pouring with rain outside, but in the warehouse with the warmth it feels like you’re sat on a beach in the Mediterranean… just without the sun, sand and cocktail in hand!

What’s your biggest frustration?

I would say there are no big frustrations (at the moment!) but as farmers of living creatures the process of raising crickets can often be timely and therefore a patient mindset is definitely necessary.

How would you describe the current state of edible insect farming in the UK?

It is very much in its early days. There are a few companies trying to explore and develop this industry in the UK that I know of. I have heard of more starting recently, so hopefully the industry will start to develop more rapidly and more cricket products will be available to the public in the near future. Interest in cricket products is definitely picking up though. We’ve recently had an enquiry from a company that wants to use our crickets in their canapés! Yum!

When it comes to edible insects, what is your vision for the future?

We believe that there is huge potential for the edible insect industry in the future, not only globally but in the UK as well. Every year there is more and more pressure being placed on traditional livestock and protein sources, and we believe that one day demand will outstrip supply (or they will have to severely reduce the way livestock are kept to increase production, which we don’t want).

Insects are highly nutritious, not just in terms on protein but also in other nutrients such as iron, amino acids etc. They require a lot less water to raise, a lot less food, a lot less space and release less harmful gases into the atmosphere. In places like Africa, which still suffer from severe malnutrition, we believe that insects could be one of the ways to solve this problem due to the small quantities of resources needed to raise them and their nutrition values.

In places like the UK, which are more developed, we believe people need to be more aware of the environmental impact that our over-consumption of livestock is causing and be open to trying alternative protein sources which in their original form may look unappetising, but used as an ingredient in other forms can be delicious and add an extra health kick to their meals. Changing people’s opinions is always a difficult task, but we believe that once this happens the insects-as-a-food-source industry will flourish.

Please do write us a comment if you have any other questions that relate to cricket farming or edible insects and we’ll try and rustle up some answers.

Cricket farming Q&A with Newtri Foods (Part 1)

The founders of Newtri Foods talk to science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, about cricket farming in Part 1 of a Q&A about their edible insect business.

Edible insects have been touted as the next big thing in food. Even the United Nations has recognised edible insects as a “promising alternative for the conventional production of meat…

Image of edible crickets by Tim Olson

Edible crickets. Image by Tim Olson [ CC BY 2.0].

So at MERL we’ve been thinking about the future of food and investigating edible insects as one possible means of addressing the growing need for sustainable sources of protein. Last month I witnessed many people taking to edible insects with great enthusiasm at the University of Reading Big Band Lunch. This week, we paid a visit to the Highdown School Science Fair, where game students were lining up try mealworms, cricket flour brownies and giant waterbugs.

While watching people chomp on creepy crawlies is quite entertaining, it also made me wonder about the other side of things. I’ve seen people consume plenty of insects, but how are they produced? What’s the deal with edible insect farming? Thankfully I managed to track down a couple of friendly cricket farmers based in Northampton, who were happy to answer a bunch of questions posed by the curious staff at MERL.

This is the first part of a Q&A with Matt Grant and Matt Hardy – Co-founders of Newtri Foods. Newtri Foods aims to be one of the first companies in the UK dedicated to the farming of crickets and the creation of cricket-based products (flour, protein bars and whole crickets) exclusively for human consumption.

How, when and why did you get into edible insect farming? Where did the idea come from?

We have both been lucky enough to have travelled extensively. Matt H explored South East Asia for a year whilst Matt G lived and worked in South America for a year. Through these travels we both had the opportunity to try various meals and dishes that incorporated insects. They were all extremely tasty and after a bit of research we soon realised that they were also extremely healthy. This got us thinking as to why very few people in Europe consume insects and if the option was available in various forms whether people would give it a try. Currently many UK companies producing cricket-based products are importing from places like Thailand and Canada. The fuel used to transport them to the UK offsets the environmental benefits of consuming insects so we want to assist this market by providing these companies with locally sourced crickets, reducing their carbon footprint and the impact on the environment as a whole.

Are you regular insect eaters, yourselves?

We have tried a range of different insect-based products and dishes abroad and often include cricket flour in our daily lunches and dinners. Healthy cricket flour brownies are one of our favourite snacks!

Why crickets and not some other kind of insect?

We are both enthusiastic about maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle and the high protein content in crickets was something that attracted us to farming them. Crickets are also one of the insects that are most accepted by the wider population to eat, and they have a mild taste so it seems like a great place to start and get people accustomed to eating insects before other insect types enter the market.

What type/s of cricket do you use? Where do they originate from? Are all types of crickets edible?

We currently farm the Acheta Domesticus species, and the original batches were sourced from the USA where cricket-consumption is a lot more established. All the breeds we have researched so far can be consumed by humans.

Acheta domesticus image by Brian Gratwicke

Acheta domesticus. Image by Brian Gratwicke [ CC BY 2.0 ].

What are the steps to raising crickets?

We raise our crickets in a sterile environment with a minimum temperature of 25-28 degrees Celsius. The warmer the temperature the more active the crickets are, which promotes their breeding activities as well. We have a separate area for incubating the eggs and managing the young crickets before reaching adult size.

Do they ever escape?

Thankfully none have escaped our units so far, although it can be difficult with the babies! We have toyed with the idea of keeping a resident lizard in the warehouse to catch escapees before they get outside the unit!

What do you feed them?

Our crickets are fed on a gluten-free organic feed; this is supplemented by fresh organic vegetables from our allotment.

How are crickets harvested? Is it humane? Is there ethical guidance on farming insects for food? 

Yes, there is ethical guidance on farming insects which is widely available and discussed online on respected forums and organisations’ websites. Crickets are cold-blooded and therefore the most humane way to harvest them is to reduce their body temperature through freezing which humanely and rapidly slows down their metabolism.

What are the steps to making cricket flour?

Our crickets go through multiple different stages before being made into cricket flour from freezing to drying. Unfortunately this is a process that we cannot reveal too much about for the moment!

Do you use the whole insect to make flour?

No, the cricket’s wings and legs are sifted out throughout the process. This isn’t to say that none slip through, however they are just as edible as the rest of the cricket!

Image of Deep-fried house crickets sold as food at a market in Thailand by Takeaway

Deep-fried house crickets sold as food at a market in Thailand. Image by Takeaway [ CC BY-SA 3.0].

 

Around how many crickets does it take to make a bag of flour?

Quite a few and it depends on the size. We’ve found that it roughly takes around 1000 crickets to produce 100-120 grams of flour.

How long does it take to get from cricket egg to cricket flour?

The cycle is usually six to seven weeks from hatched baby to harvesting time.

How easy is cricket flour to use in baking? Is it just for use as a replacement for wheat flour?

Cricket flour is not a substitute for wheat flour. Although flour is in its name it is a different ingredient and can be used in protein bars, drinks, smoothies, and baked products to add a significant protein boost and health-kick to whatever you are making.

[Check out Part 2 of our cricket farming Q&A with Newtri Foods]

Volunteers’ Voice: Work Placement – Daisy

Daisy tells us about her work placement at MERL and the benefits of volunteering after university. 

The question of what to do with my life after I graduate has been particularly pertinent this week as, on Tuesday, I received the results of my history degree. I got a first, in case you were wondering. Even if you weren’t wondering, I am very pleased to be able to tell you that! Nonetheless, from all the many horror stories I’ve heard, the real world of jobs and careers is a scary place at the moment! So I decided that during my final few weeks in Reading, after the post-exam celebrations calmed down, I would do some work experience that would (hopefully!) help me decide what I want to do in the future.

Daisy researching for the MERL Players

Daisy researching for the MERL Players

As a history student, the Museums and Heritage sector is an obvious one. I’m fascinated by everything and anything to do with the past and I’ll never turn down the opportunity to work in a beautiful historic building! MERL definitely delivered on both counts. Although the museum itself was closed I could still enjoy the splendour of the Palmer’s entrance hall and got a behind the scenes look at the archives and art collections.

During my week’s work placement I tried out a number of different roles at MERL. I worked on the front desk, welcoming visitors and doing stock checks of the museum shop. I did some research for the MERL Players’ upcoming production (which will look at the lives of different rural residents). My favourite story was of a Land Girl who was a tractor expert but who sometimes found it hard to make the 7.30am start after a night of dancing! I staged a takeover of the MERL volunteer twitter feed, updating followers on what I was up to and giving a behind the scenes insight of MERL and Special Collections. Finally, I transcribed some oral histories of British farming. I enjoyed every role and it was lovely to be able to try out lots of different things. From what colleagues have told me, that’s the joy of a smaller museum – you can mix and match different tasks that interest you and can always find something useful to do! There is something lovely about the atmosphere of a museum, too. While in the office I’ve been shown, and vigorously encouraged to try, hand creams made from Victorian recipes! In the staff room I’ve been part of National Cream Tea day (i.e. eating lots of scones) and have drunk a ridiculous amount of tea!

A snap from Daisy's archive and library tour

A snap from Daisy’s archive and library tour

My week at MERL has given me an insight into the world of museums and heritage and, I can confirm, I definitely still want to work in this field! Personally, my dream museum job would be in marketing or PR because I really enjoyed having the opportunity to show MERL off in its best light and thinking of innovative and interesting ways to engage people. However, what MERL has taught me is that I could enjoy almost any role in a museum environment. As long as the people are fun, the tea is flowing and the nerdy history discussions are never far away, I’m happy!

 

 

Discovering the Landscape: Dublin of the Future (1922)

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie's 1922 'Dublin of the future'

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie’s 1922 ‘Dublin of the future’

This post highlights Dublin of the future: new town plan by Patrick Abercrombie, Sydney Kelly and Arthur Kelly (University of Liverpool Press, 1922) – a title from our MERL Library Landscape Institute collections with intriguing context and provenance.

Patrick Abercrombie (1879-1957) was a town planner active in the interwar period.  He played a leading role in planning for the redevelopment of a number of urban areas, such as London and Plymouth.  Abercrombie retained a love of traditional landscapes and historic towns.  His 1926 article ‘The preservation of rural England‘ published in the Town Planning Review led to the foundation of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE – of which we hold an archival collection.

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie's 1922 'Dublin of the future'

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie’s 1922 ‘Dublin of the future’

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie's 1922 'Dublin of the future'

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie’s 1922 ‘Dublin of the future’

The foreword of Dublin of the future gives us an impression of the impact contemporary events were having on the day to day life of the time.  The Civics Institute of Ireland launched a competition in 1914 to encourage plans for a ‘greater Dublin’, to stimulate innovative ideas for how the city might be developed and address its housing shortage.  The competition was won by Abercrombie, Sydney and Kelly.  The outbreak of World War I in 1914 marked the beginning of several turbulent years for the city.  In 1922, Abercrombie returned to his plans for Dublin:

The members of the Institute feel that with the recent change in National circumstances a new epoch has begun, and that the present is a most opportune time to arouse the interest of the Citizens, hence it is that the design and report prepared… in the year 1916, now appears.

T. W. Sharp signature on our copy of 'Dublin of the future'

T. W. Sharp signature on our copy of ‘Dublin of the future’

Interestingly, the copy of Dublin for the future we received from the Landscape Institute has been inscribed with the signature ‘T. W. Sharp’ on the front endpaper (left).

It seems a fair assumption that this signature belongs to Thomas (Wilfred) Sharp (1901-1978).

Thomas Sharp was a town planner and writer, who we can imagine was was inspired by Abercrombie’s work.  Sharp shared Abercrombie’s enthusiasm for the landscape and its protection (he was President of the Landscape Institute, 1949-1951).  Coming into his own as a town planner following World War II (working on towns such as Oxford, Exeter and Salisbury) that this is likely to be Sharp’s copy of Dublin is a very rewarding aspect of the provenance of the book.

Upon first opening the book – the reader is presented with a striking and unusual frontispiece (below).

'The last hour of the night' frontispiece illustrated by Harry Clarke

‘The last hour of the night’ frontispiece illustrated by Harry Clarke

On first inspection – you could almost wonder why this illustration is used as a frontispiece in a publication largely about the technicalities of town planning. Harry Clarke (1889-1931) was born in Dublin and worked as a book illustrator and stained-glass artist.  Clarke was also a prominent figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland.

Clarke’s The last hour of the night makes plain to the reader the damage incurred by the city during the preceding years of war and battles for independence.  It is a haunting image that alludes to the challenge faced by Abercrombie and his team to rebuild, redevelop and reinvigorate the city.

Few towns have suffered a change, physical and psychological,  during these intervening years of war, trade boom and subsequent depression: but Dublin has added the double tragedy of war and civil war within her gates.

(Dublin of the future, p. ix). 

You can see Dublin of the future in full here.

Find our more about our Landscape Institute collections here.

Questions?  Then please get in touch with us at merl@reading.ac.uk

Claire Wooldridge: Project Librarian (Landscape Institute) 

Fun and festivities at the Big Band Lunch

Science Engagement Officer, Robyn Hopcroft, reveals what we got up to at the Big Band Lunch on Sunday.

MERL Big Band Lunch Stand

Getting started at the MERL stand

Last Sunday we enjoyed glorious weather and fabulous big band music at the University of Reading’s annual Big Band Lunch. This was a chance to bring the University and local communities together over lunch, and celebrate the University’s 90th Anniversary year. A small team of staff and dedicated volunteers were in attendance and we had great fun running traditional fete games such as ‘splat the rat’ and ‘hook a duck’.

Seed Press in action

Our seed press in action. Apparently our sunflower oil was far tastier than the store-bought variety.

But the theme of the day was food and music, and we were especially interested in chatting to people about food. Where does it come from? What’s it made of? Why do we eat what we eat? By getting hands-on with activities devised for The Crunch programme, such as oat rolling and sunflower seed pressing, we were able to have some great conversations about the history and nutritious properties of oats and edible oils.

Ministry of Food 1946 leaflet with barley and oat recipes

Ministry of Food recipe leaflet (1946). Visitors were able to roll their own oats and take away some contemporary and vintage recipes for inspiration.

We even received some help from human nutrition staff and students and it was a great opportunity to find out more about some of the cutting edge research being conducted at the University. I was pleased to be able to meet and chat to scientists studying some of the potential health benefits of phenolic acids in oats. Phenolic acids are found in many plant-based foods and play a role in heart health.

Getting involved in these kinds of studies as a research participant can be great way of learning more about the work of scientists, especially given that we tend to receive sensationalised messages about nutrition and health research from the media. Unfortunately, I don’t qualify for this study – they’re recruiting male participants. But for any men who are reading: the PRO-GRAIN team are looking for some healthy males willing to eat oats for the sake of science.

Recruitment leaflet for men interested in getting involved in a study of the nutritional properties of oats.

Entomophagy: The consumption of insects as food

Edible Insects

Insects proved to be a popular snack choice for visitors to our stand.

 

Insect Taste Notes

Some mixed opinions on our edible insects.

Our edible insect challenge was one of the stand-outs of the day. We wanted to encourage people to think about the growing population and consequent increasing demand for protein. Edible insects are a cheap, nutritious, protein-rich food, and a common snack in many parts of the world.

Water Bug Tasting

This brave fellow ate one of our giant water bugs – not for the feint-hearted!

Insect farming uses a fraction of the energy, water and land needed to raise livestock. Who knows – perhaps bugs will become a regular part of the UK diet in the future? Fish and chips with a side of crispy bamboo worms…

But it wasn’t all about snacking on whole insects – wings, legs, antennae and all.  We also considered less confronting ways of consuming insects by holding a brownie blind tasting. People sampled brownies from two trays – one batch was made with wheat flour and the other was made with a mixture of wheat flour and flour milled from crickets.

Blind Tasting with normal and cricket flour brownies

Which ones are cricket flour brownies?

Tasters were asked to guess which plate contained cricket flour brownies. I can now reveal that it was PLATE A! We’ve tallied up the responses and found that 60% of people made a correct guess. Most people, myself included, seemed to think that while the wheat brownies and cricket brownies tasted different from each other, they were both delicious and there wasn’t an ‘insecty’ taste to the cricket brownies.

All in all it was great day out.  We were busy but we had lots of fun. Many thanks to everyone who was involved.

And the fun fact that I learned for the day? The people of Reading are well up for the challenge of munching on insects!

Learn more about edible insects at The Crunch.

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Interview with Reading Room Assistant Ceri (Pt. 1)

Marketing Volunteer Whitney continues her series of interviews with staff talking to Ceri Lumley, Reading Room Assistant

Photograph taken by Reading College LLD/D Photography & Work Students

Photograph taken by Reading College LLD/D Photography & Work Students

 

What does your job entail at MERL?

I’m split between working in the reading room and doing background tasks. Three days of the week I’m down in the reading room answering enquiries, doing production, getting documents out and generally helping researchers with anything they need. And then the other two days I work on various archive projects .

How do you think those two separate areas of your work compliment each other?

I don’t think I would have come across half of the interesting stuff in the collections if I didn’t do the enquiries. A lot of the time we find items because somebody has asked for a something specific. If it’s more obscure we do a bit of digging and that’s when I find some amazing things I wouldn’t have known were there unless I had trolled through the catalogue! As a result I can pass these findings onto other interested reading room visitors.

What type of people have you seen make use of the research material?

Undergraduates, Masters and PhD students, museum staff doing their own research and the public with general interest. The fact that we’ve got some local collections probably draws people in who are interested in family history, who might ask ‘I’ve got this photograph can you tell me more about it?’ So you get a lot of people coming in from different angles.

Has anyone enquired about whether you can help trace their ancestry or lineage through a photograph brought in?

Yeah, I’ve had a couple who have been distantly related to some of the aristocratic families that we’ve got farm records for. A lot of people ask about relatives who worked for big companies like Huntley and Palmers and we’ve also got Rolls of Honour from service in the military. Most of the time they’re a really good place to start. If they served then they’re probably guaranteed to be listed.

What are some of the rewarding aspects of working within a cultural heritage environment?

I got into this because I was shown an archive document many years ago and I just thought ‘that’s amazing’. I wanted to make people feel the way I did the day I looked at that archive document, and help them discover things they’ve never seen or thought existed. Before Christmas a reader was looking through the Nancy Astor Collection and they came across some really interesting letters.  Just to hear them chuckling at the table confirmed they had found something exciting. I think they actually wrote a blog post about it for us.

How do you find it working in a small team at MERL?

Yes, definitely they’ve got such a wealth of knowledge and experience that I’m always able to go to someone and say, ‘I don’t suppose you know anything about this’ and usually they have an answer. From that respect it’s really good. And it’s a nice environment because everyone is really helpful and eager to collaborate which is a great thing.

Did you study your degree with the hope of working in a museum one day?

I’ve wanted to work in this sector for years. I did work experience in my local archive and library in my GCSE years. On the last day the Archivist showed me a mortgage document on vellum and I just thought ‘that’s what I want to do’. So I went to University in York where there are so many different places you can do heritage and archiving volunteering. After graduating I came to MERL for an internship. I then moved to Network Rail’s record centre working in records management. I’m due to start the Masters in Archive and Records Management this September at UCL; it’s finally coming to the point of getting the professional qualification.

Whilst working here have you been able to discover your niche?

I’m still finding it. It’s so varied and I don’t have enough experience of different repositories as yet to say where I want to go. Every place has so much different material and so many interesting bits to it that I haven’t quite found the niche yet. It might take a few years but I’m definitely on my way to finding it.

What is that one thing that makes individuals who work within a cultural heritage get enthusiastic about what they do?

Passion. We all just generally love what we do on a daily basis. I don’t know how common that is in any other work place but within the museums & heritage sector it tends to be quite prevalent. I have been to a number of archive trainees meetings with people within similar job roles to mine and we always end up chatting for a good couple of hours afterwards, mostly about our work and what we’re doing. Overall, it’s a really good, collaborative environment.

Do you think enough work is being done to encourage people to learn more about museums?

I think we’re lucky in this country to have a good supporting nature towards our heritage. However, there are still sections of society who don’t necessarily interact with museums in any way. But I think MERL is a bit of an exception because it does a lot to increase the profile of heritage work, and the volunteer and outreach programme here is amazing. So I think MERL is an organisation that does a lot to help promote the values of museums.

Whitney: So it’s really more about looking at how museums show keen interest in and interact with their local communities.

Ceri: Yeah, I think MERL is really good at that!

Are there any places you can learn about culture heritage and history around Reading?

The town hall, Museum of Reading, the Berkshire records office which we direct a lot of people to if it’s a local history question and we don’t necessarily have the answer. There are also a couple more sites like the Reading Abbey ruins, located near Forbury gardens. The John Lewis heritage centre is also 20mins by train. There are quite a few places in the area but you don’t realise just how many there are until you start looking.

Do you think its always better to have a museum related degree before making the transition into museum work?

It probably helps but whether it’s essential I’m not entirely sure. I did a degree because I really wanted to study history. I was a bit of an exception in that I’m probably the only person out of my group of friends in University who has actually used their history degree in a history related area. A lot of the enquiries involve research and using catalogues which I probably wouldn’t have come across as much if I hadn’t done a degree. So from that side of things I think it helps for the practical things.

How do you think museums will change because of the online space and everything being digitised?

I think people will always want to come into the museum and have a look through the actual stuff. It’s a different feeling from looking at something on a screen. It’s part of the fun. However, digitisation helps a lot especially with photographs. During my internship here a couple of years ago I worked on some of the local photograph collections and got to zoom in on photographs and see specific parts of images that you wouldn’t necessarily see if you were looking at the hard copy.

 

Reading Readers – Felicity McWilliams

For this month’s Reading Readers blog, PhD student Felicity McWilliams (a familiar face at MERL) gives us an insight into how the MERL collections are playing a part in her research of draught power technology in the 20th century.

An image from Farmers Weekly showing horses and a combine harvester at work together on a farm near Durham in 1961. The farmer also used tractors but on this day they were busy on another task (MERL P FW PH2/C107/76).

An image from Farmers Weekly showing horses and a combine harvester at work together on a farm near Durham in 1961. The farmer also used tractors but on this day they were busy on another task (MERL P FW PH2/C107/76).

Last September, I left my post as Project Officer at the Museum to embark upon an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD, based jointly at King’s College London and here at MERL. I’m researching the history of draught power technology on British farms c.1920–1970. Draught power is essentially anything used to pull a load, from carts and wagons to ploughs and harvesters. I’ll admit I often get a blank look back when saying that, though, so I revert to telling people I’m doing a PhD on tractors.

It’s not just tractors though; the technological landscape of twentieth-century British farms included steam engines, horses, oxen, home-made tractors, cars, lorries, jeeps, motorcycles and even military-surplus tanks. Histories of agricultural technology (and of technology in general) have tended to focus on new machinery and innovation. Which is fine, but it means that they look mostly at manufacturers, economics and government policy and rarely at the people actually using the technology – the farmers, horsemen, tractor drivers and farm mechanics. The aim of my project is to research the wide variety of draught power sources that farmers were using and the factors that influenced their decision-making. What they could afford to buy is always important, but I’m also interested to find out how their technological skills, working relationships, values and attitudes might also have had an impact on the animals and/or machines they chose to work with.

Back issues of The Farmers Weekly in the museum's library.

Back issues of The Farmers Weekly in the museum’s library.

I’ve started by looking at the Second World War period, and over the past few months have spent a lot of time in the MERL archives reading 1940s issues of Farmers Weekly magazine. There are so many features in the magazine which help to show what farmers were thinking, discussing and buying, from adverts and articles to letters and photographs. In fact, there are so many amazing sources in the MERL archives, from films to farm diaries, that it’s a little daunting wondering how I’m ever going to find time to see everything. You can find out more about what’s in the collection here.

We’ll certainly keep up to date with Felicity’s progress and hopefully share some of the interesting things she discovers in her research.