Discovering the landscape: cut it out!

Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

Over the past few years, my colleague Jen (Landscape Institute Archivist) and I have been working to integrate the library and archive of the Landscape Institute into the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life.

The LI collections are rich and varied, including material such as books, pamphlets, periodicals, press cuttings, minutes, membership lists, financial papers, Institute publications and a slide library.

Now the time has come for me to sort out the Landscape Institute cuttings collection.

What are cuttings?

In a library context a cuttings collection is most likely to include articles cut out of newspapers or other periodicals, or press cuttings.  It is also likely that other types of ephemera will find their way into a cuttings collection, such as offprints (reprints of articles from editions of a publication), leaflets, advertisements, catalogues or posters.

A collection such as this arises from individuals cutting out relevant articles and compiling them.  So they are a kind of personally (or institutionally) curated collection.  A lot of us are likely to have done this ourselves – cutting out and keeping articles of printed material that have a personal connection or are of local interest.

Therefore we treat cuttings as a library collection, as they are culled from printed material.

The LI cuttings collection includes material from the 1960s to the early 2000s.  It includes a lot of biographical articles on leading landscape architects, especially obituaries.  This is alongside material on policy affecting the work of the landscape architect and features on particular parks, gardens and landscape projects.

Does the MERL Library hold any other cuttings?

Yes we hold a MERL Library cuttings collection which we still add to.  This is in filing cabinets in the Reading Room and is organised in a sequence based on the MERL Library subject classification scheme.

Why keep cuttings?

Cuttings can be a problem for librarians!  Their ephemeral and often flimsy nature can make their provenance difficult to attribute, while storage and organisation can also be a challenge.

Nonetheless, it is precisely the ephemeral nature of cuttings that make them so valuable to researchers.  There is no better insight into contemporary views and public opinion on landscape architects and their projects than by reading what was being written about them at the time.

Of course, a lot of this material will now be available online or elsewhere.  Still this collection is of historical interest in itself, as a record of what the Landscape Institute felt it was important to cut out and keep.

When will the cuttings be made available?

I am currently about 25% of the way through sorting the LI’s collection of hundreds of cuttings!  Thankfully I have a wonderful volunteer, Tina, who is going to help me with the project.  Together we will be numbering, listing and repackaging the cuttings.  I would hope that this project will be completed towards the end of the year, but please get in touch via merl@reading.ac.uk if you are interested in using the collection before then.

Improved Open Access Library fully accessible again

The MERL and Special Collections Open Access Library is now fully accessible again! In this library, which can be accessed from the Reading Room, you can find reference works relating to our Special Collections and to Samuel Beckett, as well as the library collection of the MERL, consisting of about 50,000 books, pamphlets and periodical volumes. We have been working hard to improve the layout of these collections to make it easier for you to quickly find the items that you need. We have also been able to create more space for future purchases and gifts.

This is a summary of the changes we have made:

  • We have integrated our Landscape Institute collection into the main MERL Library
  • We have created a dedicated pamphlet room for MERL and MAFF pamphlets
  • We have turned a storeroom into an additional room for the MERL periodicals

We would like to thank our readers for their patience while the works were taking place.

Discovering the landscape: lost landscapes of Michael Brown

In this post Amber Roberts, recipient of MERL’s landscape academic engagement bursary talks about her work on our Michael Brown collection (Landscape Institute collections).

Michael Brown’s work is unfortunately little known to today’s landscape architects. Thanks to a generous research bursary from MERL I have been able to delve into his archive and begin to uncover Brown’s idiosyncratic approach, his lost landscapes and his lost research.

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Brown (1923-1996) was an Edinburgh-born architect and landscape architect whose career had an international scope and strong links to key designers of the mid-twentieth century, such as Ian McHarg, Dan Kiley and Basil Spence. Brown’s projects covered all scales of landscape architecture and are of particular interest due to his commitment to integrating the theories and practices of landscape and architecture that resulted in a body of work that was both inventive and pragmatic. Brown stated:

The art and aesthetic delight of landscape must emerge out of solving down to earth problems elegantly and simply.

With this focus on the solution of ‘down to earth problems’, his work navigated the complex tensions of the profession that existed both then and now by advocating an objective, theoretical and interdisciplinary approach.

If spaces between buildings are to be used to their best advantage it is essential that methods of analysis and comparison be evolved which will enable the designer to analyse the functions and uses of external spaces very rigorously.

This approach is particularly evident in his work at Livingstone Road, London (1962 and later awarded a Civic Trust Award 1968) developed with the architects George, Drew and Dunn Partnership, a project that is due to be lost to a £300m regeneration project. By undertaking a disciplined survey and analysis of the site Brown identified key issues and opportunities that ranged from the particular microclimate of the site to cut and fill balance and pedestrian movement lines. Brown interwove this analysis with the ‘Court House Concept’ of his tutor McHarg to develop a series of spaces that were given careful detailing landform and levels to create a range of soft spaces.

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Beyond the layout of the courtyard system of open space, Brown sought to foster a sense of ownership for the spaces among the new residents. This was a key approach of Brown’s that he had begun to develop during his early British work with SPAN Housing. Brown himself became a resident of Fieldend and member of the Resident’s Association for the upkeep of the landscape within the estate. The courtyards at Livingstone Road were each given a distinct character and function that was embellished with sculptures and wall panels and Brown actively promoted a resident’s association for the scheme.

Overall Brown had a deeply personal and idiosyncratic approach to landscape,  his publications and designs offered exemplary solutions responding to complex issues from housing and motorway design to the design of public squares. Each of which combined his joint skills in architecture, urban design and landscape. Brown’s breadth of projects are testament to his rich and varied experience merging together disparate ideas and skills.  This research on Brown will be presented with Lead Researcher Dr Luca Csepely-Knorr at the Society of Architectural Historians Conference in Glasgow next month.

Find out more about Amber’s work or our Landscape Institute.

Medieval Caxton leaf: on display from 10 May

University of Reading Special Collections Librarian, Erika Delbecque, with new Caxton discovery

Our discovery of a unique example of 15th century printed text by English printer William Caxton has led to considerable media interest. As a result, the item will be going on display in the University of Reading’s Special Collections department, within The Museum of English Rural Life, from tomorrow (10 May) and not 9 May as previously stated. The display will run until 30 May.

Access to the MERL and Special Collections Library: May 2017

Due to essential maintenance work, we regret to inform you that access to the MERL and Special Collections open access library corridor will be restricted or unavailable on the following dates:

  • Tuesday 16 May – Thursday 18 May
  • Tuesday 23 May – Friday 26 May

This will affect access to Special Collections and MERL open access library material, including books, periodicals and pamphlets.

Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience.

If you are planning to visit the Reading Room on these days, please inform of us of any requests you have for library material in advance by contacting merl@reading.ac.uk

Please contact us for further assistance at merl@reading.ac.uk

Landscape Education in the UK: past present and future

On Saturday 1 April 2017 MERL hosted a FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) study day on the topic of: ‘Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future’.  

The day included talks and a pop up display of archive and library material from our Landscape Institute collections.  FOLAR Chair, Penny Beckett, gives an account of the event:

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

The best discussion we’ve had about UK landscape architecture education in a long while

So said one of those who attended the recent seminar at MERL organised by FOLAR.  Chaired by John Stuart-Murray (University of Edinburgh), this half day event had 4 speakers: Guy Baxter, the University Archivist, who spoke about the first English university course in Landscape Architecture set up at Reading in the 1930s; Jan Woudstra (University of Sheffield) on the development of English Landscape Architecture Education and after the tea break, former Reading senior lecturer Richard Bisgrove who spoke about the Landscape Management degree at Reading which ran from 1986 to 2009.

Our Archivist Guy Baxter speaking at #folar2017

The last speaker was Robert Holden (former University of Greenwich), who gave us much food for thought about the current state of landscape education in the UK. It appears to be in decline, while at the same time the demand for qualified landscape architects by employers outstrips the supply of home grown graduates. Much of the question and answer session after Robert’s talk explored why this might be the case when the situation seems very different in both the USA and other European countries. Earlier, Jan Woudstra had suggested possible reasons, citing the encroachment of ‘new’ course topics, such as ‘landscape urbanism’ into a subject area once occupied by landscape architecture alone. He mentioned too the lack of landscape research in the UK (though Sheffield boasts a healthy 45 PhD students!); the difficulty too of conveying a consistent image to the wider public, prospective students and their parents  about what the profession landscape architecture is all about. The irony is that the work of landscape professionals lies at the very heart of the current political agenda, while landscape architects and managers have long been used to the interdisciplinary working that is now essential in our 21st century world.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections, 1930s journals

Guy Baxter’s talk made interesting links between the pre-war students at Reading and some of the members of the fledgling Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) they helped to establish. The Institute’s archives deposited at MERL reveal the connections. The first ILA member, for example, ‘Member No. 1’ was Marjory Allen (Lady Allen of Hurtwood) the landscape architect who was an early advocate of the importance of providing for children’s play in our urban areas.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

Richard Bisgrove described the genesis of the BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management course he set up at Reading in 1986. It ran successfully for many years, training students who then went into various branches of the landscape profession. Lecturers on the course included Tony Kendle who later went to the Eden Project and Ross Cameron who moved to the University of Sheffield.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

One small downside of the day was that the full programme allowed little time to look at the wonderful display of archive material put out for us in MERL’s Reading Room. So to the MERL staff involved, can I offer both apologies as well as many thanks for helping to make such a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. A video recording of the seminar itself will be posted on the FOLAR website shortly.

Penny Beckett, FOLAR Chair

You can find out more about our Landscape Institute collections, using our Reading Room, FOLAR or see tweets and Instagram posts from the event.  

 

Is this a garden or a teeny tiny farm?

Science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, provides an update on our sugar beet growing project.

It’s National Gardening Week, and at The MERL we’re lucky enough to have a beautiful garden with a large lawn, herb garden, woodland area, and several community growing projects. It’s a great space for experimentation with different plant varieties and one of our current projects involves growing sugar beet – a vegetable that’s normally grown on farms rather than in gardens.

I must say that I felt very nervous waiting for our crop to germinate. The soil temperature and pH were right and we planted according to advice provided by British Sugar. But I was still worried that the seeds wouldn’t grow. I’m now pleased to say that our beets have germinated and are getting bigger and stronger by the day.

Photo of one of new sugar beet seedlings

But I still have concerns…

We applied fertiliser, as directed, and I worried that it might burn the new seedlings. We thinned the crop and I felt terrible for killing off perfectly good seedlings. Now, as the beets grow, I’m checking the bed with obsessive frequency – weeding and watering and fretting about the possibility that tender new leaves might be delicious to caterpillars and snails and vulnerable to any number of diseases. And what if the soil that I’ve painstakingly sifted using a hand-held riddle is still too stony to support a root crop like sugar beet?

Delving into the Sir Alfred Wood archive didn’t do anything to allay my fears – I’m now terrified that we’ll fail and end up with ‘fangy beets’:

Image of part of a vintage leaflet from 'Pictorial Hints on the Growing of Sugar Beet' (Presented by the Beet Sugar Factories of Great Britain'.

From Pictorial Hints on the Growing of Sugar Beet
(Sir Alfred Wood Collection, Reference: D MS1087 36/2).

Is this how a farmer feels in springtime? Excited about the possibilities, but acutely aware that it could all be snatched away at a moment’s notice by an oversight or act of nature? In my case I guess it’s just run of the mill gardening angst. Both the gardener and the farmer must deal with uncertainty, but if our sugar beet crop fails, it will be a mere disappointment – it won’t affect my pay cheque. Yet scale our tiny Beet Box up to 100,000 beets per hectare and the stakes are so much higher on a real farm.

A novice like me can just ‘have a go’ at gardening and see what sprouts, but a beet farmer (or any farmer) must be an expert in her domain. Keeping up to speed on the latest research and advice and combining this with experience in the field (or knowledge handed down through generations) helps a farmer to manage risk and respond to set backs, increasing the chances of bringing a profitable crop to harvest.

I think I’ll stick to gardening for now and see how I feel about beet farming at the end of the season.

Discovering the Landscape: Student bursary winners announced

We are delighted to announce that Moa Carlsson and Tianyi Jiang have been awarded Landscape Student Travel Bursaries.

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

Moa is a doctoral student at the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is currently a visiting student at the University of Cambridge.  Working on landscape perception and the history of computing technology in Britain 1950-70, Moa will be using her travel bursary to visit MERL to use our Clifford Tandy collection alongside the corporate records of the Landscape Institute.

Example of a slide from our Clifford Tandy Photographic Collection

Tianyi graduated from the Beijing Forestry University and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in landscape architecture at the University of Edinburgh.   Interested in how science and technolgoy can be used to improve our environment, Tianyi will be using materials from our Geoffrey Jellicoe, Michael Brown and Preben Jakobsen collections to support her studies.

An example of material from the Preben Jakobsen collection. AR JAK_PF_53 1

We look forward to welcoming Moa and Tianyi to our Reading Room over the summer.

Find out more about our Landscape Institute collections and how to visit us.

 

Why is there a flying saucer in The MERL garden?

Science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, reveals one of our new growing projects and the feat of DIY ingenuity behind an unusual landmark in our garden.

If you’ve visited us in the last couple of weeks, you might have noticed that something funny is going on with our garden. Perched above one of the raised beds there’s a suspicious object. Something that bears an uncanny resemblance to a spaceship. Well let me put your mind at ease. I can explain. It’s all part of a new growing project and that spaceship is here to help.

Image of flying saucer - like object in The MERL garden.

Alongside our new community growing spaces, we have built a raised garden box with a focus on science and technology. Our inaugural project will see us attempt to grow sugar beet. Being museum folk, we love a terrible pun, so I feel no shame whatsoever in revealing that our project is rather dubiously titled ‘Beet Box’.

Image of sugar beet by Okt154 (through Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License).

Who knew this is where much of our sugar comes from? Image by Okt154 [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Is the world ready for Beet Box? We think so. Around 7.5 tonnes of sugar beet is grown in Britain each year and these crops are used to manufacture a large proportion of the sugar that we consume. With this in mind, we’re keen to learn more about the history and practicalities of this industry. We might only produce a few kilos of beets and a very small amount of sugar, but this provides a good opportunity to explore the process of sugar production from first-hand experience. It seemed fitting that we sow our seeds on British Science Week, and using expert growing advice and seeds provided by British Sugar gives us the best chances of success. Let’s cross our fingers that conditions will be right to take our tiny crop to harvest.

Image of science engagement volunteer, Don, watering in our newly planted beet seeds.

Science engagement volunteer, Don, watering in our newly planted beet seeds.

So where does the spaceship come in? 

We wanted to do more than just grow beets, we also wanted to explore how technology could be used to track growing conditions. We’re delighted to be collaborating with Reading Hackspace on the project, and several their members have kindly donated their time and expertise to design and set up a monitoring system for Beet Box. Having installed soil and weather sensors, they also plan to use a solar-powered camera to capture information about the growth of the beets, and the solar panel is intended to sit inside that nifty Perspex spaceship enclosure.

Image of Richard and Mike from Reading Hackspace installing monitoring equipment in the Beet Box garden bed.

A work in progress: Prior to planting, Richard and Mike from Reading Hackspace
started installing monitoring equipment in the Beet Box.

The Hackspace folks are a community of enthusiastic makers who use rLab – a peer led workshop, open to anyone who is interested – as a base for knowledge sharing and work on a wide range of fascinating projects. The team working on Beet Box have taken care to design a system for the garden box that is open source and uses widely available components, providing an opportunity to use the project for educational purposes and to allow anyone to replicate or take inspiration from the setup.

Image of our newly-sown Beet Box garden bed.

In the weeks and months to come, we will share more detailed information about the system and the progress of our beets, and get feeds up and running so that data from the project is freely available online. In the meantime, we anxiously await the germination of our beet seeds.

Tanya Harrod: Archaic Modernists: Women, Textiles and the Margins of Europe

Paddy Bullard reflects on Tanya Harrod’s seminar as part of the Department of English Literature and the MERL speaker series on the ‘Tangible and Intangible Countryside’

Tanya Harrod is the doyenne of modern folk art studies, and the most distinguished historian and critic of craft working in Great Britain today. She is best known as author of the monumental Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale, 1999), and of The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew, Modern Pots and Colonialism, which won the James Tait Black prize for biography in 2012. Most recently she published a collection of journalism and occasional writing, The Real Thing: Essays on Making in the Modern World (Hyphen Press, 2015). She is a founder-editor of The Journal of Modern Craft, and previously was visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, 2000-2010.

A giant teapot by Michael Cardew, on display in the MERL galleries.

On Tuesday 31 January 2017 Tanya came to MERL to give a paper on ‘Archaic Modernists: Women, Textiles and the Margins of Europe’. Tanya’s research focused on a group of ‘erudite, rather intrepid women’ who brought a huge charge of invention, spontaneity and ambition to British textile design during the 1920s and 1930s. They included Phyllis Barron (1890-1964) and Dorothy Larcher (1884-1952), who together led a revival in hand-block printing in England, and their sometime employee Enid Marx (1902-1998) and her partner Margaret Lambert, designers whose collection of ephemeral and vernacular art was put on display at Compton Verney House in 2004.

Tanya argued that these women and others in their circle were united by a determination to find a principle of progress for their craft – textile manufacture – in the ‘living vernacular’ of small scale rural manufacturers. These artists were progressive, modernistic thinkers, quite distinct from the ruralists and proto-organicists (she mentioned MERL favourite H.J. Massingham among others) of their day. Above all, they felt that the British countryside was exhausted as a source for their new designs, because truly local and vernacular traditions of textile design had been so long superseded by machine-led designs and processes. So these women looked much further afield. Tanya’s paper was at its most revealing as she described their undaunted travels and discoveries in some of the remoter corners of western Europe and the Balkans. As she summed her discoveries, ‘abroad was their deep country’.