Discovering the Landscape #18: From Devon to Derbyshire, the Shell Guides to Great Britain

Shell Guides on the shelf

Shell Guides on the shelf

Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Senior Library Assistant: Landscape Institute

The Shell Guides, published between 1934 and 1984, were designed to be light hearted but engaging guide books to the countryside and historical sites of Great Britain for the growing number of mid twentieth century car owners.  Published by the Architectural Press and funded by Shell-Mex (more driving = more fuel…) the Shell Guides were intended to tag along with day-trippers, being less than 50 pages long they were ideal for a glove compartment.  Bold and visual, each guide contains an introduction to the area covered and descriptions of each place or landmark to be found there.

From Dorset to Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire to Cornwall, the guides covered most regions of Great Britain.  Different regions were studied by different writers, including a host of well know names including John Piper (artist, 1903-1992, writer of Oxfordshire published in 1938) and Paul Nash (artist and painter, 1889-1947, writer of Dorset published in 1935).  Paul Nash went to live in Swanage for a year to work on the book, suffering from shellshock from WW1, this was an opportunity for Nash to find peace in the countryside.  Sir John Betjeman (poet, writer and broadcaster, 1906-1984) edited the series and also contributed several titles, most notably Cornwall (1934).

Selection of Shell Guide covers

Selection of Shell Guide covers

We received several editions of the Shell Guides from the Landscape Institute library, some which were new to us and some which are different editions of titles we already hold.  Several of these were presented by Shell-Mex and B. P. Ltd to the Landscape Institute.  These new additions to the collection will sit alongside our existing ones in our Printing Collection (part of our Special Collections) with Landscape Institute provenance recorded in the catalogue records.

Shell-Mex presentation book plate in Shell guides received from the LI library

Shell-Mex presentation book plate in Shell guides received from the LI library

The guides have an enduring popularity (such as being the focus of books and two TV series, one featuring Richard Wilson and another with David Heathcote, a cultural historian who has written about the Shell Guides) and are very collectable today.  Thirteen Shell Guides were published before the outbreak of WW2 and were reissued after the war.  Different editions within the Shell Guides series, with contemporary typography and images, were published in later decades – making collecting all the different copies something of a challenge!  The Shell Guides from the Landscape Institute Collections make a wonderful addition to our existing holdings.

For more information see David Heathcote’s (2010) A Shell eye on Britain: The Shell County Guides 1934-1984 (Libri).

Rural Reads Plus book review: The Prodigal Summer

Rob Davies reviews The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kinsolver

During the humid month of July we read The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, a suitably clammy read for the climate. This book is a mammoth read set within Zebulon Country in America, following three narratives that are tenuously connected to one another but tell the story of the land.

The Prodigal Summer is a perfect read for Rural Reads Plus; it is packed with contemporary rural issues that span agriculture universally. Kingsolver used the narratives to explore these themes such as hunting, genetics, isolation within the countryside, inheritance and family, along with many other smaller but still significant themes.

The first narrative called ‘Predators’ follows Deanna who is a park ranger living an isolated life on the side of Zebulon mountain. Her voluntary isolation is broken when the hunter Eddie Brando walks into her life. This narrative isn’t just about the developing relationship between Deanna and Eddie Brando but also about the issue of hunting. As a group we had conflicting opinions on this narrative, I enjoyed learning about coyotes but the characters were too flat for me.

The second narrative is entitled ‘Moth Love’ and follows Lusa who was widowed one year into her marriage; she now finds herself lost in an enormous family who don’t particularly like or trust her, one of the reasons is because she is from outside of the county. To make matters worse for Lusa she has inherited her husband’s farm which is in a lot of debt and she refuses to grow the local crop, tobacco. This was my favourite narrative, Kingsolver writes about grief, loss and surviving so vividly, I was almost going through the emotions as well.

The third narrative ‘Old Chestnuts’ took the longest to warm up and develop. It’s about two elderly farmers who are neighbours with very different farming methods, in fact it comes down to organic vs GM crops. However, it’s also about disease within trees and the loss of species.

This was the second consecutive book we unanimously enjoyed and would recommend it to everyone. This August we’re reading A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair.

Discovering the Landscape #17: Sylvia Crowe

The ‘Discovering the Landscape’ series continues with a profile of Sylvia Crowe, ending with an overview of our Crowe collections.  Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Senior Library Assistant: Landscape Institute

The landscape architect has to understand what the people want and to understand what the wild life wants, as well as understanding the function of whatever it is you are undertaking.  There is a great deal to think about…’

(Crowe quoted in Harvey, 1989, p. 51).

Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, AR CRO DO1 P 3

Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, AR CRO DO1 P 3

Dame Sylvia Crowe (1901–1997) was a landscape architect and writer.  She was a significant figure in the promotion of landscape architecture in the UK and internationally, through her involvement with the Institute of Landscape Architects (now Landscape Institute) and the International Federation of Landscape Architects.  Crowe was an active member of many prestigious organisations, such as being president of the Landscape Institute 1957-59 and of the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1969.  She was granted a CBE in 1967 and a DBE in 1973 (at which time the last landscape architect to receive such an honour had been Sir Joseph Paxton in 1851).

Crowe trained in horticulture at Swanley Horticultural College (1920–22), going on to complete an apprenticeship with Edward White at Milner, Son and White (1926-27).  Crowe then worked as a garden designer for William Cutbush & Son’s nurseries (winning a gold medal at Chelsea in 1937) until the outbreak of World War Two.  In 1945 Crowe established her own private practice as a landscape architect.  Although they were not in partnership, Crowe was given a room in the offices of Brenda Colvin and in 1952 they moved together to 182 Gloucester Place where Crowe remained until 1982 with various staff assisting her over the years.

Drawing showing Cumberland Basin Bridges, Ashton Gate, AR CRO DO1_R2_1

Drawing showing Cumberland Basin Bridges, Ashton Gate, AR CRO DO1_R2_1

Crowe worked on a great range of diverse projects; from small gardens, to new towns, forestry initiatives and power stations.  She authored many influential books confronting the challenges of new landscape issues and garden design, such as Landscape of Power and Tomorrow’s Landscape in the 1950s.  Urban development Crowe worked on included Bristol in the 1960s.  Crowe also designed the landscape around Wylfa power station, Anglesey and Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, Gwynedd, Wales (at the top of this post).

In 1964 Crowe became the first landscape consultant to the Forestry Commission, a role she worked in until 1976.  During this period, Crowe revolutionised how the need for timber production can be balanced with retaining the beauty of the landscape, publishing Forestry in the Landscape in 1966.  She commented: ‘I think that aesthetic and ecological principles are inseparable, certainly in afforestation’. (Harvey, 1987, p. 34).

Sylvia Crowe signature in Dale's 1944 Towards a plan for Oxford City

Sylvia Crowe signature in Dale’s 1944 Towards a plan for Oxford City

 

Crowe, Landscape of Roads, 1960

Crowe, Landscape of Roads, 1960

The Sylvia Crowe archive and library collection at Reading contains drawings by Crowe and some of her staff, photographs and negatives, and correspondence.  The archive collection has been catalogued with the reference AR CRO and a handlist of the collection is available here.

Books from Crowe’s personal library have now been integrated into our MERL Library.  We also have books written by Crowe that she gifted to other prominent landscape architects, such as the copy to the above of her Landscape of Roads (1960), with the inscription to the Jellicoe’s reading: ‘To Geoffrey & Susan, from Sylvia.  A memorial to our battle of the roads?’.

As mentioned above, Crowe had many connections within the world of landscape architecture; for more information on our Sylvia Crowe, Milner White, Geoffrey Jellicoe, Susan Jellicoe or Brenda Colvin collections please

contact us at merl@reading.ac.uk.

For more information please see Hal Moggridge’s entry on Crowe in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Harvey, Reflections on Landscape (1987) or Collens & Powell, Sylvia Crowe (LDT monographs 2, 1999).

Discovering an unknown opera

With such vast and varied collections, we sometimes come across hidden treasures. Adam Lines, Reading Room Supervisor, tells us about a discovery he made recently.

One of the most invigorating aspects of my role as Reading Room Supervisor is the wealth of knowledge about the collection that I accumulate on a daily basis. Often researchers draw my attention to the significance of items in the collections through their enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, their subject.

A few weeks ago I received an email from an academic eager to see the original manuscript of a mid-eighteenth-century performance piece called ‘The Charnwood Opera’. They supplied the file number, D MS 1093/12/19, and I set about retrieving the manuscript. When I looked up the file number in the catalogue, the description offered was simply ‘documents related to enclosure’ – nothing, at first glance, directly referenced ‘The Charnwood Opera’. Upon finding the folder I found an envelope and as I carefully emptied its contents I discovered the manuscript I was looking for.

'The Charnwood Opera' - D MS 1093/12/19

‘The Charnwood Opera’ – D MS 1093/12/19

Measuring approximately 39×31 cm, this manuscript is the only known surviving copy of ‘The Charnwood Opera’. It is dated 1752 and was written by an unknown author. The piece was written as a protest against a local landowner, William Herrick, who attempted to enclose areas of common land in Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire and develop rabbit warrens for private use. It is an entirely unique piece of contemporary evidence in song of the rural struggles against enclosure. The manuscript suggests that it might have been performed at a tavern in Charnwood Forest known as the Holly Bush.

'The Charnwood Opera' - D MS 1093/12/19

‘The Charnwood Opera’ – D MS 1093/12/19

Although set in the immediate context of William Herrick’s attempts to enclose common land in Charnwood Forest, at the time the piece was written around half of the villages in the county had been enclosed and ‘The Charnwood Opera’ encapsulates this county-wide unrest. During the early eighteenth century, nine out of ten people lived and worked in the countryside. For them, the difference between cultivated (private) and uncultivated (common) land was more meaningful than that between the town and the countryside. For the commoners, enclosure meant becoming labourers and working for wages whilst their traditional livelihood of catching rabbits was outlawed. ‘The Charnwood Opera’, through a mixture of seven songs and dialogue, plays out the events of the confrontation between warreners and commoners. When a bribe offered by the gentry fails, many of the commoners are arrested and the landlord turns to hired thugs to pacify them. The piece concludes with the commoners anticipating further troubles ahead.

'The Charnwood Opera' - D MS 1093/12/19

‘The Charnwood Opera’ – D MS 1093/12/19

How did a performance piece related to the enclosure of land in Leicestershire find its way to Reading?

The manuscript is one of hundreds of documents that form part of the William Tate (1902-1968) archive. He was a much celebrated historian and antiquarian, called many things from a ‘scholar’ to a ‘maverick’. He had many academic interests, but his main passion was for the history of enclosure in England and he spent over thirty years researching and compiling the details of enclosure for all English counties. What Pevsner is to buildings, Tate is to enclosure acts. Much of his collection of papers was deposited at the University of Reading by his wife after his death, including many manuscripts of unpublished works.

And it was this very archive that presented the treasure I discovered tucked away in an envelope. It is thought that William Tate first discovered it when a bookseller in Nottingham alerted him to its presence when he found it loose in a book. Whether Tate was aware of its significance is unknown, but he was clearly fascinated enough by it to save it.

You can find out more about the William Tate archive here.

Thank you to Gerald Porter for sharing his research and for shedding light on such a fascinating piece of rural history.

Porter, Gerald and Tiusanen, Jukka (2006) ‘Performing Resistance to the New Rural Order: An Unpublished Ballad Opera and the Green Song,’ The Eighteenth Century, 47 (2): pp.202-232.

 

Work experience in a Museum? Really?

Katie completed a week’s work experience at the museum and during this time planned her own mini exhibition, helped with a VIP visit and press photo shoot and attended a social media planning meeting! Here are her thoughts on her week – it looks as though she might be a convert!

This week I have been doing my Year 10 work experience week at the MERL (Museum of English Rural Life.) This has exceeded my expectations of museum work and I have been given the opportunity to explore the background and workings of a museum – from social media and marketing to learning about the archives and different objects in the museum and how they are preserved! I have been reminded that a working environment can be fun and here at the MERL there is a strong relationship between staff members and volunteers. With a coffee break at 11am every day staff members are given the ability to catch up on each others’ work and socialize. I love the idea of bringing people together as they may not see each other throughout the day with such spread out offices throughout the museum.

The museum is currently undergoing a redesign and extension of its original galleries, with a grant of £1.7 million from the Heritage Lottery fund. The museum’s aim is to attract more visitors from the general public with a wider range of new audiences from different communities and ethnic backgrounds, with an exciting new opening of the building in 2016. I am confidently certain that they will be able to achieve this aim; this is just by working alongside them for one week and seeing all the hard work that they put into the MERL and the future plans.

Rural Life clothing exhib

Katie chose to focus her exhibition on rural clothing as she felt it was something that may not automatically spring to mind when speaking about the countryside. Smocks, baskets, a tailoring bag and even goffering irons; which were used for creating decorative crimps and frills on women’s clothing, would all be included

What intrigued me the most at the Museum of Rural Life is their use of social media; as well as the general use of Facebook, the MERL is also on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and even has a YouTube channel, you name it! With regular posts on each social networking site, followers are able to keep up to date with the ins and outs of the museum, with many pictures, gifs and hashtags included in posts, such as ‘#throwbackthurdsay’ and ‘#ilovemuseums!’ The social media and marketing team are devoted to these social networking sites and work hard to keep them going by researching the most popular hashtags and ones that are to do with the countryside, along with the themes of the museum. I think that the social media really benefits the museum in many different ways especially as most people nowadays are on at least one social networking site!

I have enjoyed my time at the MERL and plan to visit when it reopens in 2016!

My favourite object: the Shaplands and Petter sideboard

As she comes to the end of her internship (where did those 6 weeks go?!) Lisa has discovered an object from in the MERL collections which has special personal significance…

Being proud to call myself a Devonian (I moved to Reading for university), I was determined when picking out an object from the collections to find something relating to my hometown of Barnstaple in North Devon. Interestingly, I came across an oak sideboard made around 1905 by Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple. Shapland and Petter was a prominent furniture company and has been for over 100 years the town’s largest employer up until recently, with the company having quite a personal meaning to me which I will explain later.

Shaplands factory

Here you can see the factory in Barnstaple as it once was

The company was originally set up by Henry Shapland, a cabinet maker who joined forces in 1865 with Henry Petter. From manufacturing wardrobes to bookcases and chairs, the company’s products were sold both around the country and Europe. In addition, it also had a shop in London and even created furniture for the writer Edgar Wallace. Known for their high quality craftsmanship, they catered for the popular tastes of a burgeoning urban middle class and later merged to form Shapland Leaderflush in 1998.

Sideboard

This oak sideboard was acquired as part of the Museum’s Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures project and was designed by William Cowie who had been a student at Barnstaple School of Art. Designed in the ‘Arts and Craft’ style that was popular at this time, it is a beautiful example of craftsmanship, with its focus being on rural romanticism. The relationship between the town and countryside can be seen with this object particularly; the farmhouse dresser at the beginning of the 20th century had become a fashionable piece of furniture for the urban Edwardian home. It has three glazed cupboards, along with decorative metal work, a geometric arch and cut out hearts.

The Shaplands factory in Barnstaple has a personal meaning to me as not only did both my parents work there for many years when I was younger, but also my grandparents. I even have vague memories of my mum dropping my dad off at the factory at 7:30 when he would start work. (I hated having to get up that early!) Sadly, the factory closed in 2012 due to the effects of the recession, with the company moving the manufacturing side of the business to Nottingham. Hundreds were affected by the factory closure, with many people having worked there their whole life.

Plans are already underway for the building of an Asda where the factory once stood. Along with a supermarket, a hotel, 350 houses, shops and cafes will also be built on this site. Whilst this will create more jobs, there is already a huge Tesco five minutes away from this site which raises the question, why do we need yet another supermarket? You can even see the Tesco in the background of this photo which shows just how close the supermarkets will be! Perhaps this is simply me not wanting my hometown to become a concrete jungle and my inner ‘countryness’ raging out of me, not looking at the positives that it will bring. But in all seriousness, is it right that the countryside is being inundated with more supermarkets that we don’t need at the expense of a town’s heritage and landscape?

Shaplands site
Nonetheless, it was lovely to find an object in MERL’s collection that relates so much to me and where I am from, it’s just a shame that the factory is no longer standing.

Click here to find out more about the sideboard on the Collecting Cultures blog.

#DisabilityStories – Labelling visual impairment

How do you write a label in under 50 words on a basket made by an anonymous, visually impaired basket-maker without appearing patronising and tokenistic?

This basket was made at the Royal School for the Blind.

This basket was made at the Royal School for the Blind.

This question conveniently coincides with this week’s #CultureThemes topic of #DisabilityStories. The staff here at MERL are busily writing labels for our new galleries, covering overarching topics and themes, object groups, highlight objects and individual people.

Disability is both a hidden and common theme in the countryside depending on how you view rural history, literature and art. Historically the countryside can be viewed as a healthy place, full of people with ruddy complexions who exercise their bodies daily and eat the fat of the land. It is where we sent the wounded from the World Wars to recuperate, and it is a place we ‘escape to’ to get some fresh air.

It is also a place of grinding poverty, where starvation was only two bad harvests away and malnutrition was a fact of life. Farming was, and is, a place of hard toil where constant labour caused early arthritis and exposure to the elements and isolation from medical care caused a world of illness.

And this is where the nub of representing people with disabilities comes. We have a multitude of material to draw on to explore the lives of those whose disability was caused by accident and ill-health. To discuss disability only in terms of health, however, is tokenistic and it is often seen as demeaning to have a person’s significance in a story revolve around their disability alone. It ignores the fact that many people do not see their disabilities as disabling, but simply a part of who they are. People with disabilities were a fact of life in rural England for centuries and still are, and a disability was often the norm rather than the exception. Fields still had to be tilled, baskets made and animals fed whatever someone’s physical or mental condition.

The basket will be displayed in a case in a section named 'Craftspeople at Work'.

The basket will be displayed in a case in a section named ‘Craftspeople at Work’.

We had all of these discussions and more when trying to write a label for a basket made at the London School for the Blind in the early- to mid-twentieth century. It is well-made and is meant for feeding horses or other animals. The basket will be located in a gallery focusing on our different views and perceptions of the English countryside, and more specifically will be located in the basketry section under a theme called Craftspeople at Work. The label we ended up with is this:

This basket was used for feeding horses and was made at the Royal School for the Blind in the early twentieth century. Craftspeople rely heavily on their sense of touch to determine the correct textures, shapes and form of their work.

We made the decision not to focus on how basketry has traditionally been seen as a blind craft, nor how blind people in institutions such as the Royal School for the Blind were encouraged to make baskets as a source of income (as ‘honest work’), or how basketry is still used as a therapeutic process for people today who are newly blinded. One reason for this is the 50-word limit of our Object Highlight labels, but we also didn’t want to make the fact that a blind person could make a perfectly good basket the main point – the visitor should be able to pick this up by themselves from the information we’ve given them. Equally, we focused on ‘Craftspeople’ rather than ‘Blind people’ in the second sentence, as it is the craftsmanship that defines this object rather than the maker’s disability. Hopefully in this way we have avoided the common mistake of presenting someone ‘overcoming’ something despite their ‘disability’ and instead bring attention to the fact that basketry utilises the sense of touch more than the sense of sight.

What do you think of this label? Should we have made a lengthier label discussing these issues? Is it wrong to discuss disability in the countryside only through the lens of modern health?

The Museum of English Rural Life on Social Media #2

In the second of her posts reviewing MERL’s social media accounts, our intern, Lisa, focuses on twitter and invites you to follow some members of staff!

I’m sure some of you already follow us on Twitter, but if you are new to Twitter, MERL’s account is a great one to follow. The tweets, usually from Marketing Officer, Alison Hilton, or Our COuntry Lives Project Officer, Adam Koszary, keep you updated about work behind the scenes on our redevelopment project, upcoming events, collections that may be of interest to you, as well as sharing the fun we have working here at MERL. My favourite tweet in this regard has to be the photo of some of the MERL staff all wearing hairnets, lab coats and blue shoe protectors when we went to visit the food processing plant at the Department of Food & Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading to see how cheese was made, and learn more about the research carried out in the department relating to our new Wellcome funded displays.

WP_20150623_005

We all had such a lovely time, it had to be shared on Twitter!

Additionally, if you are interested in getting to know our staff at MERL, then why not check out their own Twitter accounts?  Although they are their personal accounts, they all use them to talk about their work and issues that interest them. If you are a bit curious like me, it’s quite interesting to find out what projects and events people are working on, and it gives you a good insight into what it’s like to work in a museum.

RobRob Davies @Rustyhumidity

Rob is our Volunteer Coordinator. Like it says on the tin, he’s in charge of organising the people who volunteer at MERL and across the other University Collections and is always a friendly face to see around the museum. He’s also working on the Our Country Lives Activity Plan projects. He tweets about work, volunteer issues, the Rural Reads book club and being Welsh.

AlisonAlison Hilton @alison_hilton

Alison is our Marketing Officer. She manages the marketing of the museum, and is currently planning for the relaunch of the new museum next year. You’ll also see the odd reference to folk music and dog walking!

 

 

RhiannonRhiannon Watkinson @kooky_rhi

Rhiannon is Assistant Volunteer Coordinator. Two days a week Rhiannon works on the front desk welcoming visitors, but also helps Rob with the day to day management of the volunteers, arranges training, looks after students on work experience or placements and organises volunteers helping at events.

 

AdamAdam Koszary @AdamKoszary

Adam Koszary is Project Officer for Our Country Lives. He is one of people behind the planning for the redevelopment of the museum galleries. He’s done a lot of research into our collections for the new displays and posts interesting finds on Tumblr.

 

RhiRhi Smith @UniRdg_MusStudy

Rhi Smith is the Programme Director of Museum Studies at the University of Reading so if you are interested in a career in museums, then I would definitely recommend following her for all the latest news.

 

 

OllieOliver Douglas @OllieDouglas

Ollie has only started tweeting recently! He is the Assistant Curator which means he is heavily involved with the Our Country Lives project, as well as being the lead on the Wellcome project.

 

 

FelicityFelicity McWilliams @redkite13

Felicity is a Project Officer at MERL who has done a huge amount of research into the collections for the new displays and now knows far too much about ploughs and hand tools! She’s also a Harry Potter and Aston Villa fan so follow at your own risk!

 

Danielle Eade Danielle@danielleeade

Danielle is our Public Programmes Manager. She manages all our public events from Toddler Time to the Annual Lecture and is also working on plans for our new Welcome area.

 

 

As well as MERL, the other museums and collections at the University of Reading have their own twitter accounts.

You can find them @ColeZoology @UreMuseum @uni_RdgSpecColls @RNGherb & @UniRdgTypoColls so please explore!

 

The Museum of English Rural Life on Social Media #1

With the museum closed for refurbishment, we’re relying heavily on social media to make sure we keep people up to date with what’s happening. We launched our ‘Shut, but not shutting up! campaign last year, and we’ve been busy sharing news and progress behind the scenes. In this post, Social Media & Collections intern, Lisa, reviews our accounts…

 

FB pageDid you know the Museum is on Facebook? If you’re like me and are constantly scrolling through your homepage to see what’s happening, then why not check out The Museum of English Rural Life’s page. You’ll find project updates and information about upcoming events, as well as news stories about countryside and farming issues, and links to the museum’s other social media accounts, so it’s a good place to start.

 

MERL Pinterest screenFor people who are interested in photography and images, MERL is on Pinterest. Here we share photos of everything from pictures of our collections, to events that have been happening, as well as archive images. It’s a great way for us to be creative, find common themes in our collections and have some fun taking photos. However, if you are more of an Instagram person, MERL actually shares an Instagram account with the other University of Reading Museums and Collections. From edgy photos of objects, to capturing MERL’s beautiful red-brick Victorian building in the summer rays, follow us on Instagram at unirdg_collections to have a little browse.

MERL also has a Flickr account which we haven’t used so much recently, but it has some amazing photos of objects in our collections, as well as events that the museum has put on in the past.

 

Tumblr pageBefore coming to MERL, I had never had much to do with Tumblr. However, seeing how good MERL’s Tumblr is has definitely changed my opinion of it.  Again, MERL shares the account with the other University of Reading Museums and Collections, so I would definitely recommend having a look. Short articles filled with interesting facts, combined with quirky photos means that it’s an easy way to gain background information about the variety of collections at the University.

 

hobby horse avatar flipPerhaps you are interested in working in a museum or archive? Want to gain an insight into the different roles people carry out here at MERL? Then our YouTube Channel, How many curators…? is the perfect place for you to visit. It’s very informal and quite fun! Our Volunteer Coordinator Rob interviews staff and volunteers about their roles and what their job involves to help people who are interested in this type of career gain a picture of what it’s actually like. Moreover, you can find out about some of our unusual collections!

I hope this has helped you gain a better insight into all the different types of social media MERL has and encouraged you to visit a site.  We’d love to know what you think!

 

In her next post Lisa will focus on the Museum (and staff) on Twitter!

 

Countryside forum update

Over the last few months, Museum staff have been carrying out consultation with many individuals to help shape the redevelopment. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Rob Davies, updates us on one aspect of  consultation: the Countryside Forum.

As part of the Our Country Lives Activity Plan, the project team set up a Countryside Forum earlier this year, made up of individuals and groups who have a direct relationship with the countryside. The purpose of this Forum is for the individuals to feed back on the new gallery plans, test interactive ideas and to explore issues that have an impact upon their lives. We have taken two approaches with this forum, either meeting in a group at the Museum or visiting individuals for an in-depth one-to-one discussion – both involving plenty of tea and cake!

Ollie, Jethro and Ron

Even our famous family trail rat, Jethro has been joining in, much to Assistant Curator Ollie’s embarrassment!

During our discussions we’ve been revealing future plans for the new galleries and inviting initial feedback. This has been an essential part of the redesign, helping to ensure that our new displays are interesting and relevant to a range of target audiences. It has allowed us to have discussions with individuals about the topics with which they feel particularly passionate, which in turn has led us to consider the type of subjects we are potentially exploring in the redeveloped museum. For example, at the last meeting we were discussing with one local famer the challenges he experienced as a dairy farmer to which he responded: “we gave up the unequal struggle in 2006.”

The challenge of milk pricing (and its impact on farmers) is something which is often in the news headlines and it is issues such as these which we are hoping to address is the Museum through our collections. Although our collections relate to the past, we will be looking at how they relate to contemporary issues that affect people who live and work in the countryside. We will also be tackling contemporary issues through interactives (or ‘hands on’ experiences) and, with our Forums, we’ve been testing some ideas about the different forms that these may take. This has been essential to the development process in our thinking and will have a valuable impact upon the final designs.

Anne and Frank beer and milk

An exciting and fascinating aspect of this Forum is that it has given us the opportunity to visit working farms. The journeys alone have been quite an adventure and the discussions have been incredibly fruitful. We visited Mr Venters in Wiltshire where we had some very lively discussions about fox hunting, the development of farm machinery and class in the countryside, and to top the visit off we met some newborn lambs.

Venters lamb

Through our discussions it became increasingly clear to me how relevant the Museum has the potential to be to people who live and work in the countryside. For example, we met one retired farmer who runs straw dolly workshops in care homes. He himself learnt the practice from farm labourers when he was a young boy.  As you may or may not know, MERL has an extensive straw dolly collection.

Our forums are not just about us showing people the museum plans and discussing how we’ll be displaying our collections, they’re much more than that. Through these forums we are creating new networks and starting conversations with people from across the countryside community, which will enable us to create an oral history archive, sustain open conversations and develop long term relationships.

If you would like to contribute in any way to our Countryside Forum, please leave a comment and we’ll get in touch!

 

Rob Davies

Volunteer Coordinator