Project update: What happens next?

Having heard the news of our project funding earlier this summer, you may be wondering what happens next? So in this post Alison Hilton, marketing officer, answers some ‘frequently asked questions’

2Has worked on the project started yet?

We are still going through the processes required before work on the Our Country Lives project can start. There are contractors to engage, project staff to employ and plenty of red tape to cross!  You will, however, notice some small changes taking place in the Museum already, as our Conservator prepares for the process of moving the entire collection out! The Museum is still open and there’s plenty to see, but if you’re planning a visit to see a specific object, it would be a good idea to check in advance that the item is still on display. There is also the ongoing conservation work on the Festival of Britain wall-hangings taking place in the ‘farming cycle’, which means we are currently unable to offer the brass rubbing activity.

The collections team are already well into the in depth research phase, combing the object records and archives for details relevant to each of the new themed galleries. They will be blogging regularly about their fascinating finds here and on the research blog.

When will the Museum close?

We are hope to have everything in place in the next few weeks, and are expecting to close by the end of October – we will let you know as soon as we have a confirmed date. We expect to reopen at the end of 2015 / beginning of 2016.

Will the reading room be closed?

The only part of the building to be affected by the closure will be the Museum itself. Access to the reading room and Special Collections Services, shop and rooms for hire will be unaffected.

OCL Big Draw posterAre you running events this term?

We are holding a public Information Day on Saturday October 4th at which we will be able to share more details about our plans, including the latest artist impressions of the new galleries.

To give us time to concentrate on Our Country Lives, we will not be running our regular Autumn events such as Apple Day, the Traditional Craft Fair and the Annual Lecture.  These popular events will be back when we open!

Our monthly Rural Reads book club will continue to meet on the last Thursday of every month but will move into the Staircase Hall and expand it’s remit to include the University’s Special Collections.

Toddler Time will run as usual on Friday mornings throughout September and will then from October 3rd will take place next door in the Learning Hub on the first Friday of each month.

There will be one family workshop, The Our Country Lives Big Draw, during half term.

You can find details of the Our Country Lives events programme here.

How can I get involved?

Once the project is up and running there will be lots of new volunteering opportunities and community projects to take part in. Our Volunteer Coordinator will keep you updated via the Volunteers’ Voice posts. In the meantime, we are launching a Family Forum and a Youth Forum this Autumn. If you’d like to find out more, call Rob Davies on 0118 378 8660 or email merlevents@reading.ac.uk

 

 

Weekly what’s on: Sept 15th to 21st

You can find details of all our forthcoming events at on our What’s On pages, but here’s what’s happening at MERL this week…

 

GGuided touruided tours
Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, 3-3.45pm
Free, booking advisable but not essential
Let our fully trained tour guides tell you the stories behind the objects on display and visit the object store to see MERL’s hidden treasures.

 

 

 

jethro 8 cutout flipToddler Time
Friday 19th, 10am, £2 per child, drop-in
Join us for songs and rhymes followed by a craft activity inspired by the Museum’s collections and garden.

 

 

 

 

HP chocolateMERL at the Berkshire Show
20th & 21st September. Click here for ticket details.
Come and find MERL staff and volunteers on the University of Reading’s chocolate-themed stand at the Royal Berkshire Show this weekend. As part of the Our Country Lives project, we’ll be exploring perceptions of the countryside using chocolate box images as a starting point. Families will be able to make and decorate a chocolate with us and then join University colleagues to make something to put it in!

 

 

 

2Conservation project
There is currently a unique opportunity to see one of our 1951 Festival of Britain wall hangings. Conservation work is currently underway in the Museum gallery to prepare them for display as part of MERL’s redevelopment project. Don’t miss this rare opportunity during your visit to see detailed conservation work taking place and to catch a glimpse of these incredible pieces which have not been seen in over 60 years. Read more about the project in our conservation blogs

 

 

 

greenhamCollecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Until Autumn 2014
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ recent post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.

Weekly what’s on: Sept 8th to 14th

You can find details of all our forthcoming events at on our What’s On pages, but here’s what’s happening at MERL this week…

Events

HOD2_MB_RGBHeritage Open Day tours
Thurs 11th, Fri 12th 11am & Sunday 14th, 3pm (house only)
Free, booking required
Join us for a free behind the scenes tour of our Victorian home and see some treasures in the archive and rare book stores.

Family Heritage Open Day tour
Saturday 13th, 3pm, free, booking required
For the first time we are inviting families to see what’s behind the scenes at MERL! Find out what’s in those parts of the Museum you’re not usually allowed to visit!

 

Guided tourGuided tours
Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, 3-3.45pm
Free, booking advisable but not essential
Let our fully trained tour guides tell you the stories behind the objects on display and visit the object store to see MERL’s hidden treasures.

 

 

 

jethro 8 cutout flipToddler Time
Friday, 10am, £2 per child, drop-in
Join us for songs and rhymes followed by a craft activity inspired by the Museum’s collections and garden.

 

 

 

 

2Conservation project
There is currently a unique opportunity to see one of our 1951 Festival of Britain wall hangings. Conservation work is currently underway in the Museum gallery to prepare them for display as part of MERL’s redevelopment project. Don’t miss this rare opportunity during your visit to see detailed conservation work taking place and to catch a glimpse of these incredible pieces which have not been seen in over 60 years. Read more about the project in our conservation blogs

 

 

 

 

greenhamCollecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Until Autumn 2014
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ recent post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.

Discovering the Landscape #6: Susan and Geoffrey Jellicoe catalogues now available online!

Written by Claire Wooldridge, Landscape Institute Library Officer

AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Drawing showing design for 1993 at Shute House, Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire

Drawings donated to the Landscape Institute by Geoffrey Jellicoe and the photographic collection of Susan Jellicoe are now catalogued and are available to search via our online catalogue and by collection in PDF format (Geoffrey Jellicoe, Susan Jellicoe).

These fantastic collections cover landscape architecture and landscape history across Europe and beyond.  Both Susan and Geoffrey Jellicoe were highly influential in the field of landscape architecture and played significant roles in the Institute of Landscape Architects (now the Landscape Institute) and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (Geoffrey acting as president of both institutions at different times from the later 1930s).

The drawing above is from the Geoffrey Jellicoe collection, a drawing showing his 1993 design for Shute House, Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire (AR JEL DO1 S2/20).

Below are a few examples from Susan Jellicoe’s photographic collection, include images of Venice (P JEL PH2/A/6/12), Cliveden (P JEL PH2/L/8/18 relating to our Nancy and Waldorf Astor material) and Geoffrey’s memorial to John F. Kennedy at Runnymede (P JEL PH2/L/8/64).

Susan Jellicoe, Venice, P JEL PH2 A_6_12

Susan Jellicoe, Venice, P JEL PH2 A_6_12

 

Susan Jellicoe, Cliveden, P JEL PH2 L_8_18

Susan Jellicoe, Cliveden, P JEL PH2 L_8_18

P JEL PH2 L_8_64

Susan Jellicoe, Runnymede, P JEL PH2 L_8_64

 

We are delighted these fantastic collections are now searchable!  Please direct any enquiries to merl@reading.ac.uk.

 

 

Conservation Diary 2: Repairing the damaged and dry

As promised, I am back with some more exciting and fresh updates. Good progress has been made!

The first week flew by in the setting up of and preliminary preparations for the conservation project of the first 1951 wall hanging. In the second week I felt myself drifting off far away, swayed by the humming sound of the controlled variable suction vacuum cleaner as I continued to rhythmically surface-clean both the front and back of the wall hanging. I felt completely in tune with myself. I pictured myself in the beautiful countryside of Kent and imagined how farming life would have been back in the 1950s, helped by how the resist-dyed wall hanging has a plethora of so many vibrant colours.

As the conservation of the wall hanging progressed, two further tests were undertaken – the first to determine the dye fastness of every different colour used in the hanging when exposed to moisture – the second to assess the effectiveness of humidification treatment in relaxing creases…

1

Kate is performing the humidification test and the dye fastness test of every different colour

 

Then, Kate also examined the two holes in the wall hanging. The first was a small square like shaped with frayed edges shown below in the picture on one of the orange Oast Houseroofsand the other was a bigger hole on the green patch in a more elongated shape.

2

Conservator Kate Gill examining an area of loss in the hanging

 

3

The conservator is making a template on one area of loss in preparation of the conservation support

 

There were some old repairs on the centre seam which were causing damage to the wall hanging. Kate thoroughly examined its condition and decided that the best treatment to preserve it was to remove the old repairs.

4

Detail of damaging repairs along centre seam

 

I shall leave you to digest the same excitement that I felt while assisting on this unique project.

Watch this space for more interesting insights into the conservation of the 1951 wall hangings… until then you are very welcome to come and meet us at the Museum of English Rural Life where you can see the real action happening!

Weekly what’s on: 26th to 31st August

You can find details of all our forthcoming events at on our What’s On pages, but here’s what’s happening at MERL this week…

Events

jethro 8 cutout flipSummer holiday family fun!

For details of all our events and activities for families this summer, download our new MERL families guide or visit the Family events page.

As well as the ‘Make and takes’ and workshops listed below, there’s garden games, a rat trail, dressing up and more to entertain children of all ages any time you visit.

 

Apple pompomWeekly make and takes
26th to 31st Aug – Apple pom poms
£1 per child, drop-in

 

 

 

 

familytourguidesFamily tour
Tuesday 12th August, 2.30pm
Free, drop-in
Join Dolly the Dairymaid and Maggie the Thatcher for a fun, interactive 30-minute tour of the Museum and hear stories of what it used to be like to live and work in the countryside.

 

 

Guided tourGuided tours
Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, 3-3.45pm
Free, booking advisable but not essential
Let our fully trained tour guides tell you the stories behind the objects on display and visit the object store to see MERL’s hidden treasures.

 

 

Toddler Breadmaking (19)Breadmaking workshop
29th August, 10-11am, 11.30-12.30pm, 1.30-2.30pm, 3-4pm
£3 per child, Book, Suitable for families with children aged 5+
Be inspired by the MERL collections adn make your very own dough to take home and bake. If the weather allows, you’ll also be able to have a go at making your own butter!

 

 

 

Exhibitions

DennyReading University College: WW1 and beyond
Last chance to see! Tuesday 1st April to 31 August, 2014
Staircase hall, MERL
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times
Funded by Arts Council England as part of the Reading Connections project, and inspired by the University of Reading Memorial Book and Clock Tower memorial, this exhibition reveals the stories of the men and women with connections to the then Reading University College, who fell during the First World War. The exhibition also looks at the theme of War in a broader sense with interesting items from MERL and the Special Collections relating to other conflicts.
Part of our WW1 programme

 

greenhamCollecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Until Autumn 2014
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ recent post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.

 

Conservation Diary: Week 1 on our 1951 Wall Hanging

My name is Nitisha Ramrekha-Heeramun and over the next few weeks  I will be blogging about the conservation of two large and colourful resist-dyed textile wall hangings produced by the renowned artist, Michael O’Connell, for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

I started volunteering at the Museum of English Rural Life in August 2013 under the supervision of Fred the MERL conservator, during which time I have picked up valuable practical conservation skills and knowledge. I feel privileged to have the opportunity of working closely with our contracted specialist textile conservator, Kate Gill, and assisting with the conservation of the wall hangings.  Professionally, I have a legal background, but my real passion is to preserve and care for our cultural heritage and I aspire to have a fulfilling career in this field.

The idea of blogging about the conservation of the two wall hangings came about when I felt the need to make you, the audience, re-live the experience of being in such close proximity with and handling such well-guarded artefacts. I hope that you will enjoy reading through this blog as much as I enjoy writing about it!

I was thrown completely in at the deep end on the very first day! It was absolutely fascinating to marvel at the splendour and magnificence of the first wall hanging as Fred and Kate carefully unwrapped it on this huge white table.

Our very large workspace is made from 30 individual tables.

Our very large workspace is made from 30 individual tables.

There are seven wall hangings in the collection and each measure just under seven by four meters. I could not help but think of the countless hours and effort gone into the creation of such a beautiful textile. Everyone stared in awe from the first floor of the gallery from where you can have a panoramic view of the wall hanging. The hanging depicts the county of Kent.

The aim of the conservation project is to make the hanging sufficiently stable for display.  Following conservation, the hanging will be hung by means of Velcro™ and supported on a sloping display board protected behind glass within a bespoke display case. A lot of work will need to be done before this can safely happen.

A year ago Kate carried out an initial condition assessment and suggested an outline conservation treatment plan.

The Kent wall hanging was chosen as the first because it had more problem areas, like an inappropriate early repaired seam, which caused damage and two small holes with frayed edges.

Kent unveiled!

Kent unveiled!

So, we were all set to go! I could not help feeling the rush of adrenaline down my spine as I was about to become physically involved in the conservation and preservation of such a massive piece of art.

 

The initial preparation stages

Due to sixty years of being stored rolled up the textile was severely distorted and creased. Firstly, Kate carefully aligned the hanging as best as possible to the edge of the table and thoroughly examined the fabric and condition of the hanging; documenting and noting down areas of weakness and analysing and further evaluating the different treatment options available.

I learnt quite quickly that forward-planning is crucial in this line of work, especially when treating such a large object – it felt like having a plan of attack on a battle field! You have to think of every possibility in detail and most importantly, consider the best and worst case scenarios that could occur and be prepared for it! This initial stage of forward planning, although time-consuming, is of paramount importance and also allows for the workload to be streamlined at the later stages.

First things first… Kate Gill, establishes a registration point along the uneven edge of the hanging to determine the positioning of the Velcro™ support mechanism.

 

First things first… Kate Gill establishes a registration point along the uneven edge of the hanging to determine the positioning of the Velcro™ support mechanism.

 

3

 

An image of the hanging was marked out in one metre squares to help keep track of progress.

 

4

 

Following this, the hanging was surface cleaned on both sides using a variable controlled suction vacuum cleaner…a process that took most of my whole week. Ouch, my poor knees!

 

Keep tuned for more on the conservation of this hanging! It is also free to view the Hangings as they are being conserved within the gallery.

 

Weekly what’s on: 18 to 24th August

You can find details of all our forthcoming events at on our What’s On pages, but here’s what’s happening at MERL this week…

Events

jethro 8 cutout flipSummer holiday family fun!

For details of all our events and activities for families this summer, download our new MERL families guide or visit the Family events page.

As well as the ‘Make and takes’ and workshops listed below, there’s garden games, a rat trail, dressing up and more to entertain children of all ages any time you visit.

 

An introduction to cooperage

Cooper_from_the_Farmers_Weekly_Collection,_MERL

  • 23 August
  • 3 – 4pm – talk
  • 4.15pm – visit the coopering section in the museum with the speaker
  • Free | Booking advisable but not essential

What is a Cooper and Cooperage? This talk by Marshall Scheetz, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, USA will introduce the historical importance of the cooperage industry in rural and urban England. Historian and Journeyman Cooper, Marshall Scheetz will make reference to tools and cooperage in the MERL collections along with images from his own research to describe the construction of a cask, the uses of cooperage and the training of a cooper from Apprentice through to Journeyman and Master.

Following the talk, join Marshall in the coopering section of the Museum to see the tools relating to the craft and watch a short video showing the process of making a cask.

 

Also:

2.15-2.55pm - You are invited to join a free guided tour of the museum, focussing on the craft collections.

See some examples of the projects Marshall works on day to day on his Instagram account  at http://instagram.com/marshallscheetz

- See more at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/merl/whatson/merl-specialevents.aspx#sthash.RuLBV5mU.dpuf

 

 

Garden-Cress-in-Egg-Container-after-15apr11-600x450Weekly make and takes
19th to 24th Aug – Cress egg boxes!
£1 per child, drop-in

 

 

 

Guided tourGuided tours
Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays, 3-3.45pm
Free, booking advisable but not essential
Let our fully trained tour guides tell you the stories behind the objects on display and visit the object store to see MERL’s hidden treasures.

 

 

 

Felt cut-outFabulous felt-making workshop
22nd August, 10-11am, 11.30-12.30pm, 1.30-2.30pm, 3-4pm
£3 per child, Book, Suitable for families with children aged 5+
Be inspired by the MERL collections and create your very own felt wall-hanging to take home. With artist, Claire Smith

 

 

 

Exhibitions

DennyReading University College: WW1 and beyond
Tuesday 1st April to 31 August, 2014
Staircase hall, MERL
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times
Funded by Arts Council England as part of the Reading Connections project, and inspired by the University of Reading Memorial Book and Clock Tower memorial, this exhibition reveals the stories of the men and women with connections to the then Reading University College, who fell during the First World War. The exhibition also looks at the theme of War in a broader sense with interesting items from MERL and the Special Collections relating to other conflicts.
Part of our WW1 programme

 

greenhamCollecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Until Autumn 2014
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ recent post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.

 

A Day in the Life of a MERL-man…

Written by Tom Hewitt, MERL Intern.

My name is Tom Hewitt and I’m currently working as an intern at MERL. The title of my post may be somewhat misleading, as I’ve actually been here for 40 days (and 40 nights!) already and have just been set the scary task of writing my first ever blog post.

Tom celebrating #YorkshireDay

Tom celebrating #YorkshireDay

FAQ

1)      What are you doing? (Why are you even here?)

Of course one of the first questions people ask, and it’s a hard question to ask without sounding rude! My week is split 3 ways, with 2 key aims: to develop MERL’s online presence and to help with researching for the new galleries. Two days a week I work on social media and marketing, tweeting, planning, and evaluating our social media impact, and 1 day a week I help plan and create video blogs and an accompanying schedule! For the remaining 2 weekdays, I research for the galleries as well as scanning interesting photos and indexing journals. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time handling objects and perusing the stores! Aside from that, there are plenty of meetings and of course mandatory coffee and cake time – or as it would be called in Sweden, Fika.

2)      What are you going to do next?

Here at MERL, I’ll be carrying on with similar tasks, as well as helping to organise some fun events in the Museum, quite possibly involving model railways and remote controlled cars! Beyond that – who knows! It seems to be the most common question for all students or graduates, and must be one of the most avoided questions of all time (so that is precisely what I’m going to do here…)!

Tom has also been enjoying the MERL tradition of regular cake days..

Tom has also been enjoying the MERL tradition of regular cake days..

3)      How are you finding your Internship?

I’m really enjoying working at MERL, particularly because the staff are so friendly and lovely to work with. It’s very interesting working with people with different interests and personalities, and different outlooks on various aspects of the Museum. The research side of things is fascinating too (as a History graduate, it would be somewhat out of character were I to say otherwise!), and the social media work is comfortingly familiar, but actually offers just as much if not more of a challenge than the research.

4)      Is it what you expected?

To be completely honest, I was a mixture of nervous, excited and apprehensive when I started. Would I be any good at my job? Would it be exciting – was there actually anything in the Museum’s collection I might be interested in, and could I put up with this marketing business? Well, I actually think that the answer to the latter two questions was no – until I started working here that is. Since then I’ve found tons of items in the collections that interest me, and the challenge provided by the social media marketing is actually quite stimulating and interesting, not at all as boring as I worried it might be!

 

So I suppose my closing message has to be a cheesy one – don’t write something off before trying it out, you never know how exciting something might be until you try it out.

Tremendous trees & the science of surveying

Earlier in the year, Project Archivist, Nancy Fulford went on a training event organised by RE:LEAF in London, a partnership campaign led by the Mayor to protect the capital’s trees and encourage individual Londoners, businesses and organisations to plant more trees. Nancy discovered that there are several national and local initiatives to survey trees. Inspired by her findings, Nancy decided to share her new skills with colleagues and visitors to MERL by organising the Tremendous Trees event on Saturday 16th August.

The University of Reading has over 8000 trees across the Whiteknights and London Road campuses, residential sites and here at MERL. The University’s Grounds Team looks after our trees and regularly surveys them to check growth and health, and earmarks trees that may pose a risk to the public, such as those with branches damaged by strong winds or weakened by dying wood.

Across the country trees are being surveyed and the results added to websites such as Treezilla and OPAL (Open Air Laboratories). Treezilla is a citizen science initiative which aims to create a ‘monster map’ of British trees. Anyone can sign up and start inputting data about the trees in their local area. Similarly OPAL is encouraging people to conduct a tree health survey.

Trees provide us with a range of amazing benefits which we cannot obviously see. These benefits, often referred to as ecosystem services, can be calculated and translated into a monetary value using the results of the survey. We are surveying some of the trees in the MERL garden to add to Treezilla’s monster map and see exactly what they are doing for us! The benefits calculated by Treezilla are:

  • Greenhouse gas benefits

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by trees and oxygen released, giving environmental and health benefits.

  • Air quality benefits

Various pollutants are absorbed by leaves, improving the quality of the air and in turn improving the social environment we live in.

  • Energy benefits

Shade from trees helps imrove climate conditions inside buildings so that less energy is required to cool or heat areas of buildings.

  • Water benefits

Leaves hold rainwater, limiting the amount of  water run-off which can pollute our water systems.

Additional benefits provided by trees include aesthetic value, noise reduction and general wellbeing.

Here’s one of the trees we have surveyed in the MERL garden and the results:

Tree

Sweetgum
Greenhouse gas benefits: 527.7 kg CO₂ reduced = £12.66 saved
Water benefits: 1,725.3 litres conserved = £2.87 saved
Energy benefits: 1,339.5 kWh conserved = £53.58 saved
Air quality benefits: 2.7kgs = £10.19 saved
Total annual savings = £79.30

If you’d like to learn more about the science of tree surveying and have a go yourself, come along to the free Tremendous Trees event this Saturday between 1 and 5pm. You will be able to book on to free tree surveying workshops at 1.30pm and 3.30pm on arrival. The event is suitable for all the family, with a leaf-rubbing craft activity as well as the opportunity to see a display of objects relating to forestry and tree-related items from the MERL library and archives. You’ll also be able to mark our favourite local trees on our very own map…

Tremendous Trees map

For more information, visit the Special events page on the MERL website