Discovering the Landscape #21: 2000 books now catalogued!

Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian: Landscape Institute

2000 items from the Landscape Institute library have now been integrated into our MERL library collection.  All of these books have been cleaned, processed, catalogued and labelled and are available in our open access library.  A small number of rare books received from the Landscape Institute have also been catalogued into our closed access MERL LIBRARY RESERVE collection.

Copy of Gibson's 'Brenda Colvin' in our open access MERL library

Copy of Gibson’s ‘Brenda Colvin’ in our open access MERL library

In addition, a list of journals in the LI collections has been complied and made available online, alongside a guide to searching the collections.  You can access our catalogue here.

Selection of Shell Guide covers

Selection of Shell Guide covers

These titles complement our existing holdings, particularly our MERL library books on topics such as gardening, land policy and the environment, this new material also prompts us to consider our MERL collections afresh.   The landscape is the backdrop to all aspects of rural life, but must also be seen as a worthy subject of consideration in its own right.

Why not visit our Reading Room and take a look….

Our Reading Room

Our Reading Room

We’re very grateful to our library volunteers who have been a great help with the processing and labelling of this collection, alongside working to create an index of articles in the LI’s institutional journal.  There are still many hundreds of books to go!  Please contact us on if you would like more information.

Explore Your Archive: Rats in the archives

Professor of Social and Cultural History at Leeds Trinity University, Karen Sayer is our Gwyn E. Jones Fellow exploring rat control in British agriculture. She’s spent a lot of time looking for rats in our collections…

The MERL archive is full of interesting animal records; as you might expect, there are papers, pamphlets and books on livestock (cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and chickens), the animals used for draught power and advice literature and information about pests. The library alone provides an incredibly rich resource. But, there is also an incredible collection of photographs from the Farmer and Stockbreeder archive (among others), and a vast array of more than 800 film reels that range from the 1920s to 2005 across several collections, many with animal subjects. If we take The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) collection, there are 460 films from the period 1930-1989. These include American examples of information films like ‘Sanitation Techniques in Rat Control’ (US Army Communicable Disease Centre & US Public Health Service Federal Security Agency, 1950), on limiting rat numbers through the correct storage and collection of waste, and British examples such as ‘Feeding Habits of Rats’ (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Infestation Control Division, c.1950-1959), which records brown and black rats under observation.

Sometimes our research allows us to ‘join the dots’ and, having chased various rat tales around the archive last year, it seems very likely that ‘The Feeding Habits of Rats’ actually records the work of Dr S. K. Kon and Dr Kathleen Henry at National Institute for Research in Dairying. That Institute was reported on in 1938 by the Farmers’ Weekly and the two researchers are shown in a photograph for the article with the following caption: ‘Feeding experiments on some 400 rats. This is one of the interesting jobs carried out by Dr S. K. Kon, head of the Physiology and Biochemistry Department, here seen with Dr Kathleen Henry, the biochemist.’ The photograph here became part of a photo spread of 11 images describing the Institute’s departments and roles titled ‘Research and Advice’ (Farmers’ Weekly, 9 Dec 1938, pp. 30-31).



While I hunting for everything ratty, I came across what has become my favourite object: an extra-large tin of ‘Ratsticker’ “the Non-Poisonous Rat Catching Compound” manufactured by B. Winstone & Sons Ltd., 100/101 Shoe Lane, London, 1920. (Object No. 2008/64)

Ratsticker tin

Ratsticker was a glue designed to trap rats and mice by sticking them in place, so that they died (it claims of the back of the tin) “quickly” their “death being caused by shock”. It came in small, medium and large tins for (1/-, 1/9, 2/6), and claimed to be “a great improvement on the custom of poisoning which takes four hours to kill.” A rather attractive tin, a little like that for Golden Syrup, illustrated in brown and gold, lettered with Art-Nouveau details and a serif font, it nonetheless has a gloriously gory image on the back of four dead vermin, stuck down next to a piece of bait. At no point does any rat control leaflet from the period suggest that glue be used, though there is an advert for Ratsticker in M. Hovell, Rats and How to Destroy Them (1924) a copy of whic I found in the MERL Library.

Ratsticker ad

The Chemist and Druggist also carried adverts for it (Chemist and Druggist, 12th May 1923, and as David Drummond says in his wonderful British Mouse Traps and Their Makers, (2008) B. Winstone & Sons were not alone in making it in the 1920s suggesting a demand. Still, you’re left wondering: did it ever work? What actually happened?


Explore Your Archive: Interview with our Photographic Assistant

Continuing her exploration of the world of archiving, Whitney talks to Photographic Assistant, Caroline Benson about her role.

1. What is your specific role within archiving and what aspects interest you the most?
My role is Photographic Assistant and I deal with all the photographic inquiries and income generation. I licence images for use in books, magazines, TV use, & websites. I also deal with the engineering drawings & these are copied and sent out all over the world for steam enthusiasts working on their engines.

CB interview 5

2. How has your role as a Photographic assistant evolved or changed because of the digital era and how have you adapted to that?
When we first started there were no images attached to the catalogue at all. People used to order a black and white print and we used to post them. Some people still want prints but they’re done digitally. We also used to send images on CDs or DVDs if they were going to published or put on websites but this is now often done through file transfer.

CB interview 7

4. What changes do you think you will see in the field of archiving or more so specifically collecting and storing photographic images?
We’re into the realms of hoping we can get photographs digitally archived. That hasn’t happened yet but hopefully we will continue collecting in the future and that’s how we’ll receive them.

5. What skills do you need to do your job?
Time management is key, especially now with the digital age where people want things ‘now’. At the moment I’m the only one working with the photographs so I have to juggle what’s coming in and make sure I don’t neglect other projects.

6. Have you come across any photographs that have been memorable for a particular reason?
Every day there is something. They might not be superb photographically. It might just be a small print but it’s showing you something different and there are some wonderful collections.

CB interview 1

7. What are you working on this week ?
I’m working on supplying images for a publication. The client has requested some photographs and posters so I’ve found those and they’re going to be copied. We’ll be licensing those images out to them.

8. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I like taking inquiries in. I get asked some obscure questions about collections I haven’t dealt with before. It’s good to talk to them about what they want, refine the search and then suggest possible images to make their ideas work. I do a bit of research and hope the customer likes what I find. It’s really good if the pictures haven’t been used or promoted before and they decide to use them. Then when I see them in a book or on television it’s brilliant.

10. What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I suppose it’s the pressure of time and getting things done when they need to be as I’ve often got other duties in the reading room. However there are always ways around it.

11. How has your job changed since the museum closed for redevelopment?
I’ve had some extra hours to work on the galleries and that’s been really interesting. There are going to be images in the museum that people haven’t seen before. I also worked on the old galleries, so it’s very interesting watching the process this time. It’s going to be different and I’m very excited about the material they are going to use.

CB interview 412. How do you preserve images and make sure they are good quality?
I think when digitisation first came onto the scene it was thought if you digitised something that was enough but we now know that’s not the case. You should also conserve the original material. We have glass plates from 1880’s which are perfect. You can get a superb digital image from scanning. The first volunteer project I was involved with was to preserve some glass print negatives. They were put in four flap enclosures and into archival boxes. We couldn’t have done that without the volunteers.

14. Does social media help or hinder you from doing your job?
It is a good thing knowing that our images are out there as we want people to know what we have. However there is a problem that once images are on websites people think they are free to use and they’re not. We try to generate income from the images so that is a concern.

15. Does MERL ever publish books on photographic images?
Yes, Jonathan Brown , John Creasey, Sadie Ward & Roy Brigden, amongst others, were members of staff using the photographs from here in their books.


Find out more about the MERL image library and how to access the photographic collections.

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Jean Young

One of the many topics we will be exploring in the museum’s new displays is rural healthcare. Our latest blog by Abbey School students focuses on the story of a 1940s District Nurse, Jean Young.


Jean Young was a District Nurse/Midwife. This ambiguous job title in fact entirely sums up the role; for the first few weeks they were a “nurse” to every new baby in the village, then became a “health visitor”, visiting only once a month, yet also addressed the wounds of the elderly. Jean Young was the “Queen Nurse” for East Garston and the 25 surrounding miles which she attended in her black Ford 10 which was provided by the Nursing Association.

A day in the life

This seems like it was one of those jobs, like a business owner of today, that you sort of take home with you. Every morning Jean began by making up her bag in the ‘glory room’ and starting out on the job in hand at 9. However, this time alters depending on who she had to see; she might leave earlier to give insulin to help a diabetic, so they can have breakfast at a decent hour. Usually dressed in a dull-blue drill frock with a trim belt and tiny turn-down white collar, black shoes and stockings, she altered her outfit depending on the job she had to do. A navy blue overcoat, white overall, mask and peaked cap for maternity and an apron and starched cap for nursing duties. Every day Jean would leave a slate on the door which showed her movements of the day, so if someone in the village came to her house with a problem, they would know where to find her. After a busy morning and then lunch, she would relax in the garden; within reach of the phone of course. Queen Nurse would be back out in the evening ’til late, ensuring everyone in the village was happy and healthy.


Her Role as a Midwife

Jean had 35-40 mothers attend her clinic in East Garston (and the surrounding 25 miles), with babies from 1 month to 4 years and 11 months of age. She played a very important and prominent role in the children’s lives until they were 5 years of age:

  • For the first 2 weeks of the baby’s life – Jean was the nurse for the baby, keeping a very close eye on both mother and baby
  • From 3 weeks until 1 year of age – Jean became the ‘health visitor’, visiting mother and baby once a month for a quick check up.
  • From 1 to 5 years of age – Jean visited less regularly, only once every 3 months
  • From the age of 5 year old – The children now attend school, which will take care of their health, though she still keeps a close eye on ‘her children’

Jean also has to always be prepared as a midwife, and so in her bag she carried “everything for producing a new citizen”:

  • Blood pressure apparatus
  • Test tube
  • Delivery case, lined with washable linen
  • Gas and air
  • Towels

Here is a quote from Jean herself, telling of one of her more extraordinary experiences as a midwife – “Here [in the countryside] I cope with everything, including fire and flood. Just recently one of our babies arrived in a tiny front parlour because the road was under water and the mother couldn’t get to the hospital. Two days later that parlour was under 4 feet of water.”

Her Role as a Nurse

Although she did all her own paperwork through the night and woke early, her job was described as being quite glamorous. She was said to have “as many wardrobe changes as a movie star” and she drove a “shining black ford 10” supplied by the nursing association, and her maximum salary was £435 per year.

Her nurse’s bag was different to that of her midwife role. It contained:

  • Dressings
  • Ointments
  • Dettol
  • Swabs
  • The ’14 day’ attache case

It can definitely be said that her genuine care and dedication for her patients was clear in her work.

By Gemma and Kate


The students used the following items from the MERL library for their research:

The Farmers Weekly XXVI Jan-June 1947 (May 16th 1947). MERL LIBRARY PER OPEN ACCESS–PER 1934- (available in the open access library next to the reading room)

If you want to explore this story further, the Farmers Weekly journals can be consulted in our reading room. Find out here about visiting the reading room.


Explore Your Archive: Animating the Evacuee Archive

Sonya Chenery is currently undertaking a PhD project – funded as part of the university’s Collections-Based Research programme – to engage with, intervene in and animate aspects of this archive within a range of publicly accessible spaces. We are delighted that Sonya has agreed to share an insight into her work in progress as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, as an example of creative work inspired by archives.

Being part of the University of Reading’s  Collections-Based Research Programme has given me the opportunity to work with a fascinating collection of material relating to the evacuation of children during World War II. The Evacuee Archive includes a large number of full written accounts by former evacuees remembering their experiences during the conflict. I am currently developing a mixed-media installation for my practice-led PhD project ‘Animating The Evacuee Archive’, with the Department of Film, Theatre & Television. This video and audio clip reveals some of the elements I am working on for the installation.

The video footage is based on some of the rituals and characters who appear in these accounts, including a description of an elderly lady who would  cook meals in a cauldron by the fire on Sundays:

‘She was a petite woman, with a ready smile and a hooked nose. All this, combined with her black clothing, her widow’s weeds, gave her a witch-like quality’ (D EVAC A/1/18).

My decision to film the performers in silhouette is intended to draw attention to the fact that it is a reinterpretation of a memory, rather than a re-enactment striving for verisimilitude. In the completed installation, I want to project these silhouettes so that they inhabit the space with the audience.

The audio is created from my own field recordings which refer to the many accounts of evacuees’ journeys in steam trains, with the sound of aircraft overhead. One of the evacuee accounts refers to the first night away from home having been spent sleeping on the floor of a village hall, and being awakened by someone playing Land of Hope and Glory.  I recorded myself attempting to play this tune on the piano from memory, and interspersed the field recordings with snatches of the melody, in order to further explore notions of memory, and ways in which performance can engage with acts of remembering. 

Find out more about Sonya Chenery and her work


You can explore The Evacuee Archive in the reading room at the Museum of English Rural Life by appointment.

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Kathleen Hale

OrlandoOur next blog from the students of The Abbey School explores the fascinating story of Kathleen Hale.

If you were a child in the 1930s, you might well have ended your day with a bedtime story by Kathleen Hale. Her Orlando the Marmalade Cat books captivated many children with their bright colours and entertaining stories, setting a new standard for children’s book. But she didn’t stop at children’s books.

Kathleen was born in 1898 in Lanarkshire, however she was brought up in Manchester. Unfortunately by the age of 5 her father had died so along with her brother and sister she went to live with her grandfather whilst her mother carried on her father’s work. As a child she was quite rebellious and recalled spending most of her lessons sitting outside classrooms, she was also very creative –  ‘whilst seeming to join in the hymns in the little church in Yorkshire…she would actually be singing her own song about adventures of a little pig’ –  showing her passion for writing starting at a young age!

In 1915, she gained a scholarship at Reading University to study fine art, where she was a student until 1917. She was very hard working and people recalled that she ‘worked very hard late into the evening being turned out of the studio by the caretaker when locking up.’ In addition to her studies whilst living at St. Andrews hall, she spent time at the University’s farm and often escaped through the ground floor window at 6 am to cycle to the farm getting back in time for prayers, for 6 pence an hour to supplement her scholarship, showing just how hard working and dedicated she was throughout her life.

Hale married Douglas MacLean in 1926. She claimed that she ‘broke all the rules of decent behavior.’ This is due to her marriage being unconventional as it was suggested by her husband’s father Dr John Maclean who had started a friendship with her whilst treating her but as the gap was too large to marry, suggested his son as a suitor.

The idea for her most famous piece of work came to her whilst on holiday in Italy with her husband where she saw a large woman at a lemonade stand calling out ‘Orlando’ and a small boy with bright orange hair ‘the colour of marmalade’ turned up, and the idea for Orlando the marmalade cat was born. She first decided to write as there weren’t many available children’s books at the time and was encouraged to write the captivating stories she told her son. The stories were very popular during the war time as their bright colours and stories of normal families raised morale, showing just how effective and treasured they were. Orlando’s character was based on her husband and many incidents in the book were taken from family experiences.

The first book was published in 1938 by Country Life after many rejections, after this Kathleen continued to write many following stories of Orlando’s adventures for years to come.
Hale had 2 sons and moved to rural Oxfordshire in 1961. During her time there she received received an OBE in 1976 and remained here until her death at aged 101 in the year 2000.

By Mahnoor and Anisha



The students used the following items for their research:

Orlando (the marmalade cat) buys a farm. CHILDREN’S COLLECTION FOLIO–823.9-HAL

Orlando’s country peepshow. CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–823.9-HAL

A slender reputation : an autobiography / Kathleen Hale. 823.912-HAL (available in our open access library next to the reading room)

If you want to explore this story further, these items can be consulted in our reading room by appointment – for more information click here.

Explore Your Archive: Interview with an archivist

We asked Whitney, one of our volunteers, to find out about the different roles carried out by archivists at MERL and the Special Collections. She started by interviewing Cataloguing and Projects Archivist, Sharon Maxwell, who joined us just a couple of months ago.


  1. What does cataloguing entail?

I’m trying to make the collections accessible to the public. Collections arrive in various state, with a brief list or nothing at all, with no way into knowing what’s in hundreds of boxes. So I sort the material out, produce a list for use in the Reading room or online. It’s a bit like an Argos catalogue so researchers can go very quickly to the part of the collection they are interested in.

  1. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

For me personally, it’s seeing a new box as you never know what you’re going to find. It’s a bit like Christmas. I always get really excited! Yesterday I came across a First World War diary from 1916 that I wasn’t really expecting to find. It’s also really nice to see users get excited and have a ‘eureka moment’ in the reading room when you’ve managed to find something for them that they’ve been looking for and it really helps to their research. It helps you see the point of your work.

  1. What is the most challenging part of your job?

We have to be a lot more out there now and engage with the public and that can be quite difficult if you came into the role because you liked to work behind the scenes! So presenting isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally to me but I quite enjoy it especially if it’s about the material that I’ve been working on and when I see people respond to my enthusiasm. Archivists traditionally used to sit in their ivory towers and just catalogue the material. In the very early days I don’t think they even worried whether anyone was going to see it! But obviously now that’s not the case!

  1. How do you think digital media and social media have changed the role of the archivist?

We are all encouraged to look for possible stories. When I find nice pictures I think about twitter or maybe a blog post. I will use social media to publicise the new things I have catalogued. So things we’ve maybe had in the stores for years are now hopefully more accessible because they’re catalogued. Though it can be difficult to maintain the momentum on social media when you’ve got so many other things to do but it is a quick way of getting information out there.

  1. What have you been up to this week?

I’m currently  juggling three different collections. I have spent time finishing off cataloguing some farm diaries. This was a small collection, just a couple of boxes of farm diaries dating from the late 1700’s through to the early 1800’s. An uncle and his nephew ran a farm and these diaries contained general accounts but also day to day things like ‘cut the wheat today’ or ‘planted the potatoes’. I was doing a little bit of labelling and conservation. I have also been working through the University history collection at the external store. The last couple of days I’ve been working on the papers of landscape architect Maryann Thompson, checking what we’ve got and creating a quick list of contents.

Beale family farm diaries

Beale family farm diaries

  1. How are farm diaries preserved over a long period of time and who is in charge of keeping them?

From what I can understand these were in the family for quite a long time.  The local history society bought them at auction and they obviously decided that the diaries would be best placed here to be looked after. They had little notes and all sorts in the side pockets of the diary as well; there were letters, bills, workings out and accounts. It’s really personal. As archivists we do get to go into that personal world. It helps if you’re nosey as well!

  1. What do you like about working at MERL and is different to other places you’ve worked?

I particularly chose to come here because this role had cataloguing at its core and as an archivist you’re often pulled in a lot of different directions, running a public service in the reading room, and managing staff.  I wanted to be able to focus on cataloguing. Also I’ve not been able to work before with an archive that has an object collection and a library as well. So you’ve got the whole story here. It’s just lovely to have access to all of that professional expertise as well.

It’s a lovely team here. A lot of archivists work on their own in quite small teams so it’s nice to actually have a bigger team to talk to and bounce ideas off.

  1. Have you picked up tips from other colleagues yet?

I’ve only been here 2 months. I think I will pick up a lot on the conservation side because we have Nitisha and Fred working on conservation in the museum. I have started to talk to colleagues about the art collection and the object collection. I am benefitting from the fact that the other archivists have been here for quite a long time. Their knowledge of the collection is phenomenal. There’s a lot of stuff here and I don’t know where to start with some of the enquiries, so it’s a real help.

  1. Do you have any tips or advice for young people that want a role in a museum?

I definitely would think about working with archives. Young people might think they don’t want to just deal with paper, but archives cover all different formats, including sound and film. They’ve all got real issues with preservation and long-term access. With digital records and the internet, what are the archives of the future going to be? We’ve got love letters and things like that here but how many of us write those now? Facebook pages are the diaries and scrapbooks of the future and how are we going to look after those?

I would say get in and volunteer in different archives – business archives, Local Authorities’ collections, Special Collections as they are all quite different. Volunteering can help you decide whether it’s for you.

  1. I didn’t know there was so much to the role of an archivist

In the past we have been quite bad at getting out there and telling people what we do. People may know what curators or librarians do but still struggle to know what we do. My friends think I just file stuff. I guess social media means that’s changing but it’s not a natural aspect of our profession but now we are trying to show there’s a lot more to it.


Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Mary Wondrausch

The Museum of English Rural Life is very fortunate to have close links with country potter, Mary Wondrausch. Our latest blog written by students from The Abbey School, focuses on her fascinating story.

When the lovely staff at the Museum English of Rural Life told us we would be researching Mary Wondrausch as part of their Our Country Lives project, we were very excited. As a group of four aspiring historians from the Abbey School in Reading, we were eager to get to grips with the task and eagerly imagined ourselves searching through the archives for information on some mysterious figure from way back in the past. We were surprised, therefore, when we learned that Mary Wondrausch is still very much alive!

Mary Wondrausch at work

Mary Wondrausch at work, August 2006. This photo will feature in one of the new MERL galleries.

So who is Mary Wondrausch, and why are her life and work significant and interesting? Well, first of all, she is a potter. In fact, she is not only a very successful and creative potter, but also an artist, gardener and wonderful cook. As a potter, her inspiration comes from the 17th Century and the work of Thomas Toft, and she has described herself as ‘exceptionally earthy’, as she works in slipware with red clay. In 1975, she set up her own poetry workshop in Godalming, and later moved it to Brickfields in 1984, from where she still works and sells her poetry. At one point, the house was used to host her residential pottery courses with the impressive gardens of the house opened to the public; nowadays she focuses her strength into pottery and into revising her book ‘Mary Wondrausch in Slipware’. In addition to this she has exhibited in many galleries; is a fellow of the CPA and has work in London’s Victoria and Albert museum, and in 2000 she received an OBE for services to the arts. Over the years she has also been researching and assimilating archival materials on Dorothy Hartley and writing her biography. Quite an impressive list of achievements!

The story of Mary’s personal life was equally as interesting as the details we discovered about her work. More details about Mary’s personal life and work were published in a Japanese gardening journal.  Here she revealed the technique and method she used to make slipware, her signature type of pottery. From this source we were able to gain a more personal view of Mary; for example, that she grows herbs in her garden to make tea, her favourite being lemon balm and dill. Furthermore, on a more personal note, Mary goes on to talk about her early life from which we gain that when her Polish husband left her, she used skill in poetry to make a living and care for her children.

It can definitely be said that Mary Wondrausch is a fascinating woman with a strong will and plenty of determination. Her skill in pottery, incorporating traditional techniques with a modern outlook, combines with her artistic spirit and dedication to hard work and perseverance, making her one of the most interesting figures discovered in the Museum of English Rural Life.

This has definitely been an eye-opening experience, showing us the extensive work that goes into investigating and presenting historical figures and objects, and has given us a new curiosity and eagerness to take part in more historical work in the future!

By: Anna, Hadiqa, Jasleen, & Hannah


The students used the following items from the MERL archive for their research. If you want to explore this story further, the items can be consulted in our reading room by appointment.

Mary Wondrausch on slipware : a potters approach / Mary Wondrausch. MERL LIBRARY–5650-WON

Brickfields : my life at Brickfields as a potter, painter, gardener, writer and cook / by Mary Wondrausch. MERL LIBRARY–5650-WON

Rural crafts of England : a study of skilled workmanship / by K.S. Woods. MERL LIBRARY–5630-WOO

Rural Crafts Today: A film project at the Museum of English Rural Life 2006-8, film dairy by Roy Brigden

Rural Crafts today

Explore Your Archive: Reading Readers – Francesca

For our first Reading Readers post, Francesca shows us the wealth of material she has found in the CPRE (Council for the Preservation of Rural England) archive whilst researching for her PhD.

I am researching for a collections-based PhD entitled Preservationism and Development in Rural England, 1926-2016: Policy and Practice, focusing on the collection of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), held at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL).

Francesca taking a look through some CPRE exhibition panels (SR CPRE F)

Francesca taking a look through some CPRE exhibition panels (SR CPRE F)

Within my PhD I am researching the relationship between the CPRE, policy-making, rural development, and the wider preservationist movement. Interestingly, there are opposing arguments in this area; preservationism is either seen to have had a stranglehold on rural development, or conversely, that it has been powerless to stand in the way of ever increasing development. My research aims to explore these arguments, to place the work of the CPRE within the movement, to explore its influence on rural policy, and its impact on rural development. So who were the CPRE?


Originally called the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the CPRE was formed in 1926 by a group of prominent figures; among them the architects and planners Patrick Abercrombie and Guy Dawber. It was initially an umbrella group that brought together a number of organisations; notably The National Trust, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Commons, Footpaths and Open Spaces Society, and the Women’s Institute, among many others. With the purpose of ‘[securing] the protection of rural scenery and of the amenities of country towns and villages from disfigurement or injury’ (SR CPRE A/1), they aimed to both preserve the English countryside through extensive campaigning, and to educate the public about how to protect the countryside too. Through exhibitions & talks, leaflets & pamphlets, surveys & reports; they campaigned, lobbied, and informed.


Fantastic examples of such exhibitions can be seen in these 1930’s exhibition panels (SR CPRE F/1, SR CPRE F/11, SR CPRE F/32) which the CPRE used to juxtapose good and bad examples of design, aesthetics, and country life.

CPRE excibition panels (SR CPRE F)

CPRE excibition panels (SR CPRE F/11)

CPRE excibition panels (SR CPRE F)

CPRE excibition panels (SR CPRE F/32)

CPRE excibition panels (SR CPRE F)

CPRE excibition panels (SR CPRE F/1)

Indeed, this tradition of exhibiting and comparing visual examples of the destruction of the countryside with picturesque visions of the rural landscape continues throughout the CPRE’s work. In 1987 we can see a fascinating example of such an exhibition entitled ‘Tomorrow’ (SR CPRE C/1/48/29); where the CPRE asked the viewer to consider whether these beautiful rural scenes will be here tomorrow.


The catalogue from the charity sale of photographs from the ‘Tomorrow’ exhibition, including photographs taken by prominent British photographers like Linda McCartney (SR CPRE C/1/48/29).

Within my PhD I am currently exploring the concepts around the relationships with, and experience of, the countryside. The CPRE is often positioned as an organisation that is focused on the visual; on aesthetic ideas of the countryside. However I am keen to explore the extent to which they paid attention to a more experiential (for example an emotional or sensory experience) relationship with the landscape.

The most interesting/surprising thing I have discovered was… a leaflet entitled ‘Measuring the Unmeasurable: Twenty indicators for the countryside” from 1995 (SR CPRE D/1/72).


‘Measuring the unmeasurable’ (SR CPRE D/1/72)


Rural development is often spoken about in measurable terms; such as the number of houses built (or not!), the area of land that has given way to development, or economic factors. Yet this quirky leaflet poses the question of how to measure those ‘unmeasurable’ factors that come about through our experience of the countryside. This can include the ‘starriness’ of the night sky, the level of tranquility, a sense of wilderness, the ‘bendiness’ of country lanes, or the beauty of the landscape. It also raises questions about what should or shouldn’t be valued, experienced, seen, heard, felt, or even smelt in the countryside.

The CPRE archive provides a rich and fascinating array of materials to research, with items ranging from committee meeting minutes, correspondence, maps, publications, press cuttings, photographs, and even watercolours. It is through exploring these materials that we can shed light on the history and influence of the CPRE; the influence of this preservationist organisation in shaping both the rural landscape, and what we value about our experience of, and relationship with, the countryside.


You can find out more about the CPRE archive here:


Francesca Church is a PhD researcher at the University of Reading, based in both the Department of History, and the Department of Geography and Environmental Science.

Email:     Twitter: @FrankieHChurch


Exploring the world of the archivist…

Before we post her interviews with colleagues later in the week, Whitney, one of our volunteers, explains how she’s been delving into the mysterious world of the archivist…

WhitneyHi my name is Whitney. I recently graduated from Hertfordshire University where I studied English Literature and Journalism. I’m now volunteering at MERL which is a really exciting place to volunteer for someone like me who is super curious about discovering new artefacts and collections that were of significant cultural and social symbolism to the past generation. I also love reading personal stories and looking through photos of individuals and understanding how the countryside shaped their lives.

explore-your-archive-primary-message-smallSo I was recently given a great opportunity to step into the world of archiving for a couple of weeks and interview some amazing archivists around MERL in the run up to Explore Your Archives week. It has truly been a fun, insightful and engaging experience. I’ve asked questions in relation to the future of archiving in the digital era, modern vs traditionalist approach to archiving, the world of cataloguing and the influence of social media on the circulation of information. I have been overwhelmed with the amount of information, and I can actually say that I know a little bit more about the world of archiving. Over the next week, I’ll be posting a few conversations I had with MERL archivists. I really got a sense of their passion for their jobs so I hope you enjoy reading the interviews.  If you have any burning questions about archiving pop them below and I’ll see if I can find the answers for you!