written by Tony Waldis, the Librarian of the Tools and Trades History Society (TATHS) Library, a special collection kept at MERL for use by visitors and readers. This collection reflects the encompassing knowledge of rural craft and industry kept at MERL, and which we hope to continue to pass down through our displays, outreach and events after our redevelopment.
Among the specialist subject collections at MERL is the library of The Tools and Trades History Society, with over 1,100 books, catalogues, videos and pamphlets.
It is not just about ‘old tools’; the library also has Young Farmers’ Club Booklets and English Industries of the Middle Ages too. There are numerous trade catalogues that would help to identify most hand tools you are likely to come across, but there is also a wealth of information on the tradesmen of the past and the conditions they worked and lived in. Spare a thought, for instance, for the 18th-century apprentice tied to his master for seven years, during which he could not, marry, leave his master, play at cards, dice or other unlawful games, haunt taverns or play-houses, or absent himself from his master’s service day or night. Worse still, the Xbox and iPad had yet to be invented.
A wide variety of trades and crafts are covered by the collection, from the village blacksmith (who usually doubled as the dentist too because he had the strongest grip for pulling teeth) to the local hat maker. Did you know that the chemicals used in hat making could literally send the workers insane? Hence the saying ‘as mad as a hatter’.
Come along to the MERL Reading Room and see what strange facts you can find in the TATHS collection; a catalogue of material is available online on the TATHS website. There are recipes for cleaning and polishing everything under the sun and for making everything from puddings to poisons. Just don’t mix them up!