Poultry Show, Telford

Written by Caroline Gould, Deputy University Archivist

The MERL attended the Poultry Club of Great Britain National Show at the weekend (19-20 November 2016). It was held at the International Centre, Telford. The MERL took a display of items from the David Scrivener Collection, an expert on poultry.

David Scrivener Collection

David Scrivener Collection

It was the first time The MERL had attended the show. Guy Baxter, David Plant and Caroline Gould spoke to over 180 members of the Poultry Club and general public over the weekend.  We had some fascinating conversations. It was a wonderful experience. I was totally amazed by seeing all the different breeds of poultry in one place and couldn’t stop myself taking pictures.

Prize poultry

Prize poultry

 

The Poultry Club of Great Britain agreed at their AGM to provide a £25,000 grant to the Museum of English Rural Life to catalogue, digitise and conserve the David Scrivener Collection of slides, postcards, prints and books. The grant will also pay for activities of public and academic engagement. We wish to thank the Poultry Club for their generous grant and we are very enthusiastic about the forthcoming project. We will keep you informed of our progress.

 

Poultry at show

Poultry at show

eggs

 

Childrens entries at the show

Children’s entries at the show

Discovering the Landscape: how to use our collections in your research

Are you an undergraduate, postgraduate, independent researcher or at school?

Are you studying history, geography, architecture, environmental science, ecology or design?

Then come and use our landscape collections in your research (if you’re an undergraduate apply for one of our landscape student bursaries).  We’ve even got topic and resource ideas listed here.

So why use our landscape collections?  And how?

3 reasons to use our landscape collections:

1. National significance

MERL now holds the best collection of 20th century landscape archives and library material in the UK.  Our Landscape Institute collections hold everything from plans, drawings, slides, books, journals and pamphlets to the LI’s institutional archive containing all of their corporate records, such as minutes and membership files.

So if you are interested in a particular project (from anywhere across the UK), a specific landscape architect (maybe Jellicoe, Crowe, Colvin?), the Landscape Institute itself or the emergence of landscape architecture as a profession then we have what you need.

Lots of our other collections support landscape studies too, such as The Land Settlement Association and the Open Spaces Society.

AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Geoffrey Jellicoe collection, Shute House, AR JEL DO1 S2/20

2.  Explore your archive

Every day we inhabit built and natural environments.  The landscape is all around us, all the time, shaping and informing our lives.

You can reveal all that our landscape collections have to offer by using them in your research.  You can draw out previously unknown themes, connections and discoveries.

We house the collections, keeping them safe and making them available to you.

But only you can bring them alive by using them in your research.

For the MERL and Special Collections teams to thrive, we need tea.  (Never near the collections, of course).  For our landscape collections to shine, they need to be accessed and used.

So be inspired by the National Archives Explore Your Archive week: come and find our more about our landscape collections.

Colvin inscription to the Jellicoe's, in the front cover of a 2nd edition of her Land and Landscape.

Colvin inscription to the Jellicoe’s, in the front cover of a 2nd edition of her Land and Landscape.

 

3. Visual delights!

Our Reading Room visitors are greeted by our beautiful peacock stained glass window

Our Reading Room visitors are greeted by our beautiful peacock stained glass window

We host a lot of reader’s in our wonderful Reading Room.  So we know that you could spend many studious hours looking at reports, minutes or papers.

All very good research that is too.

But you could be looking at this stuff:

(just saying)

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

 

How to search and access our landscape collections

We hope you have been inspired to use our landscape collections.  Here’s how you can find out more:

Students: your landscape archive needs you

If you are an undergraduate student, don’t forget you have until the end of February 2017 to apply for a bursary to support your use of our landscape collections.  Click here for more information.

Please feel free to get in touch with our Reading Room if you have any questions. We look forward to welcoming you and telling you more about our landscape collections.  

Written by Project Librarian: Claire Wooldridge

Archives featured in the Galleries

Written by Caroline Gould, Deputy University Archivist

Sheep Dipping

Sheep Dipping

The new galleries were opened on 19 October 2016, after a £3million redevelopment programme with £1.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).  Prior to the redevelopment, the galleries contained a large number of objects with little interpretation. We were keen to include archives, archival film and photographs through the new displays aiming to revitalise the way visitors engage with the Museum’s extraordinary collections.

In February 2014, we started researching the archives and photographs to identify items for possible inclusion in the galleries. Our strategy on how to include archives in the galleries developed over time.  However, we found five main ways to feature archives.

We have included photographs in the galleries to aid interpretation of the objects and themes. In Gallery 2, ‘A Year on the Farm’, the largest photograph measures 2280m x 2500m, it shows sheep dipping in progress (John Tarlton Collection).  Our sheep dip object is placed in front of the photograph.

We have used archives in cases on a limited basis. The cases are likely to remain quite fixed. This is a challenge if we wish to permanently preserve the archives. The cases are not environmentally controlled and prolonged opening of volumes for display will, in time, damage the item. We therefore will need to

Blacksmith account book of Wiltshire 1934-1939

Blacksmith account book of Wiltshire 1934-1939

monitor the archives selected carefully. However, having said all this the items we have selected look great. I am particularly pleased with the blacksmith account book of Wiltshire 1934-1939 in the wagon walk.

In three galleries we have created 18 drawers under cases which feature archives and books. The items will change every 4-6 months. This provides an opportunity to display more of the collections which have previously only been consulted in the Reading Room. Visitors will be able to browse these collections and hopefully see new items when they next visit. Currently in Gallery 3, ‘Town and Country’, we have a drawer in the ‘Grow your Own’ section. This displays a minute book and report from ‘The Women’s Farm and Garden Association’ which details the setting up

Minute book and report from ‘The Women’s Farm and Garden Association’

Minute book and report from ‘The Women’s Farm and Garden Association’

the Women’s National Land Service Corps, which later became the Women’s Land Army, dated 23 May 1916.

There are some wonderful gaming interactives in the new galleries; lambing time appears to be the favourite at the moment.  Two interactives feature over 790 photographs from The MERL collections. ‘Then and Now’ is located in Gallery 3 it allows visitors to explore our photographs for the local area. We have included current photographs for Caversham, Wokingham and Hambledon. Gallery 4 features the ‘Voices and Views’ interactive, for each county we have included 10 photographs and some sound clips. Another interactive in Gallery 3, features the evacuee archive; it allows visitors to explore the stories of eleven individuals: nine evacuees, one teacher and one host son. Included in the display are contemporary photographs, letters and diaries.

The MERL holds over 1500 archival films, including films of the Ministry of Agriculture Film Library, National Dairy Council and Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies promotional films.  In Gallery 6 ‘Forces for Change’ we have a screen to show ten archival films, edited to seven minutes each. The current selection includes two compilations from Screen Archive South East and the Wessex Film and Sound Archive. The Britain on Film Rural Life programme has funded four events in West Sussex, Hampshire, Kent and Berkshire. The project is funded by The British Film institute. The compilation films at The MERL will be screened until the end of the year.

We created six photo albums featuring twenty photographs or documents. Gallery 2 ‘A year on the Far

‘Making Rural England’ photograph album featuring crafts and the home.

‘Making Rural England’ photograph album featuring crafts and the home.

m’ shows farming through the seasons, while three photo albums in Gallery 3 ‘Town and Country’ complement the featured objects: the horse, the steam engine and the Land Rover. Additionally in Gallery 5 ‘Making Rural England’, two photo albums feature crafts and the home.

We have worked on selection of these items for over two years. It is now wonderful to visit the galleries and see visitors enjoying the displays.  A special thanks to Caroline Benson, Photographic Assistant without whom the above would have been impossible.

Shaping the Land – why is the first of our new galleries all about trees?

Written by Guy Baxter, Archivist

The introductory text

The introductory text

The first space that visitors to the new MERL galleries enter is deceptively simple. It contains one object (a timber carriage), one large picture (an oak tree) and one literary quotation. Thanks to the projected animation and immersive soundscape, visitors can also see and hear the seasons change in the woods.

The gallery was conceived to give visitors the idea of being out in the countryside – after all, the Museum is in the middle of a large town. This is where we hint at the idea of there having been a “natural” environment, before people came along and started “shaping the land”. The theme of woodland reminds us that a greater proportion of England would have been wooded in pre-historic times, and so our ancestors would have faced the massive task of clearing trees in order to grow crops and graze animals.

But the gallery also carries a number of smaller and more subtle messages. Let’s start with the oak tree. Not only is this a powerful symbol of England – it appears on the “English” version of the pound coin after all – but the image chosen is the first photograph ever taken of an oak, by William Henry Fox

The Fox Talbot tree and the timber carriage

The Fox Talbot tree and the timber carriage

Talbot. Of course, his connection to Reading is well known given that he produced The Pencil of Nature, the world’s first photographic book, in the town. His oak tree is shown in the winter, standing strong against the ravages of time. Longevity is another trait of oak trees that suits the context of the gallery: the “timeframe” here is one of centuries not years.

The second idea that we introduce is seasonality. This is done through our animation which effectively shows all four seasons in one day – not such a rare occurrence in England! The animation, made by the Netherlands-based firm ShoSho, shows a woodland and also some land beyond that has been cleared – but with a lone oak in the background as well. In this gallery we introduce the changing seasons in nature partly as a prelude to the next section, A Year on the Farm, which examines how the seasons relate to the food that we grow and eat.

The animals that occasionally appear in the animation include a gall wasp. This was partly inspired by Dr George McGavin’s amazing documentary on oak trees in which he notes not only the symbiosis between the gall wasp and the tree but also the subsequent use of oak gall in the production of ink. So much of what is in our library and archive – indeed so much of our recorded history and knowledge – owes a debt to that relationship between insect and tree.

In front of the animation stands the timber carriage – a large and constant reminder of man’s interaction with the land. The carriage itself, also known as a ‘timber jill’, was used for hauling timber by

Photograph of a timber carriage in use

Photograph of a timber carriage in use

the Hunt Brothers of Waterside Works, a firm of millwrights in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The donor, Mr Tom Hunt, requested that they be recorded as ‘in memory of Thomas B. Hunt, Millwright, of Waterside Works, Soham, Cambs.’ This was his father, who died in 1954 at the age of 95 and was working almost up to the last. It was given to the MERL in 1955 – the year that we opened to the public for the first time – so it’s appropriate that it should be “object number 1 in gallery number 1” as we re-open.

We have also displayed a photograph, from the Miss Wight Collection, to show a similar carriage in use. The photograph was taken around 1935 in Aconbury Woods, Herefordshire.

The quotation, chosen by Dr Paddy Bullard in the Department of English and American Literature, is from the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It comes from his poem Pied Beauty. We also considered another of Hopkins’s poems, Binsey Poplars in which he mourns the felling of trees in 1879;

The quotation and the images of leaves

The quotation and the images of leaves

and we looked at using a section from A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Houseman (verse 31) which describes the same wind blowing through the trees that blew on the Romans many centuries before.

Finally, we added some images of leaves – manipulated by our photographer Laura Bennetto to reflect the style of Fox Talbot’s early leaf photographs. The actual images were provided by the Dr Alastair Culham at the University Herbarium and show the following native English varieties: oak, elm, ash, beech, willow, hawthorn, hazel, elder and apple. The leaf motif has also been used to decorate the new areas of glass in the Museum’s introductory area.

This has been a really fascinating gallery to work on and – because of its seeming simplicity – also quite a challenge. We took inspiration from many places and, made some fascinating discoveries along the way – not least David Hockney’s brilliant Yorkshire Wolds film. It has also been a really collaborative effort and one that has, we hope brought out the best of our creative, technical and curatorial skills.

War Child

The MERL is very excited to announce the publication of War Child, an online ‘mixed-media book’ which explores our Evacuee Archive from a fascinating new angle.  In this visually stunning work, Teresa Murjas, Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Theatre & Television at the University of Reading, and alumnus and film-maker James Rattee have woven together an intricate tapestry of content focusing on the story of how the archive came into being and how it continues to shape the life of its creator, Martin Parsons.

war child2 sm
The inspiration for this unique project came from Teresa’s initial meeting with Martin in 2013 when he was speaking about the Evacuee Archive at a meeting for scholars interested in the University’s Collection Based Research programme:

 I became particularly curious about the Evacuee Archive through my meetings with Martin. His willingness to talk to me lies at the centre of the project. My interest about how the archive came into being was generated in discussion with him. The project attempts to tell a story of the archive’s growth through focusing on a series of edited audio fragments from our dialogue and on imagery that investigates and reflects on a small collection of significant objects. These key elements act as ‘guides’ on a sometimes light-hearted journey of exploration into a few of the possible reasons why this archive exists, and the relationships and attachments associated with it. This is why the title of the project incorporates the phrase ‘meditating on an archive’. It might also be possible to argue that the new material we have collected and drawn together as part of the project is an extension of the archive held at MERL, or perhaps that it creates a new gateway to it.

warchild-boatsmThe British Government scheme to evacuate children from cities during the Second World War began in September 1939. Children, usually without their parents, were sent to areas of Britain that were considered safer from bombing and the effects of war, these were often rural areas.  Our collection contains written memoirs, oral history interviews and research material relating to former evacuees and war-children.

In his career as a historian of Second World War child evacuation and lecturer at the University of Reading, Martin accumulated a wealth of research materials and documents which he generously donated to the Museum helping to make our Evacuee Archive the largest resource of its kind outside London’s Imperial War Museum.  While ‘War Child’ displays many of these records and artefacts in an accessible and unique format, the real power of the project is combining the materials collected with audio files, which exhibit its creator’s extensive knowledge of the collection and its origins.  As Martin’s daughter, Hannah, explains in an audio clip from ‘Meeting Five’ of War Child, her father is the archive and it is a rare treat for this kind of memory to be captured alongside the physical collection.

Understanding and exploring this aspect of our archive was however, a natural process for the creators of War Child:

A lot of my research and teaching focuses on the work of arts practitioners whose interests lie in communicating the experiences, memories and stories of children affected by war. ‘War war child - masksmchild’ builds on that research and teaching, in that it seeks to both point towards and respond to, what is a very important conflict-related resource for researchers, whatever their age and background – namely the Evacuee Archive. Seeking to understand and explain how war continues to affect children remains an ongoing and urgent necessity. Consulting and contributing to this ever-expanding archive can form part of that process.

When exploring the War Child site, I personally found Martin’s discussion of the evacuee luggage label of particular interest.  Not only does Martin describe how these labels were a symbol of the immense logistical feat achieved during the War, he also emphasises the dehumanising effect they had on the evacuated children.  Significantly, these labels were often kept as prized possessions and have become an evacuee’s own version of a military medal, with people proudly displaying their labels on Remembrance Day for the march past at the cenotaph.  Meanwhile, for Teresa, one of the most interesting artefacts from the collection is actually one that is missing:

 war child- dollsmI am really interested in the section about the doll. Arguably, I got disproportionately excited about the doll in the archive that cannot be found! No one really knows where it has gone, or when it went. Working through our disappointment, but also our, in retrospect, persistent questions about what it was like, what it would be like to find it and so on, could probably be a bit wearing for Martin at times, I think, and he was extremely patient. Nevertheless, those discussions feel very rich and complex now, because there was this strong sense of investigation about them, on everyone’s part. For me, that section feels in some important way as though it is at the centre of the work.

While War Child is a fantastic companion piece to our Evacuee Archive, it is also an illuminating archive in and of itself; a significant chapter of the story, containing records and memories of the experiences of those most closely involved in developing the collection and bringing it to MERL where it can be preserved for and shared with generations to come.

It would be great if people felt motivated to re-visit War Child over time. It contains a lot of material, and coming back to that in stages, as we have, can shed new light.

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Discovering the Landscape: Preparation, progress and preservation – 3 years on

Plans, papers, press cuttings and publications…. we have spent a busy three years working on the Landscape Institute collections here at MERL.

Alongside continuing to work on the collections to make them available, we are now looking to encourage use, awareness and engagement with our rich and varied landscape heritage collections.

What have we achieved?

Our progress from unpacking, to processing, cataloguing and display

Our progress from unpacking, to processing, cataloguing and display

Archives

Over 200m linear metres of archive material have been sorted and made available for researchers.  This vast amount of invaluable material includes press cuttings, minutes, membership lists, financial papers, Institute publications, a slide library and an album containing the Institute’s royal seal, logo and name badge (now on display at the LI’s headquarters).  The associated archive collections include the business records of significant landscape architects including founder member of the Institute Geoffrey Jellicoe.

Peter Shepheard sketchbook on display in 'Discovering the Landscape' exhibition at the University Library

This Peter Shepheard sketchbook was on display in our ‘Discovering the Landscape’ exhibition (Jan-June 2016)

Library

Thousands of books have been processed with 2500 so far added to stock and available to readers on site at MERL.  A selection of rare books have been added to collections held in our stores.  All of the journal titles received have now been sorted and listed.  Very soon we will be working to fully integrate the LI books into the MERL Library.

Selection of Shell Guide's received from the LI which have been added to our existing collection

Selection of Shell Guide’s received from the LI which have been added to our existing collection

Volunteers

Volunteers: thank you – we couldn’t have done it without you!

In the period 2013-2016 volunteers working on LI collections have contributed an impressive 10,000 hours to the project.  This includes tasks such as: book bib checking, book labelling, listing, indexing and digitising slides.

Volunteers Ron and Jan have been working on digitising slides and were featured on our Tumblr

Volunteers Ron and Jan have been working on digitising slides and were featured on our Tumblr

Events and engagement

Events that showcased out LI collections have included a seminar series (Spring 2015), a joint MERL and LI Annual Lecture with James Corner (October 2015) and a treasures exhibition (Jan-June 2016).  Throughout the project we have been sharing highlights and news from the collections with you via our social media channels, twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and this blog.

We also work closely with FOLAR (the Friends of the Landscape Library & Archive at Reading) and have hosted their study days, such as about Brenda Colvin and New Towns and Gordon Patterson.

James Corner speaking at MERL and Landscape Institute Annual Lecture, University of Reading's Great Hall, 22 October 2015

James Corner speaking at MERL and Landscape Institute Annual Lecture, University of Reading’s Great Hall, 22 October 2015

For more information about our LI collections you can visit this dedicated webpage or contact us via our Reading Room service on merl@reading.ac.uk.

Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

 

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Eve Balfour

The last of our People Stories, written by The Abbey School students, looks at the life of Lady Eve Balfour, co-founder of the Soil Association

Lady Evelyn Balfour was born on the 16th July 1898. After studying agriculture at Reading University she went on to write The Living Soil and then co-founded The Soil Association in 1945. She was also a main person behind the organic farming movement,  which provided more jobs for women compared to the only 5% of women working in chemical farming. Born almost exactly 100 years after Lady Eve, we are both female, feminist and consumers of organic food, you can see how Lady Eve Balfour appealed directly to both of us, and why we are thrilled to be able to delve more into the life and the legacy behind one of the most influential people and women for agriculture in the early 1900’s.

Eve

Eve Balfour was born into a large and influential family (Fun Fact: Her Uncle Arthur was appointed as Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle Robert which is where the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ originates). As a child she travelled between two estates with two different types of soil, one of which was bright red, which may have been the start of fascination with farming and soil. Eve’s family were keen to educate their children well, and one of the many things she was taught as a child is how to make and support a convincing argument. She was also seen as very determined as well as amusing (Fun Fact: One Christmas as a young girl Eve burst into the servants Christmas Dinner to sing them a song). At 12 years old Eve decided she wanted to become a farmer and was educated accordingly and accepted into the Agriculture College in Reading,despite her and her entire family’s awful spelling (Fun Fact: Eve’s brother, and heir to the Balfour estate Arthur Robert Lytton was probably dyslexic, he wanted to go into the Navy but despite passing the medical he failed the entrance exam by spelling his own name wrong (Robart)). Eve thoroughly enjoyed university and even spent a year on a farm. She planned to open a farm with her sister, Mary. In 1919 Eve aged 21 finally bought her own farm in Haughley, Sussex with her inheritance.

The reason why Lady Eve Balfour is important is because after she spent a year in farm, she took part in an experiment called the Haughley experiment where she proved the link between the quality of soil and our health. Before there had been scientists such as McCarrison who had made the link between health and diet and other scientists such as Harrison made a link between the quality of food and the quality of soil. The results were published around February 1940 and were highly respected by important institutes. After this she was able to set up the Soil Association in 1945 and has in this way affected farming significantly today. Although her discovery may seem very boring and pointless, it meant that farmers knew how to improve the quality of their produce and has improved the health of many people since then. Even though few people may know about her she has truly impacted all of our lives today.

 

Resources

Michael Brander, Eve Balfour: The Founder of the Soil Association and the Voice of the Organic Movement (The Gleneil Press, 2003), p.11

Sophie Poklewski koziell, Two women of the soil

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/timeline/eve_balfour.shtml 06/07/15

Evelyn Balfour, The Haughley Experiment, p.7

MERL at Tractor World Show

Written by Caroline Gould, Deputy University Archivist

Jonathan Cave, Anthony Brennan and Adam Lines pictured with the earliest MG crawler on display and the trophy for the best in show.

Jonathan Cox, Anthony Brennan and Adam Lines pictured with the earliest MG crawler on display and the trophy for the best in show.

MERL was invited to the Spring Tractor World Show which took place weekend by the group creating the 80th anniversary display of Ransomes MG crawlers and implements. The display, formed of around 35 Ransomes, won best in show!

MERL was keen to attend to promote the archives that are held at the Museum.

Our stand included two Ransomes films:  A 1951 promotional film of the MG5 in use throughout the year and a second film entitled Speed the Plough (A day at the Plough Works) dated 1952. The films created a phenomenal amount of interest. The Museum holds at least 100 Ransomes films in its collection. We also took examples of trade literature, drawings, photographs and catalogues from some of the other collections we hold at the museum including: David Brown, International Harvester, Massey Ferguson, and Charles Burrell. We had many conversations about other related collections of steam manufactures held in the Museum archives: John Fowler of Leeds, Wallis and Steevens, Clayton and Shuttleworth, and Marshall Sons and Co.

The MERL stand

The MERL stand

We spoke to over 230 people over the two days and were thrilled to meet so many people who had contacted us in the past for information and were keen to visit the museum when it reopens in October 2016.  Keep checking the website for further details.

Fantastic MG Cakes

Fantastic MG Cakes

The Tractor World Show was held at the Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcestershire,  27-28 February 2016. The stands also included a display to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Ferguson T 20 tractor and Zetor tractors.

Many thanks to Jen Glanville, Caroline Benson, Jonathan and Patricia Brown, Felicity McWilliams and Adam Lines for attending the show and for Anne who made the MG crawler cakes!

 

Exploring the Beale Family Farm Diaries

Written by Sharon Maxwell, Archivist (Cataloguing & Projects)

Beale Family Farm Diaries

Beale Family Farm Diaries

One of our recently catalogued collections is a set of 41 farm diaries belonging to the Beale Family of River Hall Farm, Biddenden, Kent. The diaries document the daily lives of Richard Beale Snr and Richard Beale Jnr during the years 1791 until 1834. Richard Beale Snr was born in 1744, he never married and when he died in 1814, he left his estate to his nephew Richard Beale, the son of his brother Seaman Cooke Beale, of London. Richard Beale Jnr was born in 1771 and by his death in 1836 he had a large family, some of whose descendants continued to live in Biddenden until the 1960s.

Verses of an untitled poem found in one of the diaries.

Verses of an untitled poem found in one of the diaries.

The diaries are small pocket notebooks bound in all different colours of leather mainly red but also brown and blue, they have a metal latch or ribbon tie to keep them closed due to the fact that many of them have pockets in the covers which had contained notes, correspondence and all manner of bits and pieces. To preserve these extra items contained in the diaries they have been flattened and placed in archival envelopes to ensure their survival.

The diaries contain pre-printed information including lists of the fairs in Kent and Sussex and the monthly market days for that year. The diaries describe day to day tasks like harvesting and ploughing, tending to the animals including sheep shearing and the auction of livestock, and other work around the farm such as fixing fencing and managing the woodland. The Beales comment about the weather and loans of both animals and money to various individuals. The diaries also hold insights into the personal lives of the family including notes about visits and meetings and also items of correspondence from family members. The diaries are also account

A display of items found in the diary

A display of items found in the diary

books; daily totals are meticulously recorded and many of the loose papers include itemised bills and receipts from suppliers and customers. There are some tantalising clues as to the identity of some of the farm workers with their names and pay recorded in both diary entries and on the loose items. Some of the more unexpected items found in the diaries include a couple of home remedies to cure animal diseases, verses of an untitled poem, a piece of felt with a line of sewing on it, a small sample of black material and a brown leaf folded amongst a set of accounts.

The catalogue of these farm diaries will soon be available to view on our online catalogue under the reference FR DX2147.

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).

rats

 

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?