No longer such a new town: Milton Keynes at 50

Plan of Milton Keynes

This year Milton Keynes turns 50.  Tonight BBC4 is marking this anniversary with the programme Milton Keynes and Me by Richard Macer.

Designed to provide housing for over populated London, which had been badly bombed during World War II, development of the existing village of Milton Keynes began in 1967.

Milton Keynes was part of the third wave (1967-70) of new towns, designated following the 1946 New Towns Act, which designated sites to become new towns and passed responsibility for developing them to Development Corporations.  The Milton Keynes Development Corporation was the organisation behind the development of Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire.  The Act followed the Greater London Plan of 1944, prepared by Patrick Abercrombie at the request of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, which laid out plans for how to rebuild London and deliver housing needed for the growing population, following World War II.  Other new towns in England you might be familiar with include Stevenage (1946), Bracknell (1949) and Redditch (1964).

Plan of Milton Keynes from the Milton Keynes Survey

So what does this have to do with English rural life?

Those new towns needed to be built somewhere.  Often existing settlements were expanded by building on surrounding undeveloped or agricultural land.

The Milton Keynes Survey was conducted by representatives of the Department of Agricultural Economics, at The University of Reading, in the late 1960s to early 1970s.  Files, publications, documents, press cutting and maps relating to the survey are held in the archives of the Museum of English Rural Life (reference: SR DX34).  The material in this collection was compiled by and relates to several studies they published about the impact of Milton Keynes on agriculture in the area.

Our Landscape Institute collections also hold information for researchers of new towns.  We hosted a FOLAR seminar on the topic of new towns and landscape last year.  We hold a copy of The plan for Milton Keynes published by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1970.  The Plan outlines ideas around the transition of land from rural to urban usage and the impact on the environment and landscape the expansion will have.

Selection of Milton Keynes material from SR DX 34

When training to be a landscape architect in the late 1970s, Marian Thompson, chose to create a design for a lake in Milton Keynes for one of her exams, named Las Venice.  Though we do not know if the design ever went beyond her exam, the area is now called Tear Drop Lakes and is part of Loughton Valley Park.

Marian Thompson’s plan for Las Venice, Milton Keynes

The development of new towns in the mid to late twentieth century, such as Milton Keynes, brings into sharp focus the reciprocal, but sometimes conflicting relationship between urban areas and the countryside.  How do we balance the need to provide for a growing population with concerns over protecting the landscape and environment?

Claire Wooldridge and Jen Glanville

Discovering the landscape: cut it out!

Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

Over the past few years, my colleague Jen (Landscape Institute Archivist) and I have been working to integrate the library and archive of the Landscape Institute into the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life.

The LI collections are rich and varied, including material such as books, pamphlets, periodicals, press cuttings, minutes, membership lists, financial papers, Institute publications and a slide library.

Now the time has come for me to sort out the Landscape Institute cuttings collection.

What are cuttings?

In a library context a cuttings collection is most likely to include articles cut out of newspapers or other periodicals, or press cuttings.  It is also likely that other types of ephemera will find their way into a cuttings collection, such as offprints (reprints of articles from editions of a publication), leaflets, advertisements, catalogues or posters.

A collection such as this arises from individuals cutting out relevant articles and compiling them.  So they are a kind of personally (or institutionally) curated collection.  A lot of us are likely to have done this ourselves – cutting out and keeping articles of printed material that have a personal connection or are of local interest.

Therefore we treat cuttings as a library collection, as they are culled from printed material.

The LI cuttings collection includes material from the 1960s to the early 2000s.  It includes a lot of biographical articles on leading landscape architects, especially obituaries.  This is alongside material on policy affecting the work of the landscape architect and features on particular parks, gardens and landscape projects.

Does the MERL Library hold any other cuttings?

Yes we hold a MERL Library cuttings collection which we still add to.  This is in filing cabinets in the Reading Room and is organised in a sequence based on the MERL Library subject classification scheme.

Why keep cuttings?

Cuttings can be a problem for librarians!  Their ephemeral and often flimsy nature can make their provenance difficult to attribute, while storage and organisation can also be a challenge.

Nonetheless, it is precisely the ephemeral nature of cuttings that make them so valuable to researchers.  There is no better insight into contemporary views and public opinion on landscape architects and their projects than by reading what was being written about them at the time.

Of course, a lot of this material will now be available online or elsewhere.  Still this collection is of historical interest in itself, as a record of what the Landscape Institute felt it was important to cut out and keep.

When will the cuttings be made available?

I am currently about 25% of the way through sorting the LI’s collection of hundreds of cuttings!  Thankfully I have a wonderful volunteer, Tina, who is going to help me with the project.  Together we will be numbering, listing and repackaging the cuttings.  I would hope that this project will be completed towards the end of the year, but please get in touch via merl@reading.ac.uk if you are interested in using the collection before then.

Discovering the landscape: lost landscapes of Michael Brown

In this post Amber Roberts, recipient of MERL’s landscape academic engagement bursary talks about her work on our Michael Brown collection (Landscape Institute collections).

Michael Brown’s work is unfortunately little known to today’s landscape architects. Thanks to a generous research bursary from MERL I have been able to delve into his archive and begin to uncover Brown’s idiosyncratic approach, his lost landscapes and his lost research.

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Brown (1923-1996) was an Edinburgh-born architect and landscape architect whose career had an international scope and strong links to key designers of the mid-twentieth century, such as Ian McHarg, Dan Kiley and Basil Spence. Brown’s projects covered all scales of landscape architecture and are of particular interest due to his commitment to integrating the theories and practices of landscape and architecture that resulted in a body of work that was both inventive and pragmatic. Brown stated:

The art and aesthetic delight of landscape must emerge out of solving down to earth problems elegantly and simply.

With this focus on the solution of ‘down to earth problems’, his work navigated the complex tensions of the profession that existed both then and now by advocating an objective, theoretical and interdisciplinary approach.

If spaces between buildings are to be used to their best advantage it is essential that methods of analysis and comparison be evolved which will enable the designer to analyse the functions and uses of external spaces very rigorously.

This approach is particularly evident in his work at Livingstone Road, London (1962 and later awarded a Civic Trust Award 1968) developed with the architects George, Drew and Dunn Partnership, a project that is due to be lost to a £300m regeneration project. By undertaking a disciplined survey and analysis of the site Brown identified key issues and opportunities that ranged from the particular microclimate of the site to cut and fill balance and pedestrian movement lines. Brown interwove this analysis with the ‘Court House Concept’ of his tutor McHarg to develop a series of spaces that were given careful detailing landform and levels to create a range of soft spaces.

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Beyond the layout of the courtyard system of open space, Brown sought to foster a sense of ownership for the spaces among the new residents. This was a key approach of Brown’s that he had begun to develop during his early British work with SPAN Housing. Brown himself became a resident of Fieldend and member of the Resident’s Association for the upkeep of the landscape within the estate. The courtyards at Livingstone Road were each given a distinct character and function that was embellished with sculptures and wall panels and Brown actively promoted a resident’s association for the scheme.

Overall Brown had a deeply personal and idiosyncratic approach to landscape,  his publications and designs offered exemplary solutions responding to complex issues from housing and motorway design to the design of public squares. Each of which combined his joint skills in architecture, urban design and landscape. Brown’s breadth of projects are testament to his rich and varied experience merging together disparate ideas and skills.  This research on Brown will be presented with Lead Researcher Dr Luca Csepely-Knorr at the Society of Architectural Historians Conference in Glasgow next month.

Find out more about Amber’s work or our Landscape Institute.

Landscape Education in the UK: past present and future

On Saturday 1 April 2017 MERL hosted a FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) study day on the topic of: ‘Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future’.  

The day included talks and a pop up display of archive and library material from our Landscape Institute collections.  FOLAR Chair, Penny Beckett, gives an account of the event:

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

The best discussion we’ve had about UK landscape architecture education in a long while

So said one of those who attended the recent seminar at MERL organised by FOLAR.  Chaired by John Stuart-Murray (University of Edinburgh), this half day event had 4 speakers: Guy Baxter, the University Archivist, who spoke about the first English university course in Landscape Architecture set up at Reading in the 1930s; Jan Woudstra (University of Sheffield) on the development of English Landscape Architecture Education and after the tea break, former Reading senior lecturer Richard Bisgrove who spoke about the Landscape Management degree at Reading which ran from 1986 to 2009.

Our Archivist Guy Baxter speaking at #folar2017

The last speaker was Robert Holden (former University of Greenwich), who gave us much food for thought about the current state of landscape education in the UK. It appears to be in decline, while at the same time the demand for qualified landscape architects by employers outstrips the supply of home grown graduates. Much of the question and answer session after Robert’s talk explored why this might be the case when the situation seems very different in both the USA and other European countries. Earlier, Jan Woudstra had suggested possible reasons, citing the encroachment of ‘new’ course topics, such as ‘landscape urbanism’ into a subject area once occupied by landscape architecture alone. He mentioned too the lack of landscape research in the UK (though Sheffield boasts a healthy 45 PhD students!); the difficulty too of conveying a consistent image to the wider public, prospective students and their parents  about what the profession landscape architecture is all about. The irony is that the work of landscape professionals lies at the very heart of the current political agenda, while landscape architects and managers have long been used to the interdisciplinary working that is now essential in our 21st century world.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections, 1930s journals

Guy Baxter’s talk made interesting links between the pre-war students at Reading and some of the members of the fledgling Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) they helped to establish. The Institute’s archives deposited at MERL reveal the connections. The first ILA member, for example, ‘Member No. 1’ was Marjory Allen (Lady Allen of Hurtwood) the landscape architect who was an early advocate of the importance of providing for children’s play in our urban areas.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

Richard Bisgrove described the genesis of the BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management course he set up at Reading in 1986. It ran successfully for many years, training students who then went into various branches of the landscape profession. Lecturers on the course included Tony Kendle who later went to the Eden Project and Ross Cameron who moved to the University of Sheffield.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

One small downside of the day was that the full programme allowed little time to look at the wonderful display of archive material put out for us in MERL’s Reading Room. So to the MERL staff involved, can I offer both apologies as well as many thanks for helping to make such a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. A video recording of the seminar itself will be posted on the FOLAR website shortly.

Penny Beckett, FOLAR Chair

You can find out more about our Landscape Institute collections, using our Reading Room, FOLAR or see tweets and Instagram posts from the event.  

 

Discovering the Landscape: Student bursary winners announced

We are delighted to announce that Moa Carlsson and Tianyi Jiang have been awarded Landscape Student Travel Bursaries.

The purpose of the two student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

Moa is a doctoral student at the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is currently a visiting student at the University of Cambridge.  Working on landscape perception and the history of computing technology in Britain 1950-70, Moa will be using her travel bursary to visit MERL to use our Clifford Tandy collection alongside the corporate records of the Landscape Institute.

Example of a slide from our Clifford Tandy Photographic Collection

Tianyi graduated from the Beijing Forestry University and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in landscape architecture at the University of Edinburgh.   Interested in how science and technolgoy can be used to improve our environment, Tianyi will be using materials from our Geoffrey Jellicoe, Michael Brown and Preben Jakobsen collections to support her studies.

An example of material from the Preben Jakobsen collection. AR JAK_PF_53 1

We look forward to welcoming Moa and Tianyi to our Reading Room over the summer.

Find out more about our Landscape Institute collections and how to visit us.

 

Discovering the Landscape: Book now for a place on FOLAR’s Landscape Education study day

Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future

Delegates at the 2016 FOLAR study day browsing a pop-up exhibition of landscape library and archive material in the MERL Reading Room

Delegates at the 2016 FOLAR study day browsing a pop-up exhibition of landscape library and archive material in the MERL Reading Room

What?

This year’s FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) Seminar deals with the origins and history of landscape architecture and management education in the UK, past, present and the future.

Who?

Speakers will include Guy Baxter, the University of Reading Archivist, on the history of the first landscape architecture course in the UK, that at Reading (1930-1959). Then Jan Woudstra will survey the origins and growth of landscape courses nationally. Richard Bisgrove will outline the story of the BSc Landscape Management at Reading (1986-2010). Finally Robert Holden (formerly University of Greenwich) will review current trends, speculate about the future and in particular look to the past to see lessons that can be applied today. The chair will be John Stuart-Murray of the University of Edinburgh.

The FOLAR AGM is from 10.30am-12.00pm, and all (members and non members) are welcome from 10am onwards, lunch will 12-12.30pm and the afternoon seminar will run from 12.30pm-4pm. Duplicate books from the LI collection will be on sale.

When?

Saturday 1 April 2017

10.30-4

Where?

MERL (Museum of English Rural Life), Redlands Road, Reading, RG1 5EX

Booking?

Please complete this FOLAR booking form and return it by email to info@folar.uk or by post to the address on the form.

Cost: for FOLAR members £15 incl. lunch (a £35 payment on the day would include FOLAR membership renewal).

For non members the cost of the seminar incl. lunch is £25.

PLEASE BOOK EARLY FOR THIS EVENT as we have a limit on numbers – 50 maximum.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Students: apply for a landscape research bursary before the end of February

Why should I apply?

Our landscape collections are pretty special.

Read this overview of our landscape collections or search our combined library, archive and object catalogue.

Take a look at reasons to use our landscape collections in your research and topic and resource ideas.

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

Highlights from our Landscape Institute Collections

But could I apply?

Are you:

A) A taught undergraduate or postgraduate student?

B) Studying landscape architecture, design or management?  History, geography, architecture, environmental science, ecology or design?

C) Desperate to impress your dissertation supervisors?

D) Reading this before 28 Feb 2017?

Then we look forward to receiving your application!  (Just ask us if you want to check you are eligible).

If you are a taught student in part or full-time higher education, you can apply for one of landscape student travel bursaries.

We welcome your innovative ideas on how you will use our collections in your research.

How do I apply?

The purpose of the student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

We are offering 2 bursaries of £150 each.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line).  Applications will be invited from any student in part or full-time higher education.

Interested applicants should submit a CV, and a short statement (max 400 words) outlining their interest in and current work on landscape, stating how the bursary would be spent and how it would be beneficial to their studies.  Applicants should identify those materials in the archive that would be of most benefit to them.

Timetable

28 February 2017 – applications close

31 March 2017 – successful candidates announced

Any work will need to be carried out and monies claimed by 31 July 2017.

 

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

Discovering the Landscape: Post-War Landscape Architecture project awarded Academic Engagement Bursary

We are delighted to announce that Amber Roberts has been awarded our Landscape Academic Engagement Bursary.

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Great West House, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Amber will be using our Michael Brown Collection to analyse key design theories and projects in the development of the profession of landscape architecture, 1945-1975.  The project will focus on post-war modernist Britain and the international outreach of British landscape architecture.  The post-war era saw significant changes to the practice of landscape architecture, such as the focus on new towns, motorways and industrial sites.

Redditch New Town, Michael Brown (AR BRO)

Redditch New Town, Michael Brown (AR BRO)

Amber’s project will highlight the potential of our Michael Brown Collection whilst shedding light on developments in the field of landscape architecture in the post war period.

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Michael Brown (1923-1996) was a landscape architect and urban designer known for his limited use of materials which produced distinctive landscapes.  The collection contains drawings, slides and photographs.

Thank you to everyone who applied for the bursary.  We received some great applications and it was a tough decision.  We wish Amber all the best with her research and we are looking forward to keeping you up to date with her progress.

 

 

 

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.

Show Garden, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

Show Garden, Michael Brown Collection (AR BRO)

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

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

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.