The MERL Student Panel: now recruiting!

One of the most interesting aspects to the museum’s redevelopment is that we are having many conversations with different people from diverse and varied backgrounds. All of these discussions are helping us shape the museum’s future. Audience Development Project Manager, Phillippa Heath, gives an update on one of our discussion forums: the Student Panel.

As the new academic year gets underway, it is an ideal time to begin our preparations for the forthcoming meetings of the MERL Student Panel and reflect on the discussions we have had to date.

Having begun in 2013 when we recruited students to devise and manage a 1951 Vintage Night event for Museums at Night, the MERL Student Panel has continued to go from strength to strength. With the museum’s redevelopment, our panel has been involved in and had their say on lots of different aspects of the museum’s work. Discussions around our new displays, how we are planning to interpret our collections, museum interactives and museum facilities are all helping inform how we shape the museum for all our visitors but, in particular, those aged between 18 and 25.

Members of the Student Panel exploring museum plans and some of our objects with museum staff

Members of the Student Panel exploring museum plans and some of our objects with museum staff

Although many members of our MERL Student Panel are students at the University of Reading, this is not a prerequisite for membership and the panel is open to anyone between the age of 18 and 25. It is a great way of meeting new people and developing experience and transferable skills in diverse areas including communication, event and project management. Members also learn about work in the heritage sector generally. For many of the individuals on the panel, membership is rewarding and fulfilling. One of our members, for example, said:

“It has been a great chance to see and be involved in what goes on behind the museum scenes. To see how processes go on and to be a part of the redesign and gain an insight has been a privilege…. I didn’t realise how much of a contribution the students would be able to have.”

This year, for the first time, membership of the panel can count towards the University’s Red Award (the University’s employability and skills certificate).

Some members of our 2013 student panel.

Some members of our 2013 student panel.

Our meetings will be commencing on October 14th and we are looking forward to our panel members getting involved in lots of aspects of our work over the year such as marketing, events planning to preparing for the museum’s reopening in 2016. We are also recruiting new members!

There is a lot to do during what will be a really exciting time for the museum as we prepare to reopen in 2016.
If you, or anyone you know, may be interested in becoming a member we would love to hear from you. Please email me (Phillippa) on p.heath2@reading.ac.uk for more information.

#DisabilityStories – Labelling visual impairment

How do you write a label in under 50 words on a basket made by an anonymous, visually impaired basket-maker without appearing patronising and tokenistic?

This basket was made at the Royal School for the Blind.

This basket was made at the Royal School for the Blind.

This question conveniently coincides with this week’s #CultureThemes topic of #DisabilityStories. The staff here at MERL are busily writing labels for our new galleries, covering overarching topics and themes, object groups, highlight objects and individual people.

Disability is both a hidden and common theme in the countryside depending on how you view rural history, literature and art. Historically the countryside can be viewed as a healthy place, full of people with ruddy complexions who exercise their bodies daily and eat the fat of the land. It is where we sent the wounded from the World Wars to recuperate, and it is a place we ‘escape to’ to get some fresh air.

It is also a place of grinding poverty, where starvation was only two bad harvests away and malnutrition was a fact of life. Farming was, and is, a place of hard toil where constant labour caused early arthritis and exposure to the elements and isolation from medical care caused a world of illness.

And this is where the nub of representing people with disabilities comes. We have a multitude of material to draw on to explore the lives of those whose disability was caused by accident and ill-health. To discuss disability only in terms of health, however, is tokenistic and it is often seen as demeaning to have a person’s significance in a story revolve around their disability alone. It ignores the fact that many people do not see their disabilities as disabling, but simply a part of who they are. People with disabilities were a fact of life in rural England for centuries and still are, and a disability was often the norm rather than the exception. Fields still had to be tilled, baskets made and animals fed whatever someone’s physical or mental condition.

The basket will be displayed in a case in a section named 'Craftspeople at Work'.

The basket will be displayed in a case in a section named ‘Craftspeople at Work’.

We had all of these discussions and more when trying to write a label for a basket made at the London School for the Blind in the early- to mid-twentieth century. It is well-made and is meant for feeding horses or other animals. The basket will be located in a gallery focusing on our different views and perceptions of the English countryside, and more specifically will be located in the basketry section under a theme called Craftspeople at Work. The label we ended up with is this:

This basket was used for feeding horses and was made at the Royal School for the Blind in the early twentieth century. Craftspeople rely heavily on their sense of touch to determine the correct textures, shapes and form of their work.

We made the decision not to focus on how basketry has traditionally been seen as a blind craft, nor how blind people in institutions such as the Royal School for the Blind were encouraged to make baskets as a source of income (as ‘honest work’), or how basketry is still used as a therapeutic process for people today who are newly blinded. One reason for this is the 50-word limit of our Object Highlight labels, but we also didn’t want to make the fact that a blind person could make a perfectly good basket the main point – the visitor should be able to pick this up by themselves from the information we’ve given them. Equally, we focused on ‘Craftspeople’ rather than ‘Blind people’ in the second sentence, as it is the craftsmanship that defines this object rather than the maker’s disability. Hopefully in this way we have avoided the common mistake of presenting someone ‘overcoming’ something despite their ‘disability’ and instead bring attention to the fact that basketry utilises the sense of touch more than the sense of sight.

What do you think of this label? Should we have made a lengthier label discussing these issues? Is it wrong to discuss disability in the countryside only through the lens of modern health?

The Museum of English Rural Life on Social Media #2

In the second of her posts reviewing MERL’s social media accounts, our intern, Lisa, focuses on twitter and invites you to follow some members of staff!

I’m sure some of you already follow us on Twitter, but if you are new to Twitter, MERL’s account is a great one to follow. The tweets, usually from Marketing Officer, Alison Hilton, or Our COuntry Lives Project Officer, Adam Koszary, keep you updated about work behind the scenes on our redevelopment project, upcoming events, collections that may be of interest to you, as well as sharing the fun we have working here at MERL. My favourite tweet in this regard has to be the photo of some of the MERL staff all wearing hairnets, lab coats and blue shoe protectors when we went to visit the food processing plant at the Department of Food & Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading to see how cheese was made, and learn more about the research carried out in the department relating to our new Wellcome funded displays.

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We all had such a lovely time, it had to be shared on Twitter!

Additionally, if you are interested in getting to know our staff at MERL, then why not check out their own Twitter accounts?  Although they are their personal accounts, they all use them to talk about their work and issues that interest them. If you are a bit curious like me, it’s quite interesting to find out what projects and events people are working on, and it gives you a good insight into what it’s like to work in a museum.

RobRob Davies @Rustyhumidity

Rob is our Volunteer Coordinator. Like it says on the tin, he’s in charge of organising the people who volunteer at MERL and across the other University Collections and is always a friendly face to see around the museum. He’s also working on the Our Country Lives Activity Plan projects. He tweets about work, volunteer issues, the Rural Reads book club and being Welsh.

AlisonAlison Hilton @alison_hilton

Alison is our Marketing Officer. She manages the marketing of the museum, and is currently planning for the relaunch of the new museum next year. You’ll also see the odd reference to folk music and dog walking!

 

 

RhiannonRhiannon Watkinson @kooky_rhi

Rhiannon is Assistant Volunteer Coordinator. Two days a week Rhiannon works on the front desk welcoming visitors, but also helps Rob with the day to day management of the volunteers, arranges training, looks after students on work experience or placements and organises volunteers helping at events.

 

AdamAdam Koszary @AdamKoszary

Adam Koszary is Project Officer for Our Country Lives. He is one of people behind the planning for the redevelopment of the museum galleries. He’s done a lot of research into our collections for the new displays and posts interesting finds on Tumblr.

 

RhiRhi Smith @UniRdg_MusStudy

Rhi Smith is the Programme Director of Museum Studies at the University of Reading so if you are interested in a career in museums, then I would definitely recommend following her for all the latest news.

 

 

OllieOliver Douglas @OllieDouglas

Ollie has only started tweeting recently! He is the Assistant Curator which means he is heavily involved with the Our Country Lives project, as well as being the lead on the Wellcome project.

 

 

FelicityFelicity McWilliams @redkite13

Felicity is a Project Officer at MERL who has done a huge amount of research into the collections for the new displays and now knows far too much about ploughs and hand tools! She’s also a Harry Potter and Aston Villa fan so follow at your own risk!

 

Danielle Eade Danielle@danielleeade

Danielle is our Public Programmes Manager. She manages all our public events from Toddler Time to the Annual Lecture and is also working on plans for our new Welcome area.

 

 

As well as MERL, the other museums and collections at the University of Reading have their own twitter accounts.

You can find them @ColeZoology @UreMuseum @uni_RdgSpecColls @RNGherb & @UniRdgTypoColls so please explore!

 

The Museum of English Rural Life on Social Media #1

With the museum closed for refurbishment, we’re relying heavily on social media to make sure we keep people up to date with what’s happening. We launched our ‘Shut, but not shutting up! campaign last year, and we’ve been busy sharing news and progress behind the scenes. In this post, Social Media & Collections intern, Lisa, reviews our accounts…

 

FB pageDid you know the Museum is on Facebook? If you’re like me and are constantly scrolling through your homepage to see what’s happening, then why not check out The Museum of English Rural Life’s page. You’ll find project updates and information about upcoming events, as well as news stories about countryside and farming issues, and links to the museum’s other social media accounts, so it’s a good place to start.

 

MERL Pinterest screenFor people who are interested in photography and images, MERL is on Pinterest. Here we share photos of everything from pictures of our collections, to events that have been happening, as well as archive images. It’s a great way for us to be creative, find common themes in our collections and have some fun taking photos. However, if you are more of an Instagram person, MERL actually shares an Instagram account with the other University of Reading Museums and Collections. From edgy photos of objects, to capturing MERL’s beautiful red-brick Victorian building in the summer rays, follow us on Instagram at unirdg_collections to have a little browse.

MERL also has a Flickr account which we haven’t used so much recently, but it has some amazing photos of objects in our collections, as well as events that the museum has put on in the past.

 

Tumblr pageBefore coming to MERL, I had never had much to do with Tumblr. However, seeing how good MERL’s Tumblr is has definitely changed my opinion of it.  Again, MERL shares the account with the other University of Reading Museums and Collections, so I would definitely recommend having a look. Short articles filled with interesting facts, combined with quirky photos means that it’s an easy way to gain background information about the variety of collections at the University.

 

hobby horse avatar flipPerhaps you are interested in working in a museum or archive? Want to gain an insight into the different roles people carry out here at MERL? Then our YouTube Channel, How many curators…? is the perfect place for you to visit. It’s very informal and quite fun! Our Volunteer Coordinator Rob interviews staff and volunteers about their roles and what their job involves to help people who are interested in this type of career gain a picture of what it’s actually like. Moreover, you can find out about some of our unusual collections!

I hope this has helped you gain a better insight into all the different types of social media MERL has and encouraged you to visit a site.  We’d love to know what you think!

 

In her next post Lisa will focus on the Museum (and staff) on Twitter!

 

Countryside forum update

Over the last few months, Museum staff have been carrying out consultation with many individuals to help shape the redevelopment. Our Volunteer Coordinator, Rob Davies, updates us on one aspect of  consultation: the Countryside Forum.

As part of the Our Country Lives Activity Plan, the project team set up a Countryside Forum earlier this year, made up of individuals and groups who have a direct relationship with the countryside. The purpose of this Forum is for the individuals to feed back on the new gallery plans, test interactive ideas and to explore issues that have an impact upon their lives. We have taken two approaches with this forum, either meeting in a group at the Museum or visiting individuals for an in-depth one-to-one discussion – both involving plenty of tea and cake!

Ollie, Jethro and Ron

Even our famous family trail rat, Jethro has been joining in, much to Assistant Curator Ollie’s embarrassment!

During our discussions we’ve been revealing future plans for the new galleries and inviting initial feedback. This has been an essential part of the redesign, helping to ensure that our new displays are interesting and relevant to a range of target audiences. It has allowed us to have discussions with individuals about the topics with which they feel particularly passionate, which in turn has led us to consider the type of subjects we are potentially exploring in the redeveloped museum. For example, at the last meeting we were discussing with one local famer the challenges he experienced as a dairy farmer to which he responded: “we gave up the unequal struggle in 2006.”

The challenge of milk pricing (and its impact on farmers) is something which is often in the news headlines and it is issues such as these which we are hoping to address is the Museum through our collections. Although our collections relate to the past, we will be looking at how they relate to contemporary issues that affect people who live and work in the countryside. We will also be tackling contemporary issues through interactives (or ‘hands on’ experiences) and, with our Forums, we’ve been testing some ideas about the different forms that these may take. This has been essential to the development process in our thinking and will have a valuable impact upon the final designs.

Anne and Frank beer and milk

An exciting and fascinating aspect of this Forum is that it has given us the opportunity to visit working farms. The journeys alone have been quite an adventure and the discussions have been incredibly fruitful. We visited Mr Venters in Wiltshire where we had some very lively discussions about fox hunting, the development of farm machinery and class in the countryside, and to top the visit off we met some newborn lambs.

Venters lamb

Through our discussions it became increasingly clear to me how relevant the Museum has the potential to be to people who live and work in the countryside. For example, we met one retired farmer who runs straw dolly workshops in care homes. He himself learnt the practice from farm labourers when he was a young boy.  As you may or may not know, MERL has an extensive straw dolly collection.

Our forums are not just about us showing people the museum plans and discussing how we’ll be displaying our collections, they’re much more than that. Through these forums we are creating new networks and starting conversations with people from across the countryside community, which will enable us to create an oral history archive, sustain open conversations and develop long term relationships.

If you would like to contribute in any way to our Countryside Forum, please leave a comment and we’ll get in touch!

 

Rob Davies

Volunteer Coordinator

The Cheese Curry Experiment

It is difficult to know quite how to categorise this post by Project Officer, Felicity McWilliams, but it’s all in the name of research for one of our new galleries…promise!

Given that it is, apparently, British Cheese Week, today seems an appropriate time to share with you the results of a little experiment I carried out a few weeks back. Anybody who came along to our cheese-themed Museums at Night event last month will have seen copies of recipes from a 1970s cookery book produced by the Cheese Information Service. The book is called Make a Meal of Cheese, and I came across it whilst researching for an area of the new museum galleries which will focus on farmhouse cheesemaking. Organisations like the Cheese Information Service and the Milk Marketing Board used such publications (and the promotion of concepts such as the ‘ploughman’s lunch’ in pubs) to encourage consumers to eat more British cheese. It’s fascinating – the authors really try to convince you that any recipe can be improved by the addition of cheddar cheese.

Cheese7

Some of the recipes actually sound okay – leeks wrapped in bacon covered in cheese sauce, for example – but many more are distinctly suspicious. I decided to test one, and was immediately drawn to the implausible cheddar cheese curry. It sounded (and looked) terrible, but I was willing to give it a chance.

Here are the assembled ingredients. It was quite enjoyable measuring everything in advance into little bowls – I could pretend I was a TV chef. As you can see, other than a chopped onion there is a distinct lack of vegetables in this curry. As the recipe points out though, you can make this almost entirely with store cupboard ingredients, so it is convenient.

Cheese1

Step one: fry onions in butter. So far so good – fried onions smell delicious and I was starting to think that this might just be okay.

Step two: add flour and curry powder. Looks a bit weird, and I came to the realisation that I was effectively making a roux.

Cheese5

Step three: add vegetable stock. It’s like their recipe researcher thought to themselves, ‘Curry sauce? Well, I know how to make a sauce – adding curry powder will make it a curry sauce, right?’

Step four: add seasoning (like that’s going to save this dish), sultanas and chutney. I suppose the sultanas added interest but the chutney gave a vaguely unpleasant sliminess to the sauce.

Cheese6

Step five: add cheddar cheese. It felt wrong, even as I was doing it. I stirred it round a bit to coat it all in sauce and tried to spot when it looked like it might be starting to melt.

Cheese4

Step six: serve, 1970s style, in a ring of rice.

Cheesecurry2

You may be impressed, or horrified, to know that I did eat the curry – and I don’t mean just a small taste. I actually served this to my parents for Sunday lunch. Mom, who had assisted in the preparation, was as sceptical as me but my Dad tried hard to be enthusiastic, saying ‘I’m sure that, since you made it, it will be delicious’. He did sound like he was trying to convince himself.

The verdict? I’d really hoped that this dish would surprise me, that somehow, despite looking revolting and being formed of a strange amalgamation of ingredients and cooking techniques, it would actually taste pleasant. Alas, it was revolting. The sauce was slimy, without any real flavour as the curry powder just seemed to sit on the surface. And cheddar cheese does not taste good in curry. It’s consistency and sharp tang (we used mature) clashed horribly with the sauce. Perhaps we should have used a mild cheese, but the sauce was tasteless enough as it was.

The rice was alright though.

Once the taste of this curry recedes far enough into my memory for me to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad really, I plan to attempt another recipe from Make a Meal of Cheese. Do comment and let me know if you have any interesting cheese-based recipes – good or bad, and the weirder the better!

What have we been up to? Our Country Lives Top 10 #2

This gallery contains 6 photos.

We’ve been very busy over the last few months, so here’s our latest Top 10 run-down of what’s been happening… 1. Bringing the wagons down from their overhead positions was a delicate and pretty scary job for our conservator and team of specialists. See how it went.   2. We’ve grown! The extension to our welcome area […]

Wellcome news for Our Country Lives!

Assistant Curator, Ollie Douglas shares some exciting project news…

It has been hard keeping the news under wraps for the last few weeks, but it is very exciting to finally be able to share some news which will have a really significant impact on the Museum’s redevelopment. We are delighted to announce that The Wellcome Trust has awarded the Museum £385,277 for a new project, ‘Our Country Lives: Nutrition, Health and Rural England’. This will support the Museum’s current Heritage Lottery funded redevelopment and introduce new themes and interactive opportunities connected to animal health, human nutrition and rural healthcare.

We will be taking on new staff to work on the project, and a panel of specialist advisors will also help deliver a dynamic and diverse programme of science engagement, including online content, hands-on experiences and artistic interventions developed in collaboration with bio-medical experts. For the very first time the Museum will be able to explore the extraordinary links between science and the countryside, connecting these vital topics to its diverse and surprising collections.

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Emphasis on the science underpinning rural life represents an exciting challenge and a new direction. This project will transform the Museum from a site of agricultural heritage into a centre that engages the public in the science behind the food that they eat, the research that underpins the health of domestic animals, and some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century such as food security and human nutrition. Such topics will form the focus of interactive opportunities and exhibits in the new galleries, where visitors will be able to explore subjects as diverse as bovine tuberculosis, the challenges of animal birthing and the latest research into links between milk fat and health. These subjects will be linked to extraordinary collections including an articulated model calf used in veterinary training, 19th-century livestock portraits that reveal the power of selective breeding and a type of straw mattress used in delivery of country babies.

wwwopac

As a museum, we are already known for our compelling social history exhibits and for innovative explorations of how our ideas about the countryside have been shaped through popular culture. The combination of new posts, new displays and new programming made possible by this funding will help us to tell a more inclusive, evocative and complete story. It will mean that we are able to speak and appeal to a much greater diversity of visitors and that we can explore complex scientific questions and issues that are of profound importance to all our lives.

Genetics
The Museum’s dedicated team are hard at work developing content for displays and interleaving this with new bio-medical and scientific narratives. A wide range of specialists from the University and beyond will contribute towards this project as it develops, helping to bring our rural heritage alive in new ways and connecting it to cutting-edge scientific thinking. Although rooted in museum-based activity and public engagement, this innovative scheme shows the potential for interdisciplinary thinking and cross-departmental collaboration to deliver exciting new departures and developments. The Museum is also keen for the project to provide students with opportunities to gain experience of public engagement and for related programming to support widening participation in the University.

cheese2
We are very grateful to Professor Christine Williams OBE, an expert in Human Nutrition at the University of Reading and one of the project’s specialist advisors, for helping the Museum to secure this funding. She says “This shift towards exploring the links between biomedical science and rural life is extremely important for the Museum and for the wider scientific community. The University of Reading is committed to excellence in research and has strengths in the life sciences, particularly in relation to food and nutrition. This project will enable us to build stronger links between active research scientists and the wider public, using the Museum and its collections as an innovative platform on which to establish and build this relationship.”

We’ll be keeping you up to date with project developments in a ‘Wellcome news!’ series of posts here on the blog.

Family feedback

During February half term we invited families to see how the museum has changed since we closed and to find out about our plans. Alison Hilton, Marketing Officer explains how the family forum events were a great opportunity to try out some ideas for activities and get feedback from family visitors too.

We didn’t realise quite how much we’ve missed our visitors since closing for redevelopment until we were able to welcome back some familiar faces during February half term. Some of our most frequent family visitors joined us for a Behind the Scenes family tour and for the first Family Forum meeting.

FF tour

It was really exciting to be able to show these families the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Museum since October and to share our plans with them. As regular visitors, they were familiar with the museum, and so were interested to see what has been going on over the last few months: there’s the building work going on at the front and back of the museum; the wagons have come down from their pedestals; most of the objects are carefully stacked down one side of the museum behind huge plastic sheeting; and others are covered with dust sheets. They were very good at guessing what was under each sheet – although it is hard to disguise a threshing machine! Some were surprised at how big the museum seems when cleared of objects whilst others couldn’t believe we’d ever got all those objects in!

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The families were able to get closer to some of the wagons than anyone has been able to in the last 10 years as they have just been lifted down from the overhead rail, and learnt about the need for careful conservation (which involves hoovering the dust that has accumulated whilst they were inaccessible)

At the far end of the museum they were able to see where the new extension will be built to house one of the huge 1951Festival of Britain wall hangings and our conservator invited them to have their say on which one will be chosen to be displayed first – Kent or Cheshire?

Would you vote for Cheshire...

Would you vote for Cheshire…

 

...or Kent to go on display first?

…or Kent to go on display first?

Everyone had plenty of questions for us. The children asked about their favourite objects and activities from the ‘old’ museum, such as the rat trail, dressing up and threshing machine model and the Speed the Plough film. We were able to reassure them that there will be lots of new dressing up opportunities and that we’re spending a lot of time at the moment planning exciting new interactives which will make visits to the new museum even more fun and interesting. The adults wanted to know how we were going to encourage children of all ages to stop, look and think about the objects, which lead to useful discussion about the new gallery themes and types of text and labels we are thinking about.

The half term events were designed to enable families to find out more about our project, but we also wanted the opportunity to listen to their feedback and test out one particular aspect of our plans, so after the gallery tour the families took part in an object handling session. We’ve planned a session based on objects relating to shepherding and lambing which we needed to try out, and we were amazed at the positive responses. They understood why we have to be careful with the objects, why you can’t usually touch all the things on display, and were so good at working out what the objects were we might have to choose more obscure objects in future!

FF what do you think this is

We also happy to have reporter Chris Forsey from the Reading Chronicle at the first event! You might have seen his article in the paper?!

FF photographer

 

 

These were the first of our family forum sessions in which we will be testing more ideas and seeking feedback from regular visitors as well as those who are not familiar with the museum. If you’d like to be involved, please contact Danielle Eade.

 

“I read an interesting book about…”

In this post Project Officer Felicity Williams explains how she has amassed huge amounts of specialist knowledge by reading some very obscure books in the name of research. 

My work on the Our Country Lives museum redevelopment has involved a lot of research – using collections but also MERL’s wonderful archive and library. Apparently, in meetings I often start sentences with ‘I read an interesting book about…’ and follow it with a snippet about a bizarre or incredibly niche topic. I am eternally grateful for my ability to become fascinated by just about anything!

Books

 

To honour the fact that today is World Book Day, it has been suggested that I share with you just a small sample of some of the books I’ve been encountering over the past months. Some are listed because I thought they were brilliant, some because they surprised me, and some because they are about amusingly odd-sounding topics. Hopefully I’ll have further chances to share with you some of the great books and resources and stories I come across during my research.

 

  1. Dictionary of Woodworking Tools by R. A. Salaman – I can’t quite convey just how much I love this book. Salaman lists, illustrates and describes the types and sub-types of tools used in an enormous variety of woodworking crafts and trades. It’s an indispensable resource for anyone learning about woodworking crafts. And it contains instructions for how to make a paper hat.

Hat instructions

  1. Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape by Oliver Rackham – if you can only read one book about the British countryside, I suggest you choose one of Professor Rackham’s. He writes about the natural and social history of landscape with an engaging enthusiasm and terrifying depth of knowledge. He made me challenge what I thought I knew about trees and woodland.
  2. Cannibalism and Feather Pecking in Poultry by MAFF – because apparently chicken glasses are a thing. Seriously – little red spectacles for chicken, used to discourage the feather pecking and cannibalistic behaviour described in this bizarre but fascinating little Ministry pamphlet.
  3. Make a Meal of Cheese by The Cheese Information Service – a 1970s recipe book designed to encourage British consumers to use cheese in their cooking. Whilst the recipes have odd names, some of them sound pretty tasty (I’ll definitely be making ‘Savoury Welsh Surprise’ – leeks wrapped in bacon covered with cheese sauce). Others sound and look pretty revolting (peanut butter and cheddar biscuits, anyone?).
  4. Country Doctor by G. Barber – one of many books of the reminiscence genre in the MERL library. This one was written by an Essex country doctor in the 1930s. Some of the passages are amusing, some horrifying. Particularly those on the topic of early-twentieth century rural dentistry, which it’s worth sharing with you:

‘Once a week the local doctors used to give gas for their patients who were having extractions at the dentist’s, and we usually had to do half a dozen in the half hour which meant a fairly quick turn over, and hygiene was completely lacking… The face piece was all in one and the technique was to get the patient sufficiently far out so that all the necessary teeth could be extracted before he or she came round. This needed fairly precise judgement which only came with practice, and it meant that the dentist had to work as fast as he could. One with whom I worked longest was a really expert extractor indeed: he fairly whipped the teeth out, and he threw them wildly over his shoulder and made no attempt to do more than kick them under his bookcase before the next patient came in. I remember the look of absolute horror as a rather fastidious lady came in to have a tooth out and skidded on a bunch of recently extracted teeth which he had not had time to clear up’ (p. 49).

On a final and slightly silly note, one of my wonderful volunteers came across this absolutely essential article in a 1950s issue of the magazine Country Fair. Who knew that there was a type of rock garden known as ‘the almond pudding’, or that the ‘devil’s lapfull’ type was regarded with such disdain?

Rock garden

We’d love to hear about any books you’ve read about the English countryside that inspired you, or made you think, or made you laugh. Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.