January Book Sale

The MERL shop kicks off 2017 with the traditional January Sale. This is your chance to pick up some fantastic bargains, especially among our wide range of books.

book sale jan 17

None of us know what the internet sensation of 2017 will be. But there is no doubt that the sensation of 2016 was the MERL mousetrap story! Want to know the stories behind these deadly little devices? Dip into David Drummond’s “British mouse traps and their makers” (£1.50).

For anyone who has seen our new Evacuee interactive, we recommend two books by Martin Parsons – “War child” and “I’ll take that one” – through his research work, Martin was responsible for building up the Museum’s incredible collection of evacuee memoirs. He is a leading expert on the experiences of children in wartime and his books help to dispel many of the myths about this fascinating period. We have copies of both titles signed by the author (£6.00 and £5.00 respectively).

First encounters with the countryside are also dealt with by “In at the deep end” (£1.50). Agriculture lecturer Paul Harris gathered accounts from 41 students who – despite not growing up on a farm – took the brave decision to study agriculture and found themselves getting a year’s work experience. Completed only weeks before Dr Harris’s death in 2013, these are compelling and fascinating stories, where the warmth of the welcome given by the farmers and farmworkers stands in contrast with the cold of the winter mornings!

If you enjoyed our apple-themed activities at the Grand Re-opening Festival, then Michael Clark’s “Apples, a field guide” (£5.00) may well be the book for you. It can help you to identify that unknown apple growing in your garden or in the park. Or if you are feeling ambitious, you can use it to help you choose which variety to plant! Of course, if you want to go even further and take the path to self-sufficiency, then what better than Sonia Kurta’s “No dear, that’s a pheasant, we’re peasants” (£2.50), full of the pitfalls of having a smallholding and tips for those brave enough to try living “the good life”.

Whatever your interests – from folk art to traction engines and from literature to local history – there are plenty more bargains to be picked up this month. The MERL Shop Sale runs until 5 February.

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

Discovering the Landscape: Treasures Exhibition at the University Library

We’re delighted that this exhibition can now be seen at the University Library:

Discovering the Landscape: treasures from the collections of the Landscape Institute

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

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

Where? University Library Foyer, Whiteknights campus

When? April – June 2016  (during opening hours)

What? This display will showcase a selection of important archive materials and books from the Landscape Institute collections, including rare books dating from sixteenth century to the present day. See stunning sketch books, fascinating photographs and beautifully illustrated book plates and fold out plans.   

How much? Free!

We’re very pleased to report that this exhibition has gone on tour to the University Library.

So what are you waiting for?  Visit the exhibition and take this special opportunity to explore our Landscape Institute collections with us.

Plate from 'The art and practice of landscape gardening', by Henry Ernest Milner - now on display in 'Discovering the Landscape' exhibition at the University Library

Plate from ‘The art and practice of landscape gardening’, by Henry Ernest Milner – now on display in ‘Discovering the Landscape’ exhibition at the University Library

As ever contact us on merl@reading.ac.uk for further information or click here.

Written by Project Librarian: Claire Wooldridge

Community projects: how to get involved

An update on some of the exciting projects and plans we’re working as part of our redevelopment project – and details of how you can get involved, by Phillippa Heath, Audience Development Manager.

In addition to the Museum’s physical redevelopment we have also been developing our work with our diverse audiences. As well as our existing visitors, we are also keen to involve those who have yet to visit us in the museum’s work (be they from our local communities or from further afield) and are doing so through a programme of activities. This three-year programme of projects and consultation will allow our audiences to get more involved in how MERL represents the countryside and tells the stories that illuminate its collections. This involves establishing links with our local community, to help foster partnerships and ensure that the Museum can become a place where our diverse audiences can come together. To this end, the Activity Plan team have been out and about within Reading and the University, engaging with people and organisations and developing relationships.

Our forums
Our three forums are opportunities for audiences to share their views and opinions on our collections and our activity programmes. We currently have three ongoing forums – The Family Forum (next event June 3rd), the Student Panel (for those aged between 18 and 25) and The Countryside Forum (for those with a relationship with the countryside). These forums take place both on-site at MERL or off-site at community locations.

Student panel ideas


Hands on Heritage projects
Working with a number of community partners our Hands on Heritage projects involve people accessing and responding to our collections. Through these projects we have established relationships with a variety of communities including Katesgrove Community Association, Reading Chinese Association, The Greater Reading Nepalese Community Association, Reading Mencap, the Indian Community Centre, the Elizabeth Fry Approved Premises, the Barbados and Friends Association, Reading College, The Rising Sun Arts Centre, Norcot Community Association and the Royal Berkshire Hospital. From object handling, film competitions to exhibition, gardening, music and reminiscence projects, opportunities for working and responding to our collections are wide-ranging.

Student looking at a museum object

Student looking at a museum object

Volunteering opportunities
The Museum’s redevelopment is allowing us to build on our very successful volunteering programme, creating new opportunities for volunteering. Our new Young Volunteers programme has been established for those between the age of 14 and 18. Volunteering tasks can range from a diverse range of activities from cataloguing, marketing, events to gardening.

We are always looking for individuals and groups to be involved. Please contact Phillippa at merlevents@reading.ac.uk or call 0118 378 8660 for more information.


Discovering the Landscape #23: New Towns, Landscape and Gordon Patterson

Guest post written by Penny Beckett, Chair of FOLAR

MERL is to host FOLAR’s third AGM and Study Session: New Towns, Landscape and Gordon Patterson – Celebrating mid 20C Design on Saturday 19 March 2016.  MERL staff will mount an exhibition of related New Town material selected from the Landscape Institute’s archive and from other collections held at MERL, including the CPRE and Land Settlement archives.

The theme of the afternoon study session (and exhibition), is to shed light on various aspects of twentieth century New Town design and planning and explore how the ideas generated last century can help inform the designs of such new settlements in the 21st Century.

Click here for more info & to book.

Boys fishing on the lake at Stevenage Town Gardens. Copyright HALS.

Boys fishing on the lake at Stevenage Town Gardens. Copyright HALS.

FOLAR has an impressive line up of speakers:


Elain Harwood: Housing, Traffic and Landscape – detailed urban planning in the New Towns.

Senior architectural advisor at Heritage England (HE), Elain is responsible for post war research and listing programme and has been an active member of the Twentieth Century Society for many years.  Her most recent book Space, Hope & Brutalism; English Architecture 1945-1975, was published by Yale University Press in 2015, and she is currently working on a book for HE about English New Towns.  

Radburn planning at Brontë Paths, Stevenage, 1962. Image Elain Harwood

Radburn planning at Brontë Paths, Stevenage, 1962. Image: Elain Harwood

Tom Turner: Landscape planning for London and the New Towns in the 1940s (talk and video).

A landscape architect and garden historian, for many years Tom taught at the University of Greenwich.  He is a firm believer in the need for open and vigorous debate on all aspects of landscape architecture and garden design.  In 1998 he launched www.gardenvisit.com and in 2015, with Robert Holden, he launched the website of the Landscape Architects Association to promote the profession’s capabilities.  Tom’s presentation will include a short film, drawing on his books, Landscape planning, 1987, and City as landscape, 1996, and making a recommendation for a landscape urbanism approach to the design of new towns in the 21st century.

London’s Green Belt and proposed location of New Towns. Image: Tom Turner

London’s Green Belt and proposed location of New Towns. Image: Tom Turner

Oliver Rock: Landscape without Boundaries.

Rock is a landscape architect with HTA Landscape Design practice.  In 2011, the practice won the Landscape Institute’s Heritage & Conservation Award for their restoration of Stevenage Town Gardens.  

View of Lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, c. 1960. Copyright HALS.

View of Lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, c. 1960. Copyright HALS.

These gardens were originally designed (1959-61) by Gordon Patterson.  As the award citation puts it, HTA’s design ‘captures some of the optimism and civic spirit of the original (design) while ensuring the gardens remain relevant today’. Oliver will also be talking about the practice’s current restoration of Hemel Water Gardens, a scheme originally designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe.  

Restored lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, 2011. Copyright Tim Crocker.

Restored lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, 2011. Copyright Tim Crocker.

FOLAR hopes that Gordon Patterson, for many years the landscape architect for Stevenage New Town will be able to join us. His archive is one of the latest additions to the Landscape Institute’s collections at MERL.

From the Land Settlement Association Archives at MERL. CR_3LSA_PH1_A_15_1

From the Land Settlement Association Archives at MERL. (CR_3LSA_PH1_A_15_1)

Lastly, Caroline Gould, the University’s deputy archivist will be talking about the New Town related material from other special collections held at MERL, including the CPRE and Land Settlement archives.

For further details and to book for the FOLAR study session and exhibition email: info@folar.uk or click here.  Tickets for the FOLAR study session and exhibition: £10.  Bookings are limited so please book early.

How a mouse died in our Victorian mouse trap

Written by Adam Koszary, Project Officer.

If you’ve been on the internet for the past few days then you may have heard about the mouse which died in our Victorian mousetrap.


We are very pleased and a little surprised to have gone viral, and since our original blog post have some updates on our rodent friend. For one thing, we think that the mouse is a she. Our conservator believes that she was trying to build a nest and while nibbling the label on the trap, the string attaching it to the object fell inside. Chasing the string, the mouse found itself trapped.

The trap works with a see-saw mechanism.

The trap works with a see-saw mechanism.

David Drummond, who donated his collection of traps to the Museum, provides this diagram of the trap in his 2008 book, 'British Mouse Traps and their makers', 2008.

David Drummond, who donated his collection of traps to the Museum, provides this diagram of the trap in his 2008 book, ‘British Mouse Traps and their makers’, 2008.

The trap itself operates by a see-saw mechanism in its middle, which allows a mouse to enter the trap but then finds the door has swung shut on it. The owner of the humane trap would then release the mouse afterward. As we don’t expect these traps to be working as mousetraps we don’t tend to check them regularly, hence the fact that the mouse sadly perished in this instance.

Colin Pullinger outside his factory. ©David Drummond: 2008.

Colin Pullinger outside his factory. ©David Drummond: 2008.

Its inventor Colin Pullinger operated what he called the ‘Inventive Factory’, which is where he designed his first commercial success, the Perpetual Mouse Trap. During his most productive period in the 1880s his staff of around 40 men and boys churned out 960 traps a week.

Pullinger’s presence in his hometown of Selsey is denoted by a blue plaque, but now his reputation has experienced a new boost, with many people online praising the effectiveness of his trap in the modern age.

The mouse somehow managed to get inside one of our glass-fronted cabinets.

The mouse somehow managed to get inside one of our glass-fronted cabinets.

In our previous post we were undecided on what to do with the mouse, but we have now decided to preserve it. The mouse was giving off quite a stink, which suggests that her death was fairly recent, and so was fumigated by our Conservator.

For now, her body rests in a small, tissue-paper tray surrounded by silica gel in a sealed plastic box. The silica gel will dry out the mouse and make it safe for display in our new galleries. The Museum is about to begin constructing our new exhibitions, and it’s safe to say that this mouse will be front and centre.

The empty space in the rear right of the cabinet is where the trap was formerly stored.

The empty space in the rear right of the cabinet is where the trap was formerly stored.

And for those who have smelled a rat, we can categorically deny that we planted the mouse in the trap in order to gain this publicity. Not only does it go against every rule in Conservation and museum ethics, we don’t think any of our staff are Machiavellian enough to have pulled it off.

For an insight into why this mouse trap went viral, check back tomorrow for another blog post.

The mouse is currently being prepared by our Conservator.

The mouse is currently being prepared by our Conservator.

Object handling with Addington School

A little while ago we welcomed students from The Addington School who came to find out what it’s like to work in a museum. Assistant Volunteer Coordinator Rhiannon really enjoyed introducing them to the world of museums, our collections and the role of the curator…

Last term the museum welcomed a group of Further Education (FE) students from The Addington School in Woodley. They came to the museum to find out what it is like to work in a museum as part of their Transitions Workplace Training. Other businesses that have shown Addington students around their world of work include Reading Buses and Reading Fire Station, so we had a lot to live up to.

Working with students at Addington

Working with students from Addington

The objective of the session was that the students would go away with knowledge of the purpose of museums, an understanding of what we do at The Museum of English Rural Life and having had a chance to actually handle some museum objects and guess what they were. The day started with a quick brainstorm of what the group already knew about museums, with us asking questions such as ‘What is a museum?’, ‘What do you find in a museum?’, ‘Who works in a museum?’ and ‘Who visits museums?’. The answers we got were hugely varied ranging from “old people go to museums” to “at a museum you find things on the walls”. Some of our particular favourite comments about museums were that they are “special” and “magical” places, “that they are for everyone” and also we saw a statement that “museums are boring” as a personal challenge to prove them wrong!

After establishing general information about museums we enjoyed taking the group on a special behind the scenes tour of the building. First we had a look at the gallery space; confirming someone’s earlier comment that museums are big places by seeing the open space we have whilst the museum is being redeveloped. Next came a trip up to the mezzanine level where the students got their first glimpse of some of the objects they would be handling later on. Guessing what different corn dollies represented was a particular hit, as was a procession past all of the tools hung on the mezzanine wall.

Once the students had seen some (actually hundreds) of objects it was time for a rundown of how to handle them. The group put themselves into the mind-set of a curator who had been given a set of objects that they had to identify using sight, sound, smell and most importantly touch. Some objects were harder to identity than others; a Strickle (a tool used to sharpen scythes) and a Polehead from 1700s, testing the students curatorial powers the most. It was wonderful to see the real respect the group had for the objects, even under the extremely tempting circumstance of being told not to ring a sheep bell!

We had a marvellous day with the students and it was a joy to introduce them to the world of museums. We hope that they went away with a new appreciation of museums and the type of work that goes on within them, as well as some changed minds about whether or not museums are boring!

Students exploring a museum object

Students exploring a museum object

Volunteers’ Voice: 2015 round-up

Volunteer Coordinator Rob Davies looks back at a year of volunteering at MERL and the Special Collections.

Another year, another year of fabulous volunteer projects; 2015 saw a whole host of new volunteer projects and successes. We also benefitted from the new post of Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, Rhiannon Watkinson, who has worked tirelessly with the volunteers. The Our Country Lives Activity Plan has informed the volunteering programme, taking us in new directions with the resources to support new projects.

Phillippa and Polly at Student Volunteering Fayre

With the museum closed for the redevelopment project, we turned the ceaseless energy of the volunteer tour guides towards the Swing Riots and object handling training projects. (Although some did satisfy their tour guide urges by leading tours around our Victorian building during Heritage Open Days.) As a result of this a new project, our object handling volunteers will be ready for the reopening of the museum, leading handling sessions for visitors to the galleries;  Our Swing Riots team are continuing to perform across the county, giving performances at Reading and Wokingham Libraries to name a few.

Deep within the archives and libraries volunteers have been quietly beavering away on projects  for MERL and the Special Collections, such as Mills and Boon, Landscape Institute, Farmers Weekly. A large project that has included many volunteers is the Nancy Astor indexing project and we are finally nearing the end of the project.

Even though the Museum has been closed we’ve continued to host and attend events. Volunteers have been vital to these events. We had a great day at the Big Lunch in the summer on the London Road Campus, the sun was beating down and we were inundated by families all eager to talk to us and have a go at the activities. We couldn’t attend outreach events such as the Berkshire Show, the East Reading Festival or Reading Town Meal, without our volunteers. As well as supporting events, they also lead on some, including the Swing Riots and the recent Our Christmas Traditions event.

Volunteers at RTM

A young volunteer project has been piloted, with the young volunteers now forming a permanent core of the volunteer team. They are aged 14 to 18 and are volunteering on a range of projects from archives to gardening. We had a team of volunteers from Reading College tidying up the MERL garden after the builders left, it was great fun and they harvested buckets and buckets of grapes.

Volunteers have also taken part in the Sew Engaging project which aims to encourage people to think artistically about their relationship with the countryside through tapestry and quilting. Volunteers helped to start the project by preparing packs and making designs; and many have made their own patches. They’ll now be helping us stitch it all together.

Volunteers at Sew Engaging

To say thank you, Rhiannon organised a trip to St Fagan’s in October where we had a private behind the scenes tour and met members of their team. We had a Summer party and a Christmas party, which is always a great opportunity for volunteers across the board to come together. We couldn’t do half of what we do without our wonderful, enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. I personally think I have the best job in the world because I work with so many different and interesting people. I am looking forward to 2016 with great excitement.

Plough Monday

Plough Monday falls on the first Monday after the twelfth night of Christmas, which is also the night of the Epiphany. It marks the beginning of the English agricultural year and when ploughmen traditionally returned to the fields to prepare the Spring crops.

Still celebrated in some parts of the the north and east of England, the tradition is to trail a plough around local houses to collect money to pay for a community feast. If the person or household is unwilling to contribute then the assembled ploughmen and ploughboys, usually in fancy dress and blackened or reddened faces, would turn their doorstep over with the plough or cut a deep furrow in front of their door.
The celebration of Plough Monday dates back to the fifteenth century, and it may have grown from an older, pagan tradition marking the beginning of Spring (though there is only slight evidence). While the specifics of each celebration may differ, it is the exchange of money which crops up again and again. It is thought that the money taken in by plough teams would help maintain a ‘plough light’ in the local church, but after the Reformation this tradition fell off and the money began to be used for festivities instead.
What is interesting about Plough Monday is how a fairly odd tradition was so prevalent across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and East Anglia but is rare in the rest of the country. Peter Millington has an interesting discussion of various hypotheses on his website, including whether it was an imported Danish tradition, was established as part of Danish Law or was connected with the establishment of the Archbishophric of York in the eleventh century. Whatever its origin, it is a delightful slice of English rural life and you can find out if there is an event near you here.

Plough Monday in Ramsey includes a Straw Bear too!

Plough Monday in Whittlesea. Cambridgeshire, includes a Straw Bear too!

New acquisition supported by the Art Fund


The Museum of English Rural Life has acquired 6 engravings for the collection, by print-maker Stanley Anderson RA (1884-1966). The acquisition was supported with the help of the Art Fund. We were the successful recipients of an Art Fund grant, enabling us to purchase the artworks at auction in December 2015.

The Museum acquired a number of prints from Anderson’s ‘English Country Crafts’ series: The Thatcher 1944, The Rake Makers 1948, The Sadler 1946 and The Basket-Maker 1942. As well as two further prints: Eventide 1937 and Windswept Corn 1938. These new additions complement the existing holdings of Anderson’s work in the Museum collection (Making the Gate 1934, Three Good Friends 1950, Good Companions 1951 and Sheep Dipping 1934).



Stanley Anderson, The Sadler, 1934. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015


Anderson’s career

Royal Academician, Stanley Anderson, was an English painter and print-maker. He is best known for his prints featuring workers and craftspeople of traditional farming and handiwork practices, of which the English Country Crafts series (1933-1953) is most prominent. Arguably somewhat marginalised, Anderson’s printmaking career spanned nearly half a century and he is now attributed as being a key figure in the modern revival of line engraving.

Engraving involves the incision of a line (a design, lettering or image etc.) onto a hard, flat surface. This forms an intaglio printing plate. The printing plate is covered in ink; the incised lines hold the ink. Paper is placed over the plate and compressed by a heavy roller. The compression transfers the ink from the plate to the paper, producing a print. Multiple prints can be produced, making multiple editions.

Between 1909-1963 Anderson exhibited 183 works at the Royal Academy, he was the sole representative of British engraving and dry-point at the Venice Biennale in 1938, and was later awarded a CBE in 1951 in recognition of his contribution to the arts.

Anderson began his career in 1884 as an apprentice to his father who was a trade engraver in Bristol. Over the course of a seven-year apprenticeship he studied ornamental and armorial engraving, working on domestic wares. With a desire to move to London, Anderson won a scholarship for engraving from the British Institution. This funded his studies at the Royal Academy of Art where he studied under Sir Frank Short RA, an advocate of a Whistlerian tonal aesthetic. His early career was defined for the most part by cityscapes but, after the interruption of war, Anderson took a commission from a commercial printer to produce – in large editions – prints of landscapes, historic buildings and landmarks.

There is a growing appreciation of Anderson’s work. Last year, the Royal Academy produced an exhibition of his work ‘An Abiding Standard: the prints of Stanley Anderson RA’ and the associated publication of a comprehensive catalogue raisonné. A number of Anderson’s self-portraits can be seen in The National Portrait Gallery, together with an extensive collection of his work at the Ashmolean Museum.


Stanely Anderson, The Thatcher, 1944. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015


English Country Crafts

The English Country Crafts series may be seen to memorialise ways of English life – that were thought by many at that time – to be in danger of vanishing.  Although his prints may convey a sense of nostalgia, we can say that Anderson was not yearning for the past. Instead, he was very much concerned with the present. His work represents a response to the myriad changes and mechanisations in society that he observed and so carefully documented. The English Country Crafts series, together with similar representations of farming, animal husbandry and traditional skills, depicted a range of subjects. His work demonstrates acute observations of an individual’s mannerisms, particularities and physical characteristics. Anderson captured many manual tasks that are now largely performed by machinery. He consciously recorded, and commented on, a disappearing and ageing workforce with striking detail.



Stanley Anderson, Eventide, 1937. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015


Oxfordshire subjects

Later moving to a studio in Thame, Oxfordshire, Anderson knew and befriended many of the subjects featured in the English Country Crafts series. Anderson’s subjects lived and worked across Southern England, including Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Dorset. This local geographic connection gives the artworks great significance for the Museum, being based in neighbouring Berkshire. Visual representations of country life such as these have become a core part of what MERL seeks to collect.


Stanley Anderson, Making the Gate, 1934. Object number: 83/21. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015

Stanley Anderson, Making the Gate, 1934. Object number: 83/21. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015


Making the Gate depicts Thame-based farrier and blacksmith, Rupert Timms. On the back wall of his workshop, the designs for a gate can be seen pinned to the wall. Anderson himself designed this gate. This was in recognition of the diminishing demand for the blacksmith’s craft and in Anderson’s active promotion and diversification of alternative and sustainable blacksmithing skills. This print, as with others, is indicative of Anderson’s close affinities with, and appreciation of, manual workers and their craft.


Stanley Anderson, Windswept Corn, 1938. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015

Stanley Anderson, Windswept Corn, 1938. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015


Significance to the Museum

MERL’s interest in Anderson’s work is long standing. The Museum first exhibited Anderson’s work in 1958 in a temporary exhibition, ‘The Craftsmen and his Tools’. The Museum loaned 25 engravings directly from Anderson, which included 5 of the 6 engravings that we later successfully acquired through the support of the Art Fund. In the exhibition, these engravings were displayed alongside loaned craft tools from the R.A. Salaman Collection. The loan included objects such as a farriers’ tongs, a basket maker’s bodkins and a chair maker’s breast bib.

Anderson’s prints are robust in their reflection of the scope of traditional craft objects that we now hold in the Museum’s collection. They successfully illuminate and contextualise the objects and their use. The value of Anderson’s representations in facilitating our understanding of rural life and craft is described in the accompanying exhibiting guide. :

“The engraving [of The Cooper] provided an almost complete guide to the trade. If you look carefully you will find truss hoop, heading knife, jointer, cresset, adze, chiv, downright, stoup-plane, auger, rushes for caulking, dowelling brace, bick iron, hoop-driver, and heading-swift” (Salaman, 1958 p3).

Front cover of exhibition guide 'The Craftsmen and His Tools'. D MERL C5754.

Front cover of exhibition guide ‘The Craftsmen and His Tools’. D MERL C5754.


Unique stories

We can identify and uniquely interpret the stories of the crafts people represented in Anderson’s work through our artefactual collections.


Stanley Anderson, The Basket Maker, 1942. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015.

Stanley Anderson, The Basket Maker, 1942. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015.


Thame-based basket maker William Youens Fleet is shown at his board making a half-bushel basket in The Basket-Maker, 1942.  It is thought that Fleet was almost certainly related to the Maltby family who monopolised the chair seating industry in nearby High Wycombe, a centre of chair making. The Museum holds examples of Maltby-made seats and basketry.

Basketwork chair. Object number 68/459.

Basketwork chair. Object number 68/459.


This basketwork chair seat is an example of the craft of willow chair seating. It was made by Leslie Maltby, it is made of willow skein on an ash frame with an under weave of chair cane.

Basketwork willow bird cage. Object number 64/159.

Basketwork willow bird cage. Object number 64/159.


This basketwork willow bird cage was made by Leslie Maltby. It is round with a spire top and a door at the side, and would once have had a small platform outside the cage on which turf was placed to hold worms for food.


Stanley Anderson, The Rake Makers, 1948. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015

Stanley Anderson, The Rake Makers, 1948. © The Estate of Stanley Anderson. All rights reserved. DACS 2015


The rake makers firm depicted in The Rake Makers, 1948 is that of Ernest Sims of Pamber End, Hampshire. The Museum holds a number of rakes, rake parts, handles, and tools purchased from Sims.

Rake. Object number: 53/93/1_2.

Rake. Object number: 53/93/1_2.


This rake was made in the workshop at Pamber End on the 22nd April 1953; it is only half-made, so that the stages of manufacture are clearly seen.  The rake is in two sections: the handle and the rake head.


Rake heads. Object number: 83/2/1_10.

Rake heads. Object number: 83/2/1_10.


Ten unfinished hay rake heads with holes drilled but no tines inserted. They are made of willow. They were purchased from Ernest Sims.



We plan to display several of the newly acquired engravings in the Museum’s permanent galleries, due to open later in 2016 as part of the Our Country Lives redevelopment programme. However, the engravings can also be consulted by appointment. Please contact Art Collections Officer Jacqueline Winston-Silk for further details j.winston-silk@reading.ac.uk.


Art Fund

We would like to thank the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art, for their support in helping to purchase the artworks. This marks the first occasion on which the Museum has received an Art Fund grant. We would also like to acknowledge their support in enabling us to devise a bidding strategy that ensured our success at auction.