April 2012

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If anyone has been following the progress of our cataloguing, you might like to know that today, we reached another milestone: 4000 records have now been enhanced!  Out of interest, the 4000th record was one of a small collection of materials and tools used in fishing fly tying.  Fly tying is, I must admit, a topic that until about an hour ago, I knew absolutely nothing about.  Whilst cataloguing, we’re learning a lot about the collection, so we’ll continue to blog about certain objects or collections that we each find particularly interesting.  For me, rather inexplicably, this has been wagons and wheelwrighting.  Expect a post in the near future…

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Today marks 80 years to the day since the mass trespass movement struck out onto the foothills and slopes of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire. This was essentially an urban invasion of private rural land, which was at that time still largely gamekeeper-controlled. This divisive incident and the arrests that resulted from it were arguably a powerful precursor to several later developments in the widening of countryside access. These included the later formation of the National Parks Authority as well as the much more recent establishment of ‘right to roam’ under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000.

The Sense of Place project has already begun to consider the potential for using tools relating to museum collections out in the countryside itself. It hopes to examine ways of facilitating interested walkers in their exploration of the holdings of institutions like MERL. Such virtual rambles might thereby enable them to access information about artefacts in the very places that the items were made, used, or to which they are otherwise contextually linked.

Hopefully we’ll return to this idea as the project develops but for now, happy birthday Kinder Trespass! Incidentally, the Kinder Scout trespass movement has apparently given rise to some influential folk music (as well as other popular discourse) over the years. A good excuse therefore to mention tonight’s MERL Folk Concert.

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My colleague Alison Hilton (Marketing Officer) recently joined other museum professionals from around the UK at an event held in No. 11 Downing Street in celebration of the success of Museums at Night.

Alison Hilton, Marketing Officer

Alison Hilton (Marketing Officer) at No 11. Downing Street, April 2012

This visit from a member of MERL staff to the heart of government brought to mind something that I read recently, which had been penned by the current incumbent of the property next door, No. 10. The Spring 2012 edition of the Countryside Alliance quarterly magazine features a guest article by Prime Minister David Cameron (2012_Spring_Cameron), in which he writes enthusiastically about modern country life and refers to his own personal experience of different places within rural Britain. Here the PM draws attention to his own rural roots. He was brought up less than 20 miles walk from MERL, in the small West Berkshire village of Peasemore. Somewhat coincidentally, Peasemore just happens to be the location of the pub that will host the winner of MERL’s current photographic competition. I would urge you to enter this soon as the deadline of 22nd April is almost upon us.

Whilst attempting to avoid the political rhetoric of the PM’s article, I was nevertheless struck by a couple of things. Firstly, his characterisation of rural Britain as ‘a real place of mud and muck, proper community ties and incredibly hard-working people trying to make a go of their lives.’ This seems to echo the notion that the countryside might harbour potential to offer a renewed sense of social cohesion, about which I have already posted some thoughts. The piece also appears – albeit probably unintentionally – to echo language that was popular in critiques once levelled at the nascent organics movement of the 1940s, namely that this was an ethereal and unrealistic world of ‘muck and magic’! Putting this to one side for a moment, let’s take a look at how the PM then picks up on nostalgic and romantic ideas of the countryside, attempting to contextualise these within the complex social and economic climate of the present:

‘I love the beauty and history of the British landscape but for me rural life is part of the present, with huge strengths and serious challenges too… it is my constituency of Witney in West Oxfordshire where we [David Cameron and his family] are really at home. It’s a stunning bit of Britain, on the edge of the Cotswolds, with a real rural economy and thriving market towns. You can never forget, as an MP for a seat like mine, that the countryside isn’t a vast museum [my emphasis]. It’s a buzzing 21st-century economy.’

I think that it was the last section that I found particularly problematic. There is a casualness to the popular conception of museums as warehouses of the past that has the effect of pigeonholing them and portraying them as storehouse for objects, technologies, or ideas that were once important but are now redundant, once active but now static. However, much like the PM’s take on the countryside of the 21st-century, I would argue that museums are undeniably buzzing. What is more, they are waking up to their wider socio-economic potential and becoming increasingly effective at measuring their own impact, understanding their value as dynamic sites of engagement, recognising their potential to become active agents of change, and highlighting their important role as interconnecting hubs and facilitators of social enterprise. We don’t even have to look outside the rural museums sector to find the pioneers and architects of this latter approach. The Museum of East Anglian Life and its Director Tony Butler sit at the forefront of the Happy Museum Project, which seeks to bolster the social and economic importance of such institutions within their local communities, and to draw strength and inspiration from the values of people living in these places. So, far from being backward-looking institutions, museums are actually operating very much at the vanguard of David Cameron’s Big Society.

In addition, I would argue that the countryside can operate simultaneously as the ‘buzzing’ economy of the PM’s portrayal and concomitantly the enormous museum that he is keen to declaim against. Farmers and other managers of the landscape (alongside the many diverse people who work or live within it) are not only contributing towards a host of vital modern industries but participating in a vast exercise in stewardship and custodianship. Whether we travel through the countryside, talk about it, or even directly participate in and contribute towards it’s construction and care, we are all able to enjoy the fruits of these collective curatorial labours. This links back to some of the ideas that I think lay behind the very establishment of MERL. I believe that the museum’s founding father, John Higgs, probably drew inspiration from ideas about rural community and localisation that were popular with certain thinkers of the interwar period. This included people like H. J. Massingham, whose artefactual collections Higgs secured for his fledgling museum, and which have recently been fully catalogued as part of the Sense of Place project.

This notion of the nation as a vast open air museum is not really very new. It has links to the national park movement of the 1930s and arguably has its most explicit roots in ethnographic projects that preceded these developments. Indeed, I paid passing reference to one such vision in a recent article about folklore and object-collecting during the late-19th century:

‘On the threshold of a new century, one major folklorist argued that the entirety of British folklore should be thought of in museological terms, with the nation itself the museum and all its vernacular content and attributes—living and obsolete, tangible and ethereal—a distributed but systematic collection. Here the discpline itself became a museum; an historical project in which “specimens” were to be “labelled, ticketed, and set forth for greater convenience”.’

This is far from a redundant notion. I suggest it has a valuable role to play in the present and that the idea of ‘place’ should come to form a central part of how we begin think along these lines. Rural museums should seek to foster the idea of the countryside as a ‘vast museum’, thereby highlighting and capitalising on their own potential to function as key players in the broadening of public understanding about this rich interconnecting web of places, people, and activity. They can become portals, springboards, and stepping stones by which contemporary audiences can enter and begin to understand and enjoy the rural places that make up the massive countrywide display and interactive of Britain. There is nothing shameful in seeing the countryside in these terms. Instead, much like Museums at Night, this is something we should look to celebrate and encourage.

Articles cited:

  • David Cameron, ‘Last Word: My Countryside’ in Countryside Alliance, Spring 2012, p.42
  • Oliver Douglas, ‘Folklore, Survivals, and the Neo-Archaic: the Materialist Character of Late Nineteenth-century Homeland Ethnography’ in Museums History Journal 4:2, July 2011, pp.223-244
  • Alfred Nutt, ‘Presidential Address. Britain and Folklore’ in Folklore 10:1, 1899, pp.71-86 [as quoted in my own article]

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I’m straying into Ollie’s blogging territory a bit here, but I found that the polehead collection got me thinking quite a bit about place, and the relationship between objects and places.

Seeing so many place names at once, I started to draw connections between them and notice patterns. The most obvious was the number of places with ‘combe’ in the name, especially in Somerset. The strong relationship between the names of places and their geographical features can be found throughout the UK, in English, Welsh and Gaelic. ‘Combe’ comes from the Saxon word for ‘valley’ and Compton, which I’ve also catalogued a few of, means ‘valley farm’.  There’s a handy website with more examples and look out for a blog post on this theme in the future.

Another idea that came to me, although I’m struggling to articulate it clearly, is how a polehead can relate to place in so many ways. Not only is the polehead connected physically to a place in that it was actually used there, it is also connected symbolically – it represents membership of the Friendly Society which was formed for the benefit of the people there. As mentioned earlier, the form and shape of the polehead can directly represent the place it comes from – such as an anchor if it comes from a village near the sea, or a deer if the squire owned a deer park. On a wider level, these types of poleheads are representative of the West Country in that they are only found in this region of England.

And finally, while cataloguing the Shickle Collection I made a list of all the places mentioned. I think it would be good to add the other polehead collections to it when we catalogue them… I’ll try to persuade Felicity.

  • Aller, Somerset
  • Alveston, Gloucestershire
  • Ansford, Somerset
  • Ashby Saint Ledgers, Northamptonshire
  • Ashcott, Somerset
  • Axbridge, Somerset
  • Banwell, Somerset
  • Batcombe, Somerset
  • Bath, Somerset
  • Bathpool, Somerset
  • Binegar, Somerset
  • Bishop’s Hull, Somerset
  • Bishops Lydeard, Somerset
  • Bitton, Gloucestershire
  • Blagdon, Somerset
  • Bower Hinton, Somerset
  • Bowlish, Somerset
  • Bradninch, Devon
  • Bridgeyate, Gloucestershire
  • Bristol
  • Broadway, Somerset
  • Bruton, Somerset
  • Buckhorn Weston, Dorset
  • Buckland Dinham, Somerset
  • Burrington, Somerset
  • Burrow Bridge, Somerset
  • Burton, Wiltshire
  • Butleigh, Somerset
  • Cannington, Somerset
  • Carlingcott, Somerset
  • Castle Cary, Somerset
  • Charlton Horethorne, Somerset
  • Chedzoy, Somerset
  • Chew Magna, Somerset
  • Chewton Mendip, Somerset
  • Chilcompton, Somerset
  • Chiselborough, Somerset
  • Churchill, Somerset
  • Clutton, Somerset
  • Coalpit Heath, Gloucestershire
  • Combe Florey, Somerset
  • Combe Hay, Somerset
  • Combe Saint Nicholas, Somerset
  • Combwich, Somerset
  • Compton Martin, Somerset
  • Corsley Heath, Wiltshire
  • Corston, Somerset
  • Creech Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Crewkerne, Somerset
  • Crowcombe, Somerset
  • Curry Mallet, Somerset
  • Ditcheat, Somerset
  • Dowlish Wake, Somerset
  • Downend, Gloucestershire
  • Drayton, Somerset
  • Dudley, West Midlands/Worcestershire
  • East Stour, Dorset
  • Evercreech, Somerset
  • Farrington Gurney, Somerset
  • Fifehead Magdalen, Dorset
  • Filton, Bristol
  • Filton, Gloucestershire
  • Filton/Whitchurch, Somerset
  • Fishponds, Bristol
  • Frenchay, Gloucestershire
  • Frome, Somerset
  • Glastonbury, Somerset
  • Halberton, Devon
  • Halse, Somerset
  • Ham, Somerset
  • Hambrook, Gloucestershire
  • Hanham, Gloucestershire
  • Hardington, Somerset
  • Harptree, Somerset
  • Hele (near Bradninch) Devon
  • Henstridge, Somerset
  • Henton, Somerset
  • Heytesbury, Wiltshire
  • Holcombe, Somerset
  • Huntspill, Somerset
  • Ilchester, Somerset
  • Keevil, Wiltshire
  • Kelston, Somerset
  • Keynsham, Somerset
  • Kilmersdon, Somerset
  • Kilve, Somerset
  • Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset
  • Kingsdon, Somerset
  • Kingston Saint Mary, Somerset
  • Kingswood, Bristol, Gloucestershire
  • Larkhall, Somerset
  • Long Ashton, Somerset
  • Long Burton, Dorset
  • Lopen, Somerset
  • Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire
  • Mark, Somerset
  • Marnhull, Dorset
  • Marston Bigot, Somerset
  • Martock, Somerset
  • Meare, Somerset
  • Merriott, Somerset
  • Mickleton, Gloucestershire
  • Milverton, Somerset
  • Middle Chinnock, Somerset
  • Misterton, Somerset
  • Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire
  • Montacute, Somerset
  • Nailsea, Somerset
  • Nether Stowey, Somerset
  • Nibley, Gloucestershire
  • North Cadbury, Somerset
  • North Coker, Somerset
  • North Perrott, Somerset
  • Norton Saint Philip, Somerset
  • Nunney, Somerset
  • Oakhill, Somerset
  • Panborough, Somerset
  • Pawlett, Somerset
  • Potterne, Wiltshire
  • Priddy, Somerset
  • Publow, Somerset
  • Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire
  • Puddletown, Dorset
  • Radstock, Somerset
  • Redhill, Somerset
  • Rode, Somerset
  • Seavington Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset
  • Sherborne, Dorset
  • Shirehampton, Bristol
  • Siston, Gloucestershire
  • Somerton, Somerset
  • Soundwell, Gloucestershire
  • South Brewham, Somerset
  • South Petherton, Somerset
  • South Wraxall, Wiltshire
  • Stalbridge, Dorset
  • Stapleton, Bristol
  • Stogursey, Somerset
  • Stoke Saint Michael, Somerset
  • Stoke sub Hampton, Somerset
  • Ston Easton, Somerset
  • Stone Allerton, Somerset
  • Stourton Caundle, Dorset
  • Street, Somerset
  • Studley, Wiltshire
  • Sturminster, Dorset
  • Sutton Veny, Wiltshire
  • Swineford, Gloucestershire
  • Taunton, Somerset
  • Temple Cloud, Somerset
  • Templecombe, Somerset
  • Timsbury, Somerset
  • Tiverton, Devon
  • Tividale, West Midlands
  • Tunley, Somerset
  • Wanstrow, Somerset
  • Warminster, Wiltshire
  • Watchet, Somerset
  • Wedmore, Somerset
  • Wellow, Somerset
  • Wells, Somerset
  • Wembdon, Somerset
  • Westbury on Trym, Bristol
  • West Chinnock, Somerset
  • West Coker, Somerset
  • West Monkton, Somerset
  • West Pennard, Somerset
  • West Stour, Dorset
  • Westonzoyland, Somerset
  • Whitechurch, Somerset
  • Wick, Somerset
  • Williton, Somerset
  • Willoughby, Warwickshire
  • Winsley, Wiltshire
  • Winterbourne, Gloucestershire
  • Wrington, Somerset
  • Writhlington, Somerset
  • Yate, Gloucestershire
  • Yatton, Somerset
  • Zeals, Wiltshire

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Time for the technical stuff…

One of the key points of focus in our cataloguing is location (hence all this place-related blogging). The Shickle Collection covers about 180 villages, many of which were not listed on the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names, so I spent quite a lot of time exploring Google Maps of Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, Dorset and Gloucestershire. I’d love to see all of these places pinned on a map to see just how big an area the Shickle Collection covers, and to get a feel for whether it is very evenly spread out, or clustered in particular areas. Perhaps that’s something for a rainy Sunday afternoon…  We hope that one of the outcomes of the cataloguing work we’re doing will be to have our collections pinpointed on a map so maybe one day I’ll get lucky!

As part of the cataloguing process I had to create thesaurus terms for all of these places. This was not an easy task.

 

Challenge 1: Getty.

Many of the places, being very small villages, were not listed in Getty. This wasn’t too bad, as it could be overcome by using other online sources such as Google Maps and A Vision of Britain through Time.

 

Challenge 2: Spelling.

Along with variant spellings and alternative names for places, there was also quite a lot of mis-spellings on the original accession records, so I had to search for lots of possible spellings and scour the maps to find what I was looking for. Thankfully, many of the villages were recorded as being near somewhere so at least I had a starting point to look at.

 

Challenge 3: One name, several villages.

Place names aren’t unique and we’ve come across many instances in our catalogue of several places sharing the same name, but these are usually in different counties and can be distinguished by this on the Adlib catalogue. The problem I had this time round was when there were two, or more, villages sharing the same name in the same county, such as Hele in Devon. In this case, it wasn’t possible to distinguish them by county so instead I had to resort to using ‘near’ e.g. ‘Hele [near Bradninch]’ and ‘Hele [near Ilfracombe]‘.

 

Challenge 4: One polehead, several villages.

In some cases it was hard to establish the relationship between the polehead and the place recorded in the accession records. Did the (tangible) polehead belong to the identified place, or was it the (intangible) design which belonged there? When a polehead was identified as belonging to several clubs, does it mean that several villages shared the same tangible polehead, or shared the intangible design? There were many subtleties in the wording on the accession records to do with degrees of certainty and I tried to rationalise the cataloguing in the following ways:

  1. It belonged to the Club at A – A recorded as ‘place used’
  2. It belonged to Club at A and B – A and B recorded as ‘place used’
  3. It probably belonged to Club A – A recorded as ‘associated place’
  4. It probably belonged to Club A and B – A and B recorded as ‘associated place’
  5. It belonged to Club A or B – A and B recorded as ‘as associated place’
  6.  It belonged to one of Club A, B or C – A, B and C recorded as ‘associated place’

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I don’t have time to visit every place I’ve catalogued (see my post on East Hendred and the Lavinia Smith Collection), but I feel I’ve been getting to know Somerset (and the surrounding counties) through the Shickle Collection of Friendly Society poleheads (search ‘Shickle’ under collection in the online catalogue). MERL holds four collections of poleheads – the Shickle Collection, the Allen Collection, the Jardine Collection and the Forster Collection. The Shickle Collection consists of about 250 and occupied a happy week of cataloguing from the year 1951. It’s definitely Felicity’s turn to catalogue the next polehead collection!

Poleheads from the Allen Collection.

Friendly Societies were village clubs formed to provide insurance for members in the case of sickness or death, and they also played an important role in the village social life. A government act was passed in 1793 to encourage their foundation, and they were common until the late-nineteenth century. Most Friendly Societies held an annual meeting which was followed by a church service and a procession, or ‘walk’, around the parish. In many areas, simple poles were carried in the processions, but in Somerset and the adjoining counties brass poleheads, like those in the Shickle Collection, were commonly used.

There are two basic types of poleheads in the Shickle Collection – the ‘spear’ type, which is essentially flat, and the ‘bedpost’ type, which is bulbous. These are often embellished in various ways – with cut out designs, curved edges, projections, differently shaped and sized bulges and so on. Common motifs include crowns, oak leaves, clasped hands, birds, diamonds, triangles, hearts etc. and in some cases the motif represents the interest of the Friendly Society or the place where they met. The Society at Frome in Somerset met at the Ring of Bells pub and their polehead is spear shaped with cut outs of five bells and two crescents (51/913). Unfortunately the Shickle Collection poleheads are all packed away in boxes so I couldn’t take any photos, but the Allen Collection is on open display in our stores.

Spear type poleheads with an array of emellishments.

Close up of a bedpost type polehead.

 

 

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Just in case you weren’t listening to Radio Berkshire yesterday afternoon you can catch up with what Greta and I had to say to Bill Buckley on the History Hour. We talked in detail about A Sense of Place and discussed other ongoing projects at MERL. Go to http://bbc.in/HEQUOL – the interview begins at 1.06.55 and continues for several segments of the show.

Amongst other things, we spoke in more detail about Lavinia Smith and her collections from East Hendred, as well as some of the other ongoing digitisation work being undertaken at the museum – Rural Images Discovered and OBL4HE – and about the forthcoming MERL Village Fete, which sees the museum turn its attention to a fresh diamond jubilee theme. I say ‘fresh’ because MERL actually celebrated its own diamond jubilee in 2011, staging a 60th anniversary exhibition in collaboration with none other than the BBC. As the following image shows, yesterday’s broadcast on BBC Berkshire was the latest in a long line of connections between ‘Auntie’ and MERL over the years.

Live TV broadcast from MERL, May 1954

Live TV broadcast from MERL, May 1954

Turning my attention back to this year’s jubilee – that of HRH Queen Elizabeth – the museum is lucky enough to be linking up with HistoryPin once more as a result of this milestone event. MERL, of course, has previously partnered with HistoryPin on a project concerned with Pinning Reading’s History, and the Sense of Place project team will be working with them over the coming months to find new ways of making the museum’s artfactual collections accessible via virtual maps.

By way of extending these existing and ongoing links with HistoryPin, we’ll be using the Village Fete as a context in which to gather content for another place-related project that they are currently developing, which is concerned with Pinning the Queen’s History. Having been born within a week of the 1977 celebrations I am what is commonly referred to as a ‘Silver Jubilee baby’ and therefore have something of a soft spot for street parties and bunting. With this in mind (and just to show how all these things seem to tie neatly together) I’ll finish with a rather pleasing photograph that somebody posted on HistoryPin, which shows a Reading-based street party held around the time I was born.

Silver Jubilee Street Party Vine Crescent Reading, 1977

Silver Jubilee Street Party, Vine Crescent, Reading, 1977

I hope you enjoy listening to Greta and me on the radio and we both look forward to seeing you at the MERL Village Fete on Saturday 9 June 2012!

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Having reached the cataloguing milestone of finishing all 1300 or so records from 1951, I thought it would be good to share some of the things I’ve catalogued. 1951 contained several large collections of objects – the Lavinia Smith Collection, the H. J. Massingham Collection and the Shickle Collection of Friendly Society Poleheads – which definitely helped speed up the cataloguing.

Lavinia Smith was an American who lived with her sister, Frances, in the village of East Hendred in Oxfordshire (formerly in Berkshire) until her death in 1944, aged 73. She gathered objects from friends and neighbours in the East Hendred area, and even found some at the village dump, and displayed them to visitors, especially children from local schools, at their house in the village, ‘Downside’. When Lavinia died, the collection was bequeathed to Berkshire Education Services, and later transferred to the Berkshire Archives at MERL.

A view of Downside, where Lavinia Smith lived.

The Lavinia Smith collection at MERL contains over 400objects – including agricultural implements, animal traps, animal bells and shepherds’ crooks, horseshoes and harnesses, woodworking and metal working tools, fireside and cooking equipment, and much much more! Try searching for ‘Lavinia Smith’ in our online catalogue. Further Lavinia Smith material is held at the East Hendred Museum and details can also be found here. Our records at MERL also contain a list of many of Lavinia Smith’s donors, along with their occupations, which provides interesting contextual evidence – and could be an interesting avenue for future research.

The East Hendred Museum, housed in Champs Chapel.

So, having spent the best part of a month cataloguing the Lavinia Smith Collection, I had a really strong urge to visit East Hendred (and take my photo next to the village sign – but my arms weren’t long enough to fit me and the sign in the same photo) and decided to head off one sunny Sunday and see what sort of a place it was. As it turns out, East Hendred is one of the most beautiful villages I’ve ever been to! Unfortunately the East Hendred Museum was closed on my visit, but I spent an hour or two walking around and enjoying the sunshine, and I can see why it would have appealed – it was very ‘English’ and very ‘Midsomer Murders’. However, there wasn’t much sign within the village of the agricultural way of life that Lavinia Smith’s collection documents. Until this project, I’d never heard of East Hendred, and so had no idea what it was like and had no context in which to catalogue the Collection – visiting it has made it a ‘real’ place far more than looking at it on a map did.

Incidentally, East Hendred is one of those difficult places we’ve encountered which has been affected by changing county borders – from Berkshire to Oxfordshire – and is brilliantly illustrated in this ‘Best Kept Village’ sign from the 1970s.

From Berkshire to Oxfordshire.

And on the way back into Reading, across the Berkshire Downs, it was pleasing to recognise lots of place names that I’d encountered in the cataloguing. I’m from Cambridge and don’t know this area at all, but I feel that I’m slowly starting to piece together a map in my mind of where places around here are. So my visit to East Hendred helped me improve my ‘sense of place’ in terms of the context in which Lavinia Smith was collecting and of my geographical knowledge of the Berkshire/Oxfordshire area.

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Just in time for a well-deserved Easter break, Project Officer Greta Bertram has just completed improvements to catalogue information associated with all the artefacts that entered the museum’s collection during its founding year of 1951. This is no small achievement, entailing as it has the enhancement of some 1344 records in the collection database. Well done Greta!

The initial object in this run of entries was a humble animal bell, which had been allocated the accession number ‘MERL 51/1‘ to indicate that it was the first item to be formally acquired during the year 1951. Undertaking research for a recent temporary exhibition I had the opportunity to speak with the man who gave this object to the museum. Back then he was a student in the University of Reading’s Department of Agriculture and he remains a local farmer, still living in the same place he did when the object was donated. In order to track him down I simply searched for the farm name online and gave one of the phone numbers I found a try, not really expecting to have very much luck. In actual fact, his wife answered the phone and, after my long-winded explanation for ringing, she told me that he was in the next room and got him to come to speak with me.

Animal bell - the museum's first object

The first artefact to be recorded in 1951

The object donor remembered giving the object but had no idea that it had become the first item to be formally recorded in the museum’s accession register. Some of the details that Greta has added to this artefact’s catalogue entry stem directly from this conversation. Of course, many farms are also family businesses and are therefore owned or operated by the same close-knit group of people for generations. This kind of successive connection represents a powerful attachment to place that rural museums should seek to capitalise on and harness when attempting to foster a stronger sense of stakeholdership in their collections.

Earlier today I was reminded of that same conversation whilst visiting another potential object donor who, as it happens, was also a student in the Department of Agriculture during the 1950s. He too had lived in much the same area for over 30 years and, although he was a newcomer all those decades ago, he had become very much ‘hefted’ to his current home. He’s a basket specialist and collector, which is really more Greta’s area of interest and expertise than mine. After editing the 1000-plus records pertaining to the ’51 objects, I think Greta deserves a break from her computer screen. So, I’m going to encourage her to visit his collection, giving her the opportunity to find out more about the University in the 1950s, but more importantly to help contribute towards shaping the MERL collection for future generations.

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