MERL Fellowship scheme for 2012-13

Applications are now being invited for the Gwyn E. Jones MERL Fellowship scheme for 2012-13, tenable for up to twelve months, to support research in subject areas associated with the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at the University of Reading. The closing date is 11 May 2012.

Successful proposals attract a stipend of up to £10,000 for a maximum period of twelve months. Applications for shorter periods of research are welcome but would attract a commensurately smaller stipend. The funding can be used to offset teaching and administration costs, and other research-related expenses. Fellows are encouraged to participate in the academic programmes of the Museum.

Visit the MERL website for details and information on how to apply

Local people invited to take part in ‘Project Berkshire’

MERL is asking for local people to contribute ideas for a project that is producing a record of the Berkshire countryside.

MERL, which is owned and managed by the University of Reading, is currently hosting Field work: photographs from East Anglia, an exhibition of photographer Justin Partyka’s work exploring the lives of those whose identity stems from a close relationship with the landscape.

Now, with support from Arts Council England, MERL has commissioned Justin to photograph rural Berkshire.  From Friday 23 to Sunday 25 March MERL has organised workshops in The Oracle shopping centre, led by Justin’s colleague Bee Farrell, where local people can provide information on local family names as well as describe their favourite places around Berkshire.

MERL Curator, Isabel Hughes says “Justin is looking for interesting locations around Berkshire and the activities are designed to encourage discussion about favourite places and local names around Berkshire.  Visitors will be encouraged to look at contemporary and historic maps and photographs. There will be opportunities for people to use stencils to write up and decorate family names and work with an app on ipads to draw their own maps.

Justin began working on his ‘Project Berkshire’ in February, exploring and photographing farms and landscapes around the county. The results of his first foray can now be seen in the form of a ‘pop up’ exhibition, mounted in partnership with ‘Jelly’ in empty shops in central Reading.

Justin Partyka said: “As a photographer I am excited by this opportunity to discover Berkshire, which is an unknown county to me.  It is easy to see the county of Berkshire as one large suburb shaped by the urban sprawl of Reading and the commuter belt of the M4 slicing the county in half. But I have already discovered that this is just one aspect of the place. As I explore with my camera I intend to also show another side of Berkshire, the more hidden rural pockets that may have become forgotten or overlooked by many people in the past in an age where industrial agriculture has come to dominate the countryside.”

 The workshops are supported by the Earley Charity and arts organisation Jelly.

To find out how to get involved in ‘Project Berkshire’, visit the MERL website or call 0118 378 8660.


‘Your Project Berkshire’ photography competition launched

The Museum of English Rural Life has teamed up with Reading Post/getreading to invite the public to record their favourite rural places in Berkshire and win great prizes.

As part of his ‘Field Work’ exhibition currently at MERL, Justin Partyka has been commissioned by the Museum, thanks to an Arts Council grant,  to capture images of rural life here and wants local people to join in and contribute to his ‘Project Berkshire’.

For details and to find out how to enter your pictures in the photography competition, visit Your Project Berkshire on the MERL website.

Special guest Taffy Thomas, launches new series of ‘Songs, stories & traditions’ folk events

The Storyteller Laureate, Taffy Thomas, will be performing at the Museum of English Rural Life on March 20th.

 The Museum (MERL), which is owned and managed by the University of Reading, will be welcoming Taffy Thomas as the first guest of local folk singer Hilary James in her ‘Song, stories and traditions’ folk series.

 In this fourth series, Hilary James continues to invite friends from across the folk scene to perform alongside her and mandolinist, Simon Mayor, exploring English music and poems, stories and traditions.

Currently artistic director of Tales in Trust, the Northern Centre for Storytelling, Taffy Thomas has also been awarded the MBE for services to storytelling and charity. Inspired by Justin Partyka’s striking photographs of East Anglia currently on display in the Museum, Taffy will take guests on a journey round the region, telling tall tales of tall ships and landlubbers.  He will be accompanied by songs from Hilary and additional music by mandolin and fiddle maestro Simon Mayor.

Hilary James says ‘Taffy Thomas lived for some time on a farm in Suffolk near the places featured by the writer George Ewart Evans in his book “Ask the Fellows Who Follow the Plough”. Taffy also fished out of Aldeburgh, so his “Tales of Land and Sea” have a genuine taste of East Anglia about them, even if the teller does have a Welsh name and the remnants of a Somerset accent!”

The concert series is supported by the University of Reading Arts Committee and the West Berkshire Brewery, who supply the beer for the bar.

Tickets cost £15 or £12 (concessions) and are available in advance or on the door. For further details visit call 0118 378 8660 or email


Welcome to MERL news

Welcome to the MERL news blog, where you will find stories relating to the Museum’s collections, projects, events and activities. It will be a place to keep up to date with what’s happening at the Museum on a regular basis.

The posts will be written by the Marketing Officer, with contributions also from our Curators, Archivists, Learning Manager, and Visitor Services team which should help give an overview of life across the whole museum.

We are new to this, so the kinds of posts may evolve as we learn what our readers are intersested in, so please let us know what you think and help us to get it right!