Research Tip #3: Easy as A, B, C

written by Hayley Whiting, Reading Connections Digital Content/Online Engagement Officer

Advert for Ransomes

Advert for Ransomes

Finding out about what is held in the MERL Archive just got a whole lot easier! The A-Z index of archive collections is now available. This is an extremely valuable resource for users looking for information on specific collections and a great way to gain an overview of what is held here at MERL.

This is a work in progress and is constantly being added to by the Arts Council England funded Reading Connections Project team (link to blog). The A-Z already contains over 250 entries on major archive collections. Each entry provides an overview of the collection and has a link to the relevant entry in our online database. Details are also given on how to request items for consultation.

There is a handy search facility where you can browse by subject category or do a keyword search, so why not take a look and explore the wealth of archives available!

Picture of the Month #3: Steam-powered buses

written by Caroline Benson, Photographic Asssistant

Anyone who has experienced public transport during the hot summer months may like these two photographs where air conditioning is readily available.

TR RAN ET3/24/10 - a Thetford Road Steamer

TR RAN ET3/24/10 – a Thetford Road Steamer from the 1870’s

They are both from an album in the archive of Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies Ltd held here at MERL. Both date from the early 1870s and show early steam powered buses. The first, TR RAN ET3/24/10, was manufactured by Charles Burrell of Thetford, who termed it a Thetford Road Steamer. This particular one was supplied to the Turkish government for operating a bus service on Crete. The second photograph TR RAN ET3/24/34 shows Nairns Patent Steam omnibus, manufactured in Edinburgh in 1870. An article in “The Engineer” of January 28th 1870 describes how the design “… was to preserve as much as possible the appearance of an ordinary omnibus so as more easily to overcome the prejudice of the public.” The article also adds that Mr Nairn’s patent principle “…deadens noise and gives most ample adhesion in frosty weather.” Definitely a necessity in Edinburgh I would imagine.

TR RAN ET3/24/34 - Nairns Patent Steam Omnibus

TR RAN ET3/24/34 – Nairns Patent Steam Omnibus from 1870

No “first” and “standard” class then, just different prices for outside, at  two pence and inside at three pence.

“Strictly Fab” – Len Goodman joins MERL for Farmyard Fun

written by Guy Baxter, Archivist.

Left to right: Rob Davies, MERL Project Co-ordinator; Mandy Aldwin from the charity Ichthyosis Support Group; Guy Baxter, University Archivist; Jen Woodhams, MERL Volunteering Assistant; Len Goodman and Stuart McKie, MERL Administration and Operations Assistant

Left to right: Rob Davies, MERL Project Co-ordinator; Mandy Aldwin from the charity Ichthyosis Support Group; Guy Baxter, University Archivist; Jen Woodhams, MERL Volunteering Assistant; Len Goodman and Stuart McKie, MERL Administration and Operations Assistant

Last Thursday was quite a day at MERL, with over 500 visitors enjoying Farmyard Fun with Miller’s Ark, who brought us their sheep, goats, pigs, geese, ducks (with their own paddling pool!) and colourful rare-breed chickens. It was also great to see so many visitors having fun with the animals as we’re hoping to showcase more of our animal-related collections in Our Country Lives. Among the visitors was Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman, who described the Museum as “Strictly Fab”!

Len was here to spring a pleasant surprise on members of a charity called The Ichthyosis Support Group who were visiting the museum. The charity, which was started in Reading, has received a National Lottery Award, and the children and adults were being filmed for a BBC programme, to be aired in September. It has been our great pleasure to be able to host the group, and we hope that they enjoyed their day out! We can’t promise a celebrity on every visit, though ….

Len’s reaction to the museum was simple – “Strictly Fab – Love it!” is what he wrote in the Visitors’ Book. We don’t know what score he would give us, but we’re all pretty sure it was a TEN!

Len Goodman's signature in the Visitor Book

Len Goodman’s signature in the Visitor Book

Thanks to all the staff and volunteers at MERL who have made the day such a big success despite the odd shower.

Volunteers’ Voice #4: Summer Volunteers

written by Rob Davies, Volunteer Coordinator.

It’s summer and for us at MERL it is a very busy time for us. Our varied host of family activities means that we are very busy with a large footfall of visitors who would otherwise be at school. This is an excellent opportunity for younger visitors to explore the museum and we provide an affordable, friendly and safe environment for families. However, this does provide an added strain on the staff and volunteers of the family activities programme.

Thank you to our summer volunteers!

Thank you to our summer volunteers!

In preparation for the summer activities I recruit a team of volunteers specifically for the summer; of course, I invite regular volunteers to participate as well but in order to relieve the strain on them I have the summer activities team ready too. When the summer is over I always ensure there is another project or role that the summer volunteers can feed into if they would like to continue volunteering with us.

We have a large student body within the volunteer team, which is thanks to our obvious connections with the University of Reading but also down to the current climate where volunteering is seen as part of student life. This is great during term time but leaves a hole when it comes to the holidays, and I counter this hole with other students returning to Reading for the summer – it is a continuous cycle.

The summer team is comprised of student and community volunteers, reflecting the volunteer programme as a whole. These volunteers are often people who have experience of working or volunteering with children or those who wish to gain such experience. It is a great opportunity for people to experience learning and family activity sessions within a museum environment, volunteer alongside museum professionals and develop excellent skills.

I would recommend inviting the volunteers to meet each other first, cover what each session will entail, plan arrivals and ensure that everyone is aware of the health and safety practice. All this will help ensure that the activities go as planned.

Without the strong and enthusiastic team of volunteers we would not be able to deliver such an extensive range of holiday activities. Volunteers will also be integral to our future plans for MERL in Our Country Lives, in particular because of the invaluable input and opinions of volunteers on what we can do with the museum.

My Favourite Object #3: Horse overshoes, or lawn slippers

written by Claire Smith, Weekend Supervisor/Learning Assistant. To learn more about Claire, see her previous post.

Horse overshoes (MERL\59/392/1-2)

Horse overshoes (MERL\59/392/1-2)

Before the invention of the lawnmower in 1830, grass would be cut with a scythe, or animals would be allowed to graze on the lawn to keep it short. From the 1850s, horse-drawn lawn mowers were introduced. In order to prevent the horse’s hooves from damaging the lawn as the mower was pulled, the horse was fitted with lawn shoes, or slippers. These could also be made to measure for donkeys and ponies. The horse’s feet were simply strapped into the leather overshoe. This spread the pressure of the foot more evenly and prevented the shape of the horseshoe from being imprinted over the lawn.

There are several pairs of lawn shoes in the MERL collection, mainly for horses, but also some smaller ones which were probably used for donkeys or ponies. The pair shown above are made from leather, and padded on the inside with wool. They would have been strapped around the horse’s hooves and fastened with the buckles.

Horses are not the only animals to have shoes – when turkeys made their three month long walk to market, they would wear special leather boots to protect their feet. Pigs would wear knitted boots with leather soles. Geese wouldn’t allow themselves to be shod, so their feet would be dipped in tar and covered with sand. Sadly we don’t have any examples of pig or turkey shoes in the museum, but I think the horse slippers are lovely enough to make up for it!

Tom Paganuzzi & Work Experience at MERL

written by Tom Paganuzzi, a secondary school student on work experience at MERL.


Having applied for work experience at MERL, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I turned up on Monday I was initially intrigued by the building itself. When I met the crew I felt rather welcomed and knew that once I was settled I would feel quite at home.

Upon my tour of the premises I found the history of the building to be rather interesting. When shown my office for the week I was immediately beset with the question; ‘which side does the view look out on?’ I spent much of my lunch breaks and time walking into and out of the building pondering and trying to work it out. I achieved this by Thursday, but alas the exterior location of the staff room still eludes me.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was the Pinterest project, namely because I got to do some photography. Most of the artefacts are curious little articles and make one wonder what they were used for. You can view Tom’s Board here.

A selection of Tom's favourite objects on his Pinterest board

A selection of Tom’s favourite objects on his Pinterest board

Pinterest & MERL

written by Adam Koszary, Project Officer for Our Country Lives.


Everybody – regardless of whether they use them or not – is aware of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. There are also the professional sites such as Yammer and LinkedIn. However, one site which you may not have heard of – and which is becoming increasingly popular – is Pinterest.


Pinterest is a site which helps you cope with the sheer amount of websites you visit and data you accumulate on the internet, and allows you to pin images from webpages on a virtual pinboard. It is essentially a more visually pleasing way of bookmarking interesting content that you find online, and it is a website that more and more museums (and their shops) are taking advantage of in order to show off their objects and archives.

The John Tarlton Board on the MERL Pinterest account

The John Tarlton Board on the MERL Pinterest account

After gathering advice from other institutions (such as the Getty Museum in New York) MERL now has its own Pinterest account. We are hoping to use it as a way of archiving temporary exhibitions so that they can be viewed after they have finished (such as the John Tarlton exhibition), as well as letting people see the objects and archives which usually don’t see the light of day. We are experimenting with different ways of using Pinterest, and Tom Paganuzzi – a student who was on work experience at the museum – very helpfully agreed to pilot a Volunteers Board, which will allow volunteers to pin their favourite objects or whatever they are working on, with notes giving their opinions and further information. Tom also wrote a post about his time at MERL, which you can see above!

If you are already on Pinterest then please follow us, or if you are not already signed up it’s very easy to do so – either by email or through your facebook account.