Evacuees visiting The MERL

The Evacuees next to the interactive that tells their stories.

The evacuees next to the interactive that tells their stories.

On 28 November 2016, The MERL welcomed seven evacuees and their families to the Museum. The evacuees had agreed to allow the Museum to include their stories in the evacuee interactive and the day was designed to thank all involved for their participation. The day included showing the evacuees the interactive for the first time, photographing the evacuees and the evacuees recording their written memoirs. The photographs and audio will now be added to the interactive in the Town and Country gallery.

The evacuees included Peter Terry and Barbara Wood.

Peter Terry, June 1940

Peter Terry, June 1940

Peter Terry, 2016.

Peter Terry, 2016.

Peter Terry was evacuated from Ilford Essex with the Beal School to Kennylands Camp, Sonning Common, Berkshire. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England recommended to the Government in 1938 that camps should be built in various country areas with the object of giving deprived children from inner cities the opportunity of having a holiday in the countryside. It was envisaged that the camps could be used as evacuation centres if necessary. Kennylands was the first camp to be finished and occupied.

Barbara and Betty as young evacuees.

Barbara and Betty as young evacuees.

Barbara and Betty, 2016.

Barbara and Betty, 2016.

Barbara and Betty Wood were evacuated from Sea Mills, Bristol to Rockwell Green, Somerset. Barbara said of the experience, “Although there were unhappy times that we stayed there, Uncle always seemed to be there to listen when we felt sad. Long after the war was over, Auntie and Uncle used to come and stay with us for holidays.”

The MERL holds over 600 evacuee memoirs of children who were evacuated in Britain and overseas.

To find out more about the archive, click here.

Caroline Gould (Principal Archivist)

Countryside Forum: gathering stories

In her latest Activity Plan update, Phillippa Heath (Audience Development Project Manager), describes the fascinating conversations the team have been having (and are set to have) with farmers and individuals with different connections to the countryside, across the UK.

One of our ambitions for the Museum of English Rural Life’s redevelopment is to draw out and bring to the fore the fascinating stories from our objects and collections. Some of these stories might highlight how an object worked or how it was made, but many will hint at the people behind the objects, enabling us all to understand more about their lives. These stories will be appearing throughout the museum galleries as part of our new interpretation and visitors will have the opportunity to learn about a range of individuals: from historic figures represented in our collections (such as rural mid-wife Jean Young) to people widely associated with aspects of rural life today (such as Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis).

As part of this work, we are also keen to speak to as many individuals as possible who work or have associations with the countryside so that their stories too can be represented. Over the course of the last year, the Activity Plan team have been meeting with a number of individuals from across our local area of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire area talking to them about their practices and experiences.

CF - William Cumber

Livestock farmer William Cumber of Manor Farm, Abingdon

Since the beginning of this year, however, their reach has spread to include individuals from a further afield to ensure different localities as well as different viewpoints are represented in the stories which we will be sharing. In February MERL was ‘On Tour’ in Cheshire, Shropshire and Lincolnshire with staff being privileged to speak to a range of people with rural connections.

CF - MERL staff on the road

MERL Activity Plan staff on the road

Some of these individuals were farmers. Phillip Winward, Shropshire Dairy Farmer with a small herd of sixty cows, talked about how he and his fellow local dairy farmers are overcoming the pressures currently experienced by their industry through the formation of an informal advisory group. He described how the group acts as a support and sharing network in which members compare approaches to declining milk prices and how they can increase efficiency and sustainability on their farms.

Phillip Winward, Shropshire Dairy Farmer

Phillip Winward, Shropshire Dairy Farmer

Founder of the British Quinoa Company, Stephen Jones, although from a farming background, was at the early stages of farming an arable crop not previously farmed in the UK – quinoa. He spoke about the fascinating story behind the development of his business from his early crop research trialling to now being in the position where he is managing a thriving national business working with a diverse range of growers and suppliers.

Stephen Jones founder of the British Quinoa Company with his new product sample, quinoa muesli

Stephen Jones founder of the British Quinoa Company with his new product sample, quinoa muesli

Two of our interviewees were retired farmers. James and Joyce Greenfield are both Lincolnshire born and bred and still live in their farmhouse though no longer have the responsibility for farming the land. They talked to us about their fascinating personal histories in pastoral farming, shared some wonderful anecdotes from their farming lives and treated us to a wealth of knowledge and information. Mr Greenfield, an avid collector of farm machinery and rural heritage, also gave us a tour of his fascinating collection many items which were similar to the ones that we have at MERL.

James Greenfield and his seed fiddle

James Greenfield and his seed fiddle


Joyce Greenfield guiding us through her collection of domestic rural items

Joyce Greenfield guiding us through her collection of domestic rural items

Not all of the individuals we interviewed were practising farmers. Polly Gibb is Director of Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE). Founded in 1988 and based at Harper Adams University, “WiRE is a national business support network; promoting, supporting and developing its membership of rural businesswomen. WiRE offers practical business support which includes access to the 50 WiRE networks across the UK where women in business share expertise and knowledge, build new skills, help boost confidence and support each other to build better businesses”. Polly spoke with great enthusiasm about the diversity of businesses she now has the pleasure of representing across the UK and the importance of her role in liaising with government department in ensuring rural businesswomen’s views are represented.

This week our conversations are set to continue as the Activity Plan team set off on their aptly named ‘Dartmoor Dart’. Visiting individuals across Devon, the team will be regularly updating social media so keep an eye on MERL’s facebook and twitter feeds to find out more about who they are meeting and what stories they are discovering.

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Eve Balfour

The last of our People Stories, written by The Abbey School students, looks at the life of Lady Eve Balfour, co-founder of the Soil Association

Lady Evelyn Balfour was born on the 16th July 1898. After studying agriculture at Reading University she went on to write The Living Soil and then co-founded The Soil Association in 1945. She was also a main person behind the organic farming movement,  which provided more jobs for women compared to the only 5% of women working in chemical farming. Born almost exactly 100 years after Lady Eve, we are both female, feminist and consumers of organic food, you can see how Lady Eve Balfour appealed directly to both of us, and why we are thrilled to be able to delve more into the life and the legacy behind one of the most influential people and women for agriculture in the early 1900’s.


Eve Balfour was born into a large and influential family (Fun Fact: Her Uncle Arthur was appointed as Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle Robert which is where the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ originates). As a child she travelled between two estates with two different types of soil, one of which was bright red, which may have been the start of fascination with farming and soil. Eve’s family were keen to educate their children well, and one of the many things she was taught as a child is how to make and support a convincing argument. She was also seen as very determined as well as amusing (Fun Fact: One Christmas as a young girl Eve burst into the servants Christmas Dinner to sing them a song). At 12 years old Eve decided she wanted to become a farmer and was educated accordingly and accepted into the Agriculture College in Reading,despite her and her entire family’s awful spelling (Fun Fact: Eve’s brother, and heir to the Balfour estate Arthur Robert Lytton was probably dyslexic, he wanted to go into the Navy but despite passing the medical he failed the entrance exam by spelling his own name wrong (Robart)). Eve thoroughly enjoyed university and even spent a year on a farm. She planned to open a farm with her sister, Mary. In 1919 Eve aged 21 finally bought her own farm in Haughley, Sussex with her inheritance.

The reason why Lady Eve Balfour is important is because after she spent a year in farm, she took part in an experiment called the Haughley experiment where she proved the link between the quality of soil and our health. Before there had been scientists such as McCarrison who had made the link between health and diet and other scientists such as Harrison made a link between the quality of food and the quality of soil. The results were published around February 1940 and were highly respected by important institutes. After this she was able to set up the Soil Association in 1945 and has in this way affected farming significantly today. Although her discovery may seem very boring and pointless, it meant that farmers knew how to improve the quality of their produce and has improved the health of many people since then. Even though few people may know about her she has truly impacted all of our lives today.



Michael Brander, Eve Balfour: The Founder of the Soil Association and the Voice of the Organic Movement (The Gleneil Press, 2003), p.11

Sophie Poklewski koziell, Two women of the soil

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/timeline/eve_balfour.shtml 06/07/15

Evelyn Balfour, The Haughley Experiment, p.7

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Jean Young

One of the many topics we will be exploring in the museum’s new displays is rural healthcare. Our latest blog by Abbey School students focuses on the story of a 1940s District Nurse, Jean Young.


Jean Young was a District Nurse/Midwife. This ambiguous job title in fact entirely sums up the role; for the first few weeks they were a “nurse” to every new baby in the village, then became a “health visitor”, visiting only once a month, yet also addressed the wounds of the elderly. Jean Young was the “Queen Nurse” for East Garston and the 25 surrounding miles which she attended in her black Ford 10 which was provided by the Nursing Association.

A day in the life

This seems like it was one of those jobs, like a business owner of today, that you sort of take home with you. Every morning Jean began by making up her bag in the ‘glory room’ and starting out on the job in hand at 9. However, this time alters depending on who she had to see; she might leave earlier to give insulin to help a diabetic, so they can have breakfast at a decent hour. Usually dressed in a dull-blue drill frock with a trim belt and tiny turn-down white collar, black shoes and stockings, she altered her outfit depending on the job she had to do. A navy blue overcoat, white overall, mask and peaked cap for maternity and an apron and starched cap for nursing duties. Every day Jean would leave a slate on the door which showed her movements of the day, so if someone in the village came to her house with a problem, they would know where to find her. After a busy morning and then lunch, she would relax in the garden; within reach of the phone of course. Queen Nurse would be back out in the evening ’til late, ensuring everyone in the village was happy and healthy.


Her Role as a Midwife

Jean had 35-40 mothers attend her clinic in East Garston (and the surrounding 25 miles), with babies from 1 month to 4 years and 11 months of age. She played a very important and prominent role in the children’s lives until they were 5 years of age:

  • For the first 2 weeks of the baby’s life – Jean was the nurse for the baby, keeping a very close eye on both mother and baby
  • From 3 weeks until 1 year of age – Jean became the ‘health visitor’, visiting mother and baby once a month for a quick check up.
  • From 1 to 5 years of age – Jean visited less regularly, only once every 3 months
  • From the age of 5 year old – The children now attend school, which will take care of their health, though she still keeps a close eye on ‘her children’

Jean also has to always be prepared as a midwife, and so in her bag she carried “everything for producing a new citizen”:

  • Blood pressure apparatus
  • Test tube
  • Delivery case, lined with washable linen
  • Gas and air
  • Towels

Here is a quote from Jean herself, telling of one of her more extraordinary experiences as a midwife – “Here [in the countryside] I cope with everything, including fire and flood. Just recently one of our babies arrived in a tiny front parlour because the road was under water and the mother couldn’t get to the hospital. Two days later that parlour was under 4 feet of water.”

Her Role as a Nurse

Although she did all her own paperwork through the night and woke early, her job was described as being quite glamorous. She was said to have “as many wardrobe changes as a movie star” and she drove a “shining black ford 10” supplied by the nursing association, and her maximum salary was £435 per year.

Her nurse’s bag was different to that of her midwife role. It contained:

  • Dressings
  • Ointments
  • Dettol
  • Swabs
  • The ’14 day’ attache case

It can definitely be said that her genuine care and dedication for her patients was clear in her work.

By Gemma and Kate


The students used the following items from the MERL library for their research:

The Farmers Weekly XXVI Jan-June 1947 (May 16th 1947). MERL LIBRARY PER OPEN ACCESS–PER 1934- (available in the open access library next to the reading room)

If you want to explore this story further, the Farmers Weekly journals can be consulted in our reading room. Find out here about visiting the reading room.


Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Kathleen Hale

OrlandoOur next blog from the students of The Abbey School explores the fascinating story of Kathleen Hale.

If you were a child in the 1930s, you might well have ended your day with a bedtime story by Kathleen Hale. Her Orlando the Marmalade Cat books captivated many children with their bright colours and entertaining stories, setting a new standard for children’s book. But she didn’t stop at children’s books.

Kathleen was born in 1898 in Lanarkshire, however she was brought up in Manchester. Unfortunately by the age of 5 her father had died so along with her brother and sister she went to live with her grandfather whilst her mother carried on her father’s work. As a child she was quite rebellious and recalled spending most of her lessons sitting outside classrooms, she was also very creative –  ‘whilst seeming to join in the hymns in the little church in Yorkshire…she would actually be singing her own song about adventures of a little pig’ –  showing her passion for writing starting at a young age!

In 1915, she gained a scholarship at Reading University to study fine art, where she was a student until 1917. She was very hard working and people recalled that she ‘worked very hard late into the evening being turned out of the studio by the caretaker when locking up.’ In addition to her studies whilst living at St. Andrews hall, she spent time at the University’s farm and often escaped through the ground floor window at 6 am to cycle to the farm getting back in time for prayers, for 6 pence an hour to supplement her scholarship, showing just how hard working and dedicated she was throughout her life.

Hale married Douglas MacLean in 1926. She claimed that she ‘broke all the rules of decent behavior.’ This is due to her marriage being unconventional as it was suggested by her husband’s father Dr John Maclean who had started a friendship with her whilst treating her but as the gap was too large to marry, suggested his son as a suitor.

The idea for her most famous piece of work came to her whilst on holiday in Italy with her husband where she saw a large woman at a lemonade stand calling out ‘Orlando’ and a small boy with bright orange hair ‘the colour of marmalade’ turned up, and the idea for Orlando the marmalade cat was born. She first decided to write as there weren’t many available children’s books at the time and was encouraged to write the captivating stories she told her son. The stories were very popular during the war time as their bright colours and stories of normal families raised morale, showing just how effective and treasured they were. Orlando’s character was based on her husband and many incidents in the book were taken from family experiences.

The first book was published in 1938 by Country Life after many rejections, after this Kathleen continued to write many following stories of Orlando’s adventures for years to come.
Hale had 2 sons and moved to rural Oxfordshire in 1961. During her time there she received received an OBE in 1976 and remained here until her death at aged 101 in the year 2000.

By Mahnoor and Anisha



The students used the following items for their research:

Orlando (the marmalade cat) buys a farm. CHILDREN’S COLLECTION FOLIO–823.9-HAL

Orlando’s country peepshow. CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–823.9-HAL

A slender reputation : an autobiography / Kathleen Hale. 823.912-HAL (available in our open access library next to the reading room)

If you want to explore this story further, these items can be consulted in our reading room by appointment – for more information click here.

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Mary Wondrausch

The Museum of English Rural Life is very fortunate to have close links with country potter, Mary Wondrausch. Our latest blog written by students from The Abbey School, focuses on her fascinating story.

When the lovely staff at the Museum English of Rural Life told us we would be researching Mary Wondrausch as part of their Our Country Lives project, we were very excited. As a group of four aspiring historians from the Abbey School in Reading, we were eager to get to grips with the task and eagerly imagined ourselves searching through the archives for information on some mysterious figure from way back in the past. We were surprised, therefore, when we learned that Mary Wondrausch is still very much alive! [Update: Mary has since sadly passed away in December 2016]

Mary Wondrausch at work

Mary Wondrausch at work, August 2006. This photo will feature in one of the new MERL galleries.

So who is Mary Wondrausch, and why are her life and work significant and interesting? Well, first of all, she is a potter. In fact, she is not only a very successful and creative potter, but also an artist, gardener and wonderful cook. As a potter, her inspiration comes from the 17th Century and the work of Thomas Toft, and she has described herself as ‘exceptionally earthy’, as she works in slipware with red clay. In 1975, she set up her own pottery workshop in Godalming, and later moved it to Brickfields in 1984, from where she still works and sells her pottery. At one point, the house was used to host her residential pottery courses with the impressive gardens of the house opened to the public; nowadays she focuses her strength into pottery and into revising her book ‘Mary Wondrausch in Slipware’. In addition to this she has exhibited in many galleries; is a fellow of the CPA and has work in London’s Victoria and Albert museum, and in 2000 she received an OBE for services to the arts. Over the years she has also been researching and assimilating archival materials on Dorothy Hartley and writing her biography. Quite an impressive list of achievements!

The story of Mary’s personal life was equally as interesting as the details we discovered about her work. More details about Mary’s personal life and work were published in a Japanese gardening journal.  Here she revealed the technique and method she used to make slipware, her signature type of pottery. From this source we were able to gain a more personal view of Mary; for example, that she grows herbs in her garden to make tea, her favourite being lemon balm and dill. Furthermore, on a more personal note, Mary goes on to talk about her early life from which we gain that when her Polish husband left her, she used skill in pottery to make a living and care for her children.

It can definitely be said that Mary Wondrausch is a fascinating woman with a strong will and plenty of determination. Her skill in pottery, incorporating traditional techniques with a modern outlook, combines with her artistic spirit and dedication to hard work and perseverance, making her one of the most interesting figures discovered in the Museum of English Rural Life.

This has definitely been an eye-opening experience, showing us the extensive work that goes into investigating and presenting historical figures and objects, and has given us a new curiosity and eagerness to take part in more historical work in the future!

By: Anna, Hadiqa, Jasleen, & Hannah


The students used the following items from the MERL archive for their research. If you want to explore this story further, the items can be consulted in our reading room by appointment.

Mary Wondrausch on slipware : a potters approach / Mary Wondrausch. MERL LIBRARY–5650-WON

Brickfields : my life at Brickfields as a potter, painter, gardener, writer and cook / by Mary Wondrausch. MERL LIBRARY–5650-WON

Rural crafts of England : a study of skilled workmanship / by K.S. Woods. MERL LIBRARY–5630-WOO

Rural Crafts Today: A film project at the Museum of English Rural Life 2006-8, film dairy by Roy Brigden

Rural Crafts today

Explore Your Archive: People Stories – Emily Eavis

Audience Development Manager, Phillippa Heath, introduces a project in which local school students discovered how archives can be used to research fascinating lives. 

As part of the Museum of English Rural Life’s redevelopment, we are keen to reveal the hidden stories behind our collections. Over the Summer we were fortunate to welcome sixth form History students from The Abbey School to MERL on a two week placement. Working in groups, the students were set the challenge to explore the stories behind five fascinating women with connections to our collection. Using museum archives and objects, students researched into their lives and from this research wrote blogs which we are delighted to publish throughout this week. Our first blog written by the students presents the story of Emily Eavis.

Abbey reading room

Glastonbury, do you want to know what’s behind it? Or should I say who?

Emily Eavis is the daughter of the founder of the famous Glastonbury festival. She has lived on the working farm which has been in her family for six generations and even to this day has 500 friesian cows, so please don’t drop your litter! Her early life consisted of living on her farm and attending Wells Cathedral school – I bet she did well there!  Later on she went to Goldsmiths college, then worked with Oxfam and Greenpeace doing various charitable work before training to become a teacher.

When she was younger, she had a love- hate relationship with the festival. Emily herself said “I couldn’t understand why so many people were in our garden. It was like an invasion” and in 1990, when she was 10 “a row of people were hurrying towards the window with telegraph poles that were on fire. It was horrific.” However, now she is older she loves working creatively with the festival especially “the frilly bits […] It’s exciting. It’s the best bit.” Evidence of this is also present in Park Stage which she has curated since 2008 which has seen performances from artists such as Adele, Biffy Clyro and The xx.

She dropped out of her teaching training course to care for her sick mother (who she believed was the backbone of the festival), who died in 1999. To commemorate her death she threw herself into the festival with her father which began two months later, ensuring that she maintained the legacy her mother created. Since then she has not left and is more involved than ever and to this day she is the co-organiser of Glastonbury. Her charitable roots still shine through; in 2007 she donated 2million to various charities including Oxfam, Greenpeace and Wateraid along with local hospitals and schools and this to her “makes [the festival] worthwhile”.

Glastonbury has changed significantly since Emily Eavis’ early years. The festival attracts 150,000 people nowadays but in her time there was only 100’s of people. Furthermore, the acts have changed, security has increased and it is as eco-friendly as ever. There is still some hostility towards Emily; who was sent death threats following the booking of Kanye West.

The festival is very much a family affair. Emily Eavis grew up in a farmhouse and now lives there with her husband and two sons, George and Noah. FUN FACT: George was born just weeks before the festival in 2010. She wants her children to have the same upbringing she had, saying “maybe one day it will be George living with his family in the farmhouse.”