MERL Village Fete: MERL Toddlers take the biscuit!

This is the first of a series of posts from the Village Fete team on the run-up to this year’s event, by Alison Hilton, MERL Marketing Officer.

Preparations for the 2014 MERL Village Fete are well underway and it’s exciting to be able to start sharing some of the new features of the event, which will focus on food this year!

Last Friday, the Village Fete team hijacked the regular Friday Toddler Time session to launch the ‘MERL Biscuit Bake-off’ which will be judged at the Fete on May 31st.  One of Reading’s famous 3Bs, biscuits are part of the town’s – and MERL’s – heritage. Our beautiful Victorian building is the former family home of the Palmer family of Huntley & Palmer’s, and we hold their archive in the University’s Special Collections. Introducing a ‘Biscuit Bake-off’ competition to the Fete seems the perfect way to encourage the people of Reading to get baking biscuits!

 MERL toddlers take the biscuit group

Regular Toddler Time attendees were invited to bring in their favourite homemade biscuits to be tasted by long-term MERL supporter and descendant of the Palmer family, Andrew Palmer and his wife Davina. Despite the chaos as families arrived armed with plates of biscuits, Andrew and Davina had a great time trying out everyone’s delicious offerings!

Andrew Palmer & Leo

Andrew Palmer trying Anzac biscuits baked by Leo

Everyone was also very interested to try the biscuits baked by Deiniol Pritchard, a Food Science student at the University. These were inspired by a recipe for ‘University Rusks’ from the records of ‘Huntley & Palmers’.


Deiniol with his biscuits, the Huntley & Palmer recipe for University Rusks and an image from the archive of Tea Rusks.

After a photo session (look out for pictures in the local press!) and the usual sing-along on the carpet, the toddlers enjoyed the rest of the session decorating biscuits in the Studio, where they were joined not only by the Palmers, but also by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, who happened to be at the Museum for a meeting, and called in to investigate the commotion!

VC & toddler 1

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, joined in the biscuit-decorating activity

Everyone is welcome to enter the ‘Biscuit Bake-off’ at the Fete. There will be ‘traditional’ and ‘freestyle’ categories, and several age groups – from Under 5s to adults! Just bring your favourite homemade biscuits to the event on the day. You can find details of how to enter on our website.

In the meantime, we’re going to be posting a different biscuit recipe on the blog each week, so watch this space for inspiration and start practising!




Weekly What’s On: 9th to 15th December, ’13

HP christmasChristmas trail
until Friday 20th December, normal museum opening times
Free, drop-in
Suitable for families with children of all ages
Pick up a copy of our free Christmas trail at reception and learn about Victorian traditions on your way around the Museum




magic carpetToddler time
Friday 13th December, 10-11am,
£2 per child, drop-in
Suitable for families with children aged 2-4
Come along to the Museum with your little ones and enjoy rhymes, songs and craft activities. This week we’ll be making breaking open the Christmas glitter and making something sparkly!




HP christmasHuntley & Palmers: a Christmas selection
until 5 Jan, 2014
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times
This seasonal display in the Staircase hall of the Palmers’ former family home, shows off some of the visual delights in the University’s extensive archive of local biscuit manufacturer, Huntley & Palmers




Collecting the countryside: 20th century rural cultures
Temporary exhibition space
Free, drop in, normal museum opening times
Since 2008 the Museum of English Rural Life has been adding even more objects to its collection, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, in order to represent each decade of the last century. (Find out more in Curator, Isabel Hughes’ recent post) This exhibition gives a taste of what has been acquired and challenges visitors to suggest the modern-day objects that the Museum needs to collect for the future. The exhibition will help the Museum to explore how to incorporate more recent histories and representations of the English countryside into its displays as part of the new Our Country Lives project.



Archive inspiration in the MERL shop

Visitor Services Assistant, Judith Moon, also manages the MERL shop. In this post, Judith reveals the story behind some beautiful new products inspired by our archive collections…

The shop at MERL occupies a small but important part of the reception and introductory area of the museum and the past 8 years has seen the range of products  grow steadily. Our aim is to reflect the MERL collections in the products on offer. We look for local, small suppliers who you’re unlikely to find on the high street. We also sell our own range of household linens, exclusively designed for MERL by Suzy T.  We are delighted that we are now able to sell these beautiful bags, aprons and tea towels in our brand new online shop

Suzy T products

Suzy T products


We have also been looking recently for ways to showcase some of the beautiful images that form part of the University’s Special Collections, and 2 years ago we began a journey to find a company that would help us to do just that. We approached a few well known card and stationery companies – names that we’re all familiar with when shopping for good quality fine art greetings cards and MGML (museums and galleries marketing ltd) were one of the companies we approached. They came and spent a day with us looking through the hundreds of beautiful images which form part of the Huntley and Palmers archive held in the Special Collections – they were very, very excited by what they saw and went away armed with lots of ideas for cards and other stationery!

New products

New products

After a little while spent working with the images and archivists at MERL, they came up with a range of unique invitation and thank you notelets as well as small handbag mirrors which reflect the beauty and diversity of just one of our archive collections! The cards and mirrors are now available in the MERL shop   We hope that these new products will soon be added to the small collection of MERL products which can now be bought in our new online shop, so watch this space for news!

New mirrors

New mirrors

As plans for changes to the reception area take shape as part of our Heritage Lottery funded redevelopment project, we are looking at different options for increasing the display space for the shop and the hope is that we will be able to expand and enhance the shop’s range to include more products inspired by our stunning archive collections!

For now, why not try the MERL shop for your Christmas cards and a unique gifts. The shop is open during normal museum opening times, and also on Mondays from 9am to 5pm (Museum closed)