Landscape Education in the UK: past present and future

On Saturday 1 April 2017 MERL hosted a FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) study day on the topic of: ‘Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future’.  

The day included talks and a pop up display of archive and library material from our Landscape Institute collections.  FOLAR Chair, Penny Beckett, gives an account of the event:

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

The best discussion we’ve had about UK landscape architecture education in a long while

So said one of those who attended the recent seminar at MERL organised by FOLAR.  Chaired by John Stuart-Murray (University of Edinburgh), this half day event had 4 speakers: Guy Baxter, the University Archivist, who spoke about the first English university course in Landscape Architecture set up at Reading in the 1930s; Jan Woudstra (University of Sheffield) on the development of English Landscape Architecture Education and after the tea break, former Reading senior lecturer Richard Bisgrove who spoke about the Landscape Management degree at Reading which ran from 1986 to 2009.

Our Archivist Guy Baxter speaking at #folar2017

The last speaker was Robert Holden (former University of Greenwich), who gave us much food for thought about the current state of landscape education in the UK. It appears to be in decline, while at the same time the demand for qualified landscape architects by employers outstrips the supply of home grown graduates. Much of the question and answer session after Robert’s talk explored why this might be the case when the situation seems very different in both the USA and other European countries. Earlier, Jan Woudstra had suggested possible reasons, citing the encroachment of ‘new’ course topics, such as ‘landscape urbanism’ into a subject area once occupied by landscape architecture alone. He mentioned too the lack of landscape research in the UK (though Sheffield boasts a healthy 45 PhD students!); the difficulty too of conveying a consistent image to the wider public, prospective students and their parents  about what the profession landscape architecture is all about. The irony is that the work of landscape professionals lies at the very heart of the current political agenda, while landscape architects and managers have long been used to the interdisciplinary working that is now essential in our 21st century world.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections, 1930s journals

Guy Baxter’s talk made interesting links between the pre-war students at Reading and some of the members of the fledgling Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) they helped to establish. The Institute’s archives deposited at MERL reveal the connections. The first ILA member, for example, ‘Member No. 1’ was Marjory Allen (Lady Allen of Hurtwood) the landscape architect who was an early advocate of the importance of providing for children’s play in our urban areas.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

Richard Bisgrove described the genesis of the BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management course he set up at Reading in 1986. It ran successfully for many years, training students who then went into various branches of the landscape profession. Lecturers on the course included Tony Kendle who later went to the Eden Project and Ross Cameron who moved to the University of Sheffield.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

One small downside of the day was that the full programme allowed little time to look at the wonderful display of archive material put out for us in MERL’s Reading Room. So to the MERL staff involved, can I offer both apologies as well as many thanks for helping to make such a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. A video recording of the seminar itself will be posted on the FOLAR website shortly.

Penny Beckett, FOLAR Chair

You can find out more about our Landscape Institute collections, using our Reading Room, FOLAR or see tweets and Instagram posts from the event.  


Biscuit recipe of the week: 1940s jam biscuits

By Shira Kilgallon, UoR History Student and MERL Library Volunteer

This week’s biscuit recipe comes from Ministry of Food pamphlets found in the MERL Library collections; two pamphlets have been used to give you a recipe with a twist (and a bit of a challenge!!).

This particular twist is definitely for the more experimental among both biscuit enthusiasts and beginners, as the recipe not only gives a fairly conventional and simple biscuit recipe, but also instructs how to make the jam from scratch. The recipe itself is fairly straightforward, but a little more complicated than previous weeks.

Both pamphlets are from the late 1940s post-war era. They thus contain, as you may find in any recipe books or pamphlets of the time, some rather misogynistic top tips for the ‘contemporary housewife’, which I’m sure you’ll be pleased to see have not been forgotten below! It is also interesting to note that the biscuit recipe was written with the intention of, as the title suggests, ‘Making the most of sugar’ when it was scarcely available due to rationing.

We hope this week’s biscuit recipe will inspire you through its challenging nature – or even its simplicity if you choose to just buy a jar of jam…

Making the most of the sugar

(from Ministry of Food Leaflet No. 21, Dec. 1946, MERL Library Pamphlets 7060 BOX 2/04)

The best way of stretching the sugar ration is by making full use of other sweetenings such as saccharin, honey, syrup or treacle, jam, marmalade, sweetened condensed milk and dried fruit.

Using Jam and Marmalade
Rinse empty jam jars with a little hot water and use this in sauces or for mixing puddings and cakes.


Jam Biscuits
3 oz. fat                              8 oz. flour            2 tablespoons milk           3 tablespoons jam
Rub fat into flour till the consistency of breadcrumbs. Mix together the milk and the jam. Add this to the fat and flour, knead well. Roll out very thinly, cut in shapes and bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes.

(All spoons are level and all recipes for four.)

maff-jamJam Making

(from Ministry of Food Leaflet No. 28, 1946, MERL Library Pamphlets 7060 BOX 2/31)

Housewives who have saved sugar to make home-made jam are advised to follow very carefully the instructions given below.

  1. Fruit should be fresh and firm-ripe. Over-ripe fruit should NOT be used.
  2. Before the sugar is added, the fruit should be cooked slowly until it is quite tender, with just sufficient water to prevent it burning. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. SUGAR is stirred into the softened fruit until dissolved and the jam then boiled rapidly until setting point is reached. Do not have the pan too full or the jam will boil over at this stage. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  4. Removing Scum. Do this only when boiling has finished. Constant skimming is wasteful and unnecessary.
  5. Testing for setting point. Begin to test after about 10 minutes of rapid boiling (after sugar has been added). Remove pan from heat during testing.

To test: place a little jam on a cold plate; if setting point has been reached, the jam will wrinkle when pushed with a finger.

  1. Filling the Jars. To prevent fruit rising in the jars, the jam should be allowed to cool slightly in the pan.
    Put on wax disks while hot, and press down over the surface.

From the various types of jam recipes outlined in the recipe leaflet, we chose:

Raspberry Jam
6lb. raspberries                 6lb. sugar
Put the fruit in the pan and cook slowly until some juice has come out of the fruit. Add the sugar, stir until it is dissolved, and boil rapidly until setting point is reached.

Please try out the recipes and don’t forget to enter the MERL Village Fete Biscuit Bake-Off on 31 May!

Rural Reads review #1 – Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

MERL’s book club, Rural Reads, has been running for three years. We have read an incredible range of novels, poetry and non-fiction, all with either a rural setting or related to the countryside. In this new feature, Rural Reads regular, Rob Davies, will share his personal views and the group’s reactions to the book they read each month. 

August’s choice of read was Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. It is a short book of fewer than 200 pages that reads well and is a thrilling page turner. Rogue Male tells the story of the anonymous narrator who is on the run from a sinister agency that has imprisoned and tortured him. Having escaped from their clutches, first of all he heads for London but after a close encounter he makes for the remote countryside of Dorset. Finding an area in the countryside that he believes suitable for his survival, he creates a small hovel which he shares with a wild cat, and the two intrepid survivors learn to find solace within each other. The story culminates with a head on battle of attrition between our protagonist and the agent who goes by the name of Quive-Smith –  I won’t tell you the outcome in case you would like to read the book.



It is clear that this book, written in 1939, is a forerunner to the great spy novels of our time, in particular those written by Ian Flemming and John Le Carre. Household served with the intelligence services during the war and has poured his training, maybe even experience, into the novel.

The rural themes of the novel are based around survival and using nature, the countryside and inhabitants of rural communities as a method of survival. It explores the reality of living rough and being exposed to the harsh milieu that is the countryside, removing the reader from the rural idyll which we automatically conjure up in our minds when thinking of the English countryside.

It is fair to say that Rogue Male is quite different from the usual books that cross our laps at MERL’s ‘Rural Reads’ book group! Yes, it is set in the countryside but this is tale of a British gentleman on the run, with nothing but his survival skills and raw human instinct to save him from a persistent hunter. We felt as a group it was very much a “boys own” book but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we didn’t like it!

Reviews from the book of the group were varied; we all enjoyed it and thought it was a quick read. However some felt it was claustrophobic and found it difficult to read, not because of the style of writing but due to the intense situation the author was describing. I personally enjoyed the book, again it is not the usual style of book I usually read (but that’s the point of book group). I thought it was an easy page turner, with a tale that will grip you by the hand and drag you along.

The book to read for this month’s meeting on September 26th is The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis (Read a review in The Guardian here). Don’t worry if you haven’t been before, everyone’s welcome and we’ll even offer you a free cup of tea and a biscuit on your first visit if you mention this blog post!

Further details are on our website, where you can also find a full list of all the books we’ve read since the club started in 2010.  All the books were chosen by the group members – often the discussion about what to read next takes just as long as the review discussion, so if you have some ideas about more books to read, just bring along your suggestions and be prepared to argue your corner!

Rural Reads books from the MERL library

Rural Reads books from the MERL library