Project news: Rural images discovered: Colin Shaw

written by Nancy Fulford, Project Archivist.

A couple of weeks ago marked the end of the Rural Images Discovered Project which has seen over 15,000 prints digitised, and many more negatives and prints catalogued from the John Tarlton, Farmers Weekly, Peter Adams and Colin Shaw photographic collections.


I came to the Colin Shaw collection towards the end of the project and (in my opinion) we saved the best ‘til last! Colin Shaw has worked as both photographer and lecturer for over thirty years and has recently embarked on a new project looking at the use of the rural myth to promote national parks. His collection contains negatives and prints for two of his photographic projects: Farmwork and M40 Warwickshire.


The Farmwork project was undertaken in the mid-1980s. Shaw’s aim was to document the everyday lives of those working the landscape and in doing so dispel the myths of the peaceful rural idyll of the past and show the intensive labour and people needed in modern farming. From potato pickers, to pea swathe operators, a farm worker feeding calves to farmers inspecting hundreds of sheep at market, every black and white picture tells a story of farm workers and modern farming practice. You can see a selection of images on our online gallery.


M40 focused on village communities and rural practices and pastimes before and during the construction of the Warwickshire stretch of the M40 motorway in 1988. A family outing rabbit hunting with ferrets, bingo at the village hall and coffin building are just some of the activities documented in this collection.

Having these images now available to view on our online database will help visitors to gain a deeper level of access to our archives whether they are sitting in our Reading Room or at home on their laptop in Australia. They highlight the different stories that can be told by our Archives, and we hope to be bringing more of these stories out in our redevelopment of the Museum.




Our Country Lives: Supporting You Day

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

My mind has been focused on one particular question since arriving at MERL: how do you display rural life?

Other equally pertinent questions for us are: Who is our audience? How can we appeal to wider groups? What is the core message of the Museum of English Rural Life?

These are the main issues which we are grappling with in these early days of Our Country Lives. We began with a broad idea of what we want to do, and we are now gradually narrowing down our ideas and expectations, so that we can finish with a focused new display which keeps our current visitors happy but also entices new people to come and learn about English rural life, and participate with the museum in projects and events.

Family consultations at the MERL Village Fete 2013

Family consultations at the MERL Village Fete 2013

Determining those people and communities who would not usually visit MERL was the focus of a meeting with our consultants last week, but we have already been working with volunteers and our current audiences to find out who our visitors are and what they want. For instance, if you came with your family to the village fete this year then you may have been asked to complete a questionnaire. The results from this consultation are already having a real effect on the direction in which MERL is heading with Our Country Lives.

Another audience which we want to hear from is the student and staff community of the University of Reading. Myself and MERL’s Marketing Officer Alison will be at this year’s Supporting You Day, and will be available all day to let you know about the museum but also asking how we could do better as a service to university staff and students.

Whether you think we need more seminars and lectures, or should advertise better on campus, we would like to know what would make you visit MERL, or what is currently stopping you. We will be located in the Palmer Building, most probably in the Reception, so come and say hello!