The Great University of Reading Museums and Special Collections #12off

The Great University of Reading Museums and Special Collections #12off: It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it, but the idea for a MERL #12daysofChristmas series of tweets emerged in one of our weekly social media meetings before Christmas, and our colleagues at the Ure Museum and the Special Collections jumped at the chance to challenge us to a #12off!

Although it started as a bit of light relief in the run up to the holidays (the University is closed over Christmas and the New Year, so our 12 days were actually our 12 last working days) there’s nothing like pitting collections against each other to stir staff into digging deep and coming up with some amazing images and fascinating objects. In fact, the exercise turned out to be a great excuse to browse the online catalogues, image banks, Flickr photostreams and Pinterest boards looking for interesting pictures and selecting them based on the happy chance of their numerical suitability rather than any other thematic consideration! (But I probably shouldn’t admit to the great joy of matching the number with an appropriate theme, as in the case of our Day 9…!

9 turkeys chilling P_FW_PH2_T27_14

9 turkeys chilling P_FW_PH2_T27_14

The result was three fantastically random but fascinating collections of images, ranging from the Special Collections’ ‘4 winged monkeys’ to the Ure Museum’s ‘7 lyre strings’ strumming’…

7 lyre strings











These sets of images have ended up showcasing the incredible diversity of the collections and activities in (just three of) the University’s Museums and Collections; maybe next year we’ll have to persuade colleagues in the Cole Museum, Herbarium, Typography and Art collections to join in! In the meantime, check out the #12off collections from MERL on Pinterest, on the Special Collections blog round-up, and on the Ure Museum’s twitter feed or on our joint Tumblr  and let us know which would be your ‘star collection’!



Huntley & Palmers and the MERL shop

Claire Smith, Visitor Services Assistant, looks at MERL’s links with biscuit company, Huntley & Palmers, and the development of new related products for the MERL shop

MERL has very strong links with Huntley & Palmers. Not only do we look after their archives, we’re based in Alfred Palmer’s former home!

The University of Reading Special Collections Services and the Museum of English Rural Life are housed in a Grade II listed building, which was originally known as East Thorpe, the home of Sir Alfred Palmer of the Huntley and Palmers biscuit company.

East Thorpe was designed and built by the architect Alfred Waterhouse between 1880–1882. Many original aspects remain, such as the beautiful stained glass in the Staircase Hall and Reading Room.

East ThorpeThe building was given to the University in 1911, when it became St Andrew’s Hall. MERL has been based here since 2005. More information is available in the online exhibition on our website .

The records of Huntley & Palmers  cover the period 1837-1995, the collections consists of documentary materials from all areas of the business, including financial records, correspondence, sales records, promotional material, production records, packaging designs and specimens, photographs, published material and audio visual items. The recipes in the archives inspired our Biscuit Bake-off competition launched earlier this yearThe archives are accessible to the public, via the Special Collections reading room.

Some of the artwork for the Huntley & Palmers packaging is absolutely beautiful and it is such a shame that it is hidden in the archives stores. Last year we were delighted to be able to use some of the stunning images to create items which we now stock in the MERL shop, such as notecards, invitations, mirrors and wrapping paper. Read more in a previous post Some of these are now available in the MERL online store

H&P thank you

We have recently extended the Huntley & Palmers range to include  striking biscuit tins, also based on original designs. We also have packets of biscuits currently made by the company, now based in Suffolk, some of which are based on century-old recipes. 

H&P shop latest

We are currently working with Reading Museum on an Arts Council funded project entitled Reading Engaged, part of which will focus on new products for both museums’ shops. Huntley & Palmers seemed like a natural place to start, as both the University of Reading’s Special Collections and Reading Museum have such extensive collections. We will also be investigating other shared ground, for example our Waterhouse-designed buildings, and other local companies such as Suttons Seeds. The aim of the retail-focussed part of the project is to pool our resources to develop new bespoke product ranges which compliment both museums.