The Museum of English Rural Life

Variety of British Farming - stained glass window of rural landscape with farmhouse, oasthouses, trees and a river plus fields of sheep and chickens.
baby changing facilities icon Food icon Guided tours icon Shop icon Library icon Study area icon Hearing disability facilities icon Visual disability facilities icon Wheelchair access icon

The Museum of English Rural Life is owned and managed by the University. It was established by academics in the Department of Agriculture in 1951 to capture and record the rapidly changing countryside following World War II. In 2005, the Museum moved to its current premises in St Andrew’s Hall, a building designed by Sir Alfred Waterhouse in 1880 for local businessman Alfred Palmer of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit company.

The Museum was awarded £1.8million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 2014 for the redevelopment of the galleries, reopening on 19 October 2016. The redevelopment will strengthen and renew the museum's links with Agriculture as well as enhance the Museum’s position in supporting engagement opportunities for students and academics across a wide variety of disciplines, nationally and internationally.

The new Museum uses its diverse and surprising collection to explore how the skills and experiences of farmers and craftspeople, past and present, can help shape our lives now and into the future. The Museum has worked alongside rural people, local communities and specialist researchers to create displays and activities that engage with important debates about the future of food and the ongoing relevance of the countryside to all our lives.

Venue Type:

Museum, Library, Archive

Opening hours

The Museum of English Rural Life galleries and garden will re-open on 19th October 2016 after extensive redevelopment, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Opening hours from 19th October will be:
Tuesday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 4pm

Gift shop:
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 4pm

Library and archives Reading Room:
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm

Admission charges

Admission Free


  • National Art Pass

Additional info

Guided Tours are available at weekends at 3pm and on Wednesdays at 2.30pm. Booking is recommended although not essential. Tours are available at other times by appointment.

The entire collection of this museum is a Designated Collection of national importance.

The Museum of English Rural Life is dedicated to the spirit of the English countryside and its people. It was founded by the University of Reading in 1951 at a time when the motorised revolution was changing the face of farming and sweeping away implements and techniques that had evolved over many generations.

Today, the museum is a national centre for the history of food, farming and the countryside, and continues with the task of recording and interpreting rural change. It is both a public resource and an academic research centre, preserving Designated collections of national and international significance. These comprise, in addition to the object collections, a library of over 50,000 books, archives of business and organisational records, and extensive photographic collections.

The collections cover the broad range of material relating to farming, rural crafts and industries, and country life. The bulk of the items date from the period 1850 to 1950. Pre 1850 farm tools and equipment are rare in England. Post 1950, the sheer range and size of farm machinery are inhibitors given the level of exhibition and storage space that we have available. This is why so much emphasis has been placed on reflecting this period through the two dimensional collections - especially the photographs and technical literature.

Collection details

Trade and Commerce, Toys and Hobbies, Social History, Science and Technology, Land Transport, Fine Art, Costume and Textiles, Archives, Agriculture

Key artists and exhibits

  • agricultural hand tools
  • farm wagons: there are over thirty in the collection
  • horse drawn ploughs
  • dairying equipment
  • livestock accessories eg horseshoes; veterinary equipment
  • land drainage material
  • country crafts and rural industries; the thatching collection, for example is particularly extensive as is that covering the woodland trades
  • woodworking and carpentry
  • country smocks
  • basketry; corn dollies
  • friendly society brasses
  • beekeeping equipment
  • animal traps
  • sewing machines
  • paintings and prints, especially of early nineteenth century livestock
  • Designated Collection
Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.

Museums at Night late opening

  • 27 October 2016 6-9pm *on now

Explore the new galleries with our special late opening as part of Museums at Night

Suitable for

  • Any age

Friday Fledglings

  • 4 November 2016 10-11:30am

A new outdoor session for pre-schoolers which takes advantage of the fantastic urban garden at The MERL, and promotes the benefits of outdoor learning. Sessions will take their inspiration from the themes and collections of the museum and focus on outdoor play and exploration of the natural environment. They will involve story-telling, craft activities and singing. Friday Fledglings will be run by Charlotte, a local teacher and Level 3 Forest Leader.

Suitable for families with children under 5 years old.

Children and adults must dress for the weather!

Every Friday during Reading Borough Council Term times.

Suitable for

  • 0-4
  • Especially for children


£3.00 per child, includes drink and snack. For more information email:


Visions of Rural England

  • 1 December 2016 7:15-9pm

A discussion on rural life and the future of the English countryside chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby with a panel including Clive Aslet, Kate Adie, Merrick Denton-Thomas and Emma Bridgewater.

Suitable for

  • Any age


University of Reading, Great Hall
London Road Campus


Free of Charge. Bookings online through EventBrite. For further information see TheMerl website Whats On.


Resources listed here may include websites, bookable tours and workshops, books, loan boxes and more. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all.

INTERFACE : INTERnet Farm And Countryside Explorer

Illustrated internet resource on farming, country people and the countryside, designed for a range of users; with sections on
livestock, dairying, rural crafts, country women, the changing landscape, mills and the mechanisation of farm machinery.
Includes Key Stage 2 Victorian Village quiz.


  • Museum of English Rural Life

The Museum of English Rural Life
The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL)
University of Reading
Redlands Road



Event bookings and enquiries


0118 378 8660


0118 378 5632

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.