Museum of English Rural Life

Museum of English Rural Life
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.
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 was founded in 1951 by the University of Reading. It was the first specialist museum of farming and rural life to be established in England and so was able to acquire large collections of high quality material at a time when mechanisation was bringing great changes to the countryside. It also played an important pioneering part in the formulation of procedures for the processing, cataloguing and conservation of such material. Today, the Museum is active at a national and international level in all aspects of rural museums.

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

Venue Type:

Museum, Library, Archive

Opening hours

The Museum of English Rural Life galleries and garden are closed until early 2016 for work on "Our Country Lives" HLF-funded redevelopment.

The gift shop and reading room remain open as usual.

Gift shop:
Monday, 10am to 5pm
Tuesday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Library and archives reading room:
Monday, 10am to 5pm (restricted service)
Tuesday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

For updates on progress of work on the project, visit

University Christmas closure:
The gift shop and reading room will be closed from 5pm on Tuesday 23rd December to 10am on Monday 5th January

Admission charges

Admission Free

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.

MERL Lunchtime Seminar: March 10: All around is Fairy ground

  • 10 March 2015 1-2pm

All around is Fairy ground: Pleasure and the Regency garden
Professor Timothy Mowl FSA, Professorial Research Fellow in History of Architecture & Designed Landscapes, University of Buckingham
• 10 March
In his richly illustrated lecture, Timothy Mowl will explore gardens, including Lord Blandford’s Whiteknights, which were characterised by exuberant formal parterres, jewelled island beds of graduated flowers, frothy basket-work borders, shrubberies laced with flowers and over-arching trellises covered with rambling roses, jasmine and clematis. Their lawns were enamelled with spring bulbs, enlivened with elegant vases, strewn with Chinese barrels for casual alfresco seating, cut with reflecting oval pools backed by specimen shrubs and dramatised by deep-delved grottoes. Every pleasure ground had its meshed aviary and pheasantry, there were fountains with writhing dolphins, rustic garden seats, thatched and pebbled-floored, Swiss-style bridges, greenhouses and conservatories overflowing with exotics. These flowery paradises were readily accessed from the house via ground-length sash windows, tree-trunked verandahs entwined with climbers and conservatories arcing out from the house into the garden. By day they were ablaze with colour and by night, lit by coloured lamps hanging from the trellises and the trees, they sparkled and glittered.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Frre. Please or phone 0118 378 8660

MERL Lunchtime Seminar: March 17: Order in the landscape

  • 17 March 2015 1-2pm

Order in the landscape: Rediscovering Preben Jakobsen
Karen Fitzsimon, MA Garden History, University of Buckingham; Landscape Architect
• 17 March
Preben Jakobsen (1934-2012) was an award winning, inspiring and passionate Danish landscape architect who spent his professional life working in the UK. Through his many built works, lectures and writing he educated a generation of landscape designers. A self-declared modernist, he considered landscape design a true art form. His expressive and creative use of plants was highly regarded. He stopped working in the mid-1990s and so missed out on the world wide web. As a result his important contribution to British landscape architecture has been mostly forgotten. Using the LI archive material and other field research Karen’s illustrated talk seeks to remedy this situation and to revive an interest in the man and his work.

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Free. Please register. email or phone 0118 378 8660


MERL Seminar: Saturday 21 March: Brenda Colvin: Founder member of the Landscape Institute

  • 21 March 2015 From 1pm

Brenda Colvin; An insight into a founder member of the Landscape Institute
• Saturday 21st March
• 1pm
• £10 payable on the day
Some of Brenda's drawings will be on display at the Study Day. Her practice partner, Hal Moggridge, will be giving a talk, as will Guy Baxter, University Archivist. This event has been organised by FOLAR; Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading.

For further information, contact

Suitable for

  • Not suitable for children


Cost £10 payable on the day. For more information contact


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.

Free schools sessions

The Museum of English Rural Life offers an imaginative, experiential programme that brings excitement and interest to a museum visit. We believe that a museum visit should be cross-curricula and 'not just history'. Our collections and garden allow us to offer a school programme that explores objects and collections covering National Curriculum science, maths, art and literacy, as well as history.

How to obtain

Sessions are free, but must be booked in advance. Contact the Learning Manager at or call 0118 378 8660

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

Toddler Time at MERL

Come along to Toddler Time at The Museum of English Rural Life and enjoy rhymes, songs and craft activities based on objects in the collection or the garden. Activities take place on term time Fridays, 10-11am and 13.00-14.00, and are suitable for children 2-4 years old and their carers. £2 per child, accompanying adult free.

How to obtain

£2 per child, accompanying adult free. There's no need to book. Contact for more details.