I Spy the Countryside: Collecting 20th Century Rural Life at the Museum of East Anglian Life

By Ben Miller | 23 October 2012
A photo of a sign for an agricultural fair in 1931 featuring horses, beasts and sheep
Manor Farm Sale Poster, printed by W Robinson (1931)© Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading
Exhibition Preview: I Spy the Countryside – Collecting 20th Century Rural Life, Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket, October 27 2012 – March 2013

Between 2008 and 2010, Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life and the Museum of East Anglian Life acquired a range of unusual objects representing the 20th century history of the countryside.

Led by Dr Roy Bridgen – whose blog on the project you can read here – and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a campaign called Collecting Cultures, the idea was to broaden the variety of the collections being bolstered.

“One of the main issues that has been identified with rural museum collections is the tendency to collect more of the same objects,” says Isobel Keith, who is responsible for managing and interpreting objects at the Stowmarket-based Museum of East Anglian Life.

“While everyone loves a good tractor and plough, the modern equivalents of these are both extremely large, expensive and almost impossible store.

“The purpose of the project was to look at other material culture that would represent how most people see and use the countryside.

Organisers are hoping to create a dialogue with visitors. A large feedback board and the omnipotence of accompanying Twitter and Facebook opportunities should achieve that, backed by a cast of characters in the display including Pip Larkin, Orlando the Marmalade Cat and a board game of The Archers.

One of the key themes, conflict, is illustrated by clothing worn by protestors opposing bypass-building proposals, while an original poster for The Railway Children represents pure nostalgia in the space at Abbot’s Hall, which has recently been the subject of a £3 million restoration.

“We plan to use this opportunity to focus our current collecting on contemporary objects that can be used both now and in the future,” says Collections Manager Lisa Harris.

“We are keen to invite visitors to suggest the types of objects that we should be considering for the collection.”

More pictures:

A photo of a series of miniature toy models of a red car pulling a yellow and red caravan
Minic Caravan and Car set designed by Tri-ang Toys (1950s)© Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading
A photo of a large brown wooden chair with a wicket seat against a white background
Ladderback Open Arm Elbow Chair crafted by Edward Gardiner (1950s). This was made for the Cragg Sisters Tearooms in Aldeburgh, Suffolk© Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading
A photo of a white golf ball held on a small metal stand above a trophy inscription
Golf Cup manufactured by Turner and Simpson (1960s)© Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading
A photo of a tea mug with a cartoon illustration of two farmers sitting on a red tractor
Farmer Palmer Mug designed by Simon Thorpe (1999)© Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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