The Museum of English Rural Life

A Year on the Farm gallery at the Museum of English Rural Life
baby changing facilities icon Food icon Shop icon Library icon Study area 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, and reopened on 19 October 2016.

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 re-opened in October 2016 after extensive redevelopment, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Opening hours:
Museum galleries:
Tuesday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 5pm
Last Thursday of the month: 9am to 9pm*

Shop, cafe area and garden:
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 5pm
Last Thursday of the month: 9am to 9pm

Library and archives reading room:
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Last Thursday of the month: 9am to 9pm*

*Please check dates on the website as may vary

Admission charges

Admission Free


  • National Art Pass

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
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 (The MERL)
University of Reading
Redlands Road



Event bookings and enquiries


0118 378 8660

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.