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The end of an era - Dr Roy Brigden retires after 30 years

Roy Brigden

Dr Roy Brigden cuts his cake

Dr Roy Brigden retires at the end of this month after thirty years as Keeper of the Museum of English Rural Life. Roy joined the University in 1979 at the age of 27, and he has been central to almost every aspect of the Museum's operations and development over the last 3 decades.  What's more, he claims to have ‘enjoyed every minute!'

Roy's career has effectively spanned the museum's transformation from the institution of its founders and early curators, its relocation to its magnificent new home at St Andrew's in 2005 - to its position today as the country's leading rural museum. 

It is thanks to Roy's vision and determination that MERL's outstanding collections are now housed and displayed properly to be enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.  MERL is a unique and inspirational place, housing a collection that is testament to the tenacity, intellectual ambition and creativity of its curators, among which Roy, in many respects, stands alone.

While the new museum may be the most conspicuous of Roy's achievements, the variety of his work in other spheres of his professional life is extraordinary. His roles have included President of the Folk Life Society and Editor of the Journal of Folk life Studies, Founder and first Chair of the Rural Museums Network and he was recently appointed patron of the new Heritage Crafts Association.

Roy's name is for many synonymous with rural museums and with good cause; his knowledge, expertise and reputation are recognised nationally and internationally.

He has published widely - from museology to agricultural history, including on the topic of his PhD on interwar rural history.  Roy's own research, as well as his role in promoting and supporting the research of others, has been critical over the years in maintaining the Museum's unique and unrivalled position as this country's pre-eminent resource for recording and interpreting rural history. 

Roy's success in attracting external funding for project activity is remarkable by any standards - indeed many academics would envy his record, while few museums can point to anything that can compare with his achievement.

Since 2005, Roy has once again been able to turn his attention to projects that have enriched and illuminated the Museum's collections in novel ways.  His Rural Crafts project explored through a series of films the present state and future prospects for rural craftsmanship in the twenty-first century through the lives and work of 10 very different crafts people. More recently, his Collecting 20th Century Rural Culture project shows how material culture of the twentieth century has reflected tastes and ideas informed by the English countryside. 

Thus his legacy will be felt not only through the buildings and displays he has helped create, but through the changes in scope to the Museum's collections. His parting gift to the Museum has been a new lease of life and exciting directions for the exploration of rural life and history through material culture.

His colleagues at the University and beyond would like to thank him and offer our very best wishes for his retirement.




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