Designated as an Outstanding CollectionThe Museum of English Rural Life houses the most comprehensive national collection of objects, books and archives relating to the history of food, farming and the countryside.

It is the sheer quality and scope of these collections that makes MERL exceptional. They have Designated status ensuring their importance is recognised nationally and internationally.


MERL: inside the museum

History of the collections

MERL was established in 1951 and grew out of the University's long tradition of academic excellence in agriculture. It pioneered a new field of museum activity and rapidly accumulated material relating to the great social and technological changes taking place in the countryside at the time, represented above all by the switch from horse power to the tractor.

The collection of Lavinia Dugan Smith (1870-1944) was transferred to the Museum in 1952. She has used the objects to educate children and the Museum continues to promote the use of collections to deepen public understanding of food, farming and the countryside. Another notable early gift comprised rural equipment collected by the writer H.J. Massingham (1888-1952).


Accessing the collections

As well as visiting the Museum and Special Collections in person, you can access the collections online in a number of ways.  Visit Accessing the collections for more information.


MERL guide front cover

Guide to MERL and the University of Reading Special Collections

An illustrated guide book can now be purchased which provides a fascinating overview of MERL's varied collections, a brief history of the Museum and an introduction to the University of Reading Special Collections, housed in the same building.


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