Collections Database

Object Collections

Bibliography of British
and Irish Rural History

The Library

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Using the Reading Room

The Library of the Museum of English Rural Life holds about 40,000 books, pamphlets and periodical volumes. The collection covers the whole range of agricultural history and rural life with particular strengths in farming techniques and equipment and dairying.

The periodicals include major runs of journals in agricultural history, agricultural economics and agricultural engineering. The Museum has in recent years served as a repository for collections made redundant by library closures and mergers in the agro-food sector, including former agricultural research institutes, university and college, university and commercial libraries.

Read our Guide to the Library Collections, and find out about our Special Collections.

Guide to the Library Collections

Agricultural Surveys and British Agrarian History
Printed material includes sets of Arthur Young's farming tours and William Marshall's county and regional surveys, both of the late eighteenth century and of the "General Views", the county agricultural surveys of the Board of Agriculture, published 1793-1817. There are partial sets of the nineteenth century government blue books on agricultural depression on women and children in agriculture and on the farm labourer as well as similar material from this century; also the county reports of the First Land Utilisation Survey of Britain (1936-50).

Printed secondary sources cover prehistoric and medieval farming as well as the period of the agricultural revolution through to the present day, including the subjects of field systems, enclosures and land use and land management. The Library holds all published volumes of the Cambridge 'Agrarian History of England and Wales'.

Agricultural Science and Practice
The Library's holdings of books and journals on practical farming range from eighteenth century treatises on husbandry through nineteenth century encyclopaedias on farming practice to the successive editions of twentieth century textbooks. There are runs of the major farming journals and newspapers, including complete sets of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and of the Farmers Weekly.

Other aspects of practical farming include sections on crop and livestock husbandry; especially cattle and dairying, sheep, horses and veterinary history. Garden and horticultural history, forestry and woodland history are also represented. Large deposits of literature (principally from the former National Institute for Research in Dairying and Milk Marketing Board) are being merged together to form an historical dairy collection.

Agricultural Technology and the Agricultural Engineering Industry
The collections complement the agricultural engineering company archives and publicity and servicing literature. Primary printed sources include sets of farm machinery journals and the Royal Show implement catalogues. The subject of motive power in agriculture, horse, steam and ICE engines, is well covered.

Agricultural Economics and Policy
This section on twentieth century literature is now covered in some depth in the Library and includes many of the university departments of agricultural economics publications from the 1920s. The separate Edgar Thomas collection is particularly strong in this area.

Agricultural and Environmental Conservation
A developing area, reflecting the recent growth of interest in this subject, it covers literature on historic agricultural landscapes; the environmental impact of modern farming on the countryside and recent debates on the present role of the farming industry as well as earlier writings of an agricultural reformist nature on the topics of rural decline, organic farming and soil conservation.

Overseas Agriculture and Agrarian History
There is a growing holding of material on European farming and on tropical and plantation agriculture but comprehensive coverage is not attempted. The special collection acquired from the Nitrate Corporation of Chile provides a basic collection of African and Asian literature from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The Library maintains runs of European ethnology journals and of the various journals on agrarian history from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, the USA, etc.

The History of Food and Diet
Again an area of recent growth, this subject includes the milling, malting, brewing and other food processing and manufacturing industries, including company histories with academic studies on the history of diet, cookery, food marketing and retailing. A special collection is being formed out of deposits received from the Flour Milling and Bakery Research Association at Chorleywood.

Rural Industries and Crafts
A largely twentieth century literature concerned with the non-agricultural activities of the countryside, especially industries using clay (bricks and pottery), metal (blacksmithing and hand tool manufacture), textiles, leather (saddlery and harness making) and wood (wheelwrighting, carpentry, turnery and basketry). There is a particular coverage of the important underwood industry (based on the harvesting of coppice woods) of central southern England.

Rural Life and Literature
The Library holds one of the most accessible national collections of books relating to the social history of the countryside, including rural communities and social groups, especially landowners, farmers and labourers. There is a notable holding of the reminiscences of farming and rural life in addition to novels and essays based on these themes.

A representative collection of local history studies includes accounts of villages and country towns.

Other Subjects
These include literature on transport, household fittings and equipment, rural costume, vernacular architecture, sport and recreation and customs and folklore. There is a collection on museology, with some works on picture research and photograph conservation.