Press Releases

The Farmers Weekly in Retrospect – University of Reading

Release Date : 18 May 2004

367Thousands of historic photographs published in the Farmers Weekly during the last century have been preserved for future generations during a year-long conservation project in the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) at the University of Reading. The 130,000 photographs, some of which are also from the Farmer and Stockbreeder magazine, illustrate all aspects of farming life and show just how much farming has changed during the last 100 years. They document arable and livestock farming, especially the prevailing husbandry practices, the introduction of new techniques and the application of science in agriculture. The images include: farm labour, wartime farming, agricultural shows, farm animals, farm machinery, crops, crafts events and farming personalities of the day. Some of the more unusual photographs show a horse fitted with a gas mask in the 1940s, and a camel carrying crop-spraying equipment. Dating from 1924 to 1964, the images are on fragile glass plate negatives, which makes them more difficult to deal with than film. They arrived at the museum in 1969 in tea chests, and were put on specially strengthened shelves in their original envelopes – where they remained until last year. In April 2003, a dedicated team of more than 40 volunteers began the daunting task of repackaging the huge collection as part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Higher Education Active Community Fund. Brenda Lee, the project Conservator, said: "Each glass plate negative has been placed in a special envelope, free from harmful chemicals that can adversely affect photographs. The wrapped photographs have then been placed in special boxes, also made from chemical-free materials. This packaging, along with the right environment, will help prevent the plates from deteriorating in the future. "The project has been very successful and all the packaging is more or less complete – but only because of the dedication, enthusiasm and hard work of all the volunteers taking part." The volunteers, who range from teenagers to retired people and overseas students from China and the Philippines, have also been noting photographs of particular interest. Some of these form part of an online exhibition, which can be seen at: Along with ensuring the long-term preservation of the photographs, the re-packaging has also meant that the glass negatives can be moved safely to the museum's new home in Redlands Road, Reading. Building work is near completion on this £10.5 million major development, which has been supported by a £5.17 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, by a public appeal, and by funding from the University. To complete the final stage of this project, the Museum is now seeking £250,000. If you would like to be involved in supporting this exciting project please contact David Walker (Tel: 0118 378 5238 or e-mail: End Notes for editors -For high-resolution images of some of the photographs, please contact Craig Hillsley, Press Officer, University of Reading. Tel: 0118 378 7388 E-mail: -For more information about MERL and the £10.5 million development, please see:


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