Location Details

Location: Museum of English Rural Life, Reading Date of visit: 21st October 2020 Ticket price: Free entry

Overview

The Museum of English Rural Life, based on Redlands road, is owned and managed by the University of Reading. It explores the skills and experiences of farmers and crafts people in the past and present, and the relevance of the countryside to our lives.

Tips for Visiting

  • ​Entry tickets to the gallery are free, but you do need to book a slot online via Eventbrite.

Highlights

1. The Last Turner

I really like displays that reconstruct scenes, and help bring them to life. This scene reconstructs the work space of bowl turner Lailey. The inclusion of Robin Wood’s story, and how he was inspired by the museum’s collection to make a working replica of Lailey’s bowl turning process is also a nice touch. It reminds us how sources of inspiration are everywhere, we just have to keep exposing ourselves to different things.

George Lailey display showing a workshop layout and a bowl being made

2. Sound

As well as reconstructing scenes, sound is also used in some locations to bring them to life.

3. Seed Packet Wall

This display of different seed packets is very pleasing to the eye.

Colourful display seed and bulb packets. All produced by Sutton's Seeds.
Clothing of Jim Hindle. He wore this when he protested against the destruction of a tree called Middle Oak during the construction of the Newbury bypass.

4. Jim Hindle Clothing

This story of Jim Hindle is fascinating. He was a protestor linked with the defence of a tree called ‘Middle Oak’ when they were building the A34. He lived in the branches of the tree to prevent its destruction during the winter of 1995-1996. I find it interesting that you can see the holes on the knees of the clothing from where Jim wore them through. Having his clothing and photos on display really help to bring the story to  life.

5. Walking Cane

Forestry workers earned extra money by making walking sticks. I think this is a nice little reminder that if you’re resourceful there are lots of opportunities to make money.

Walking Cane made by forestry workers
Knitted chicken sitting next to a small nest with two chicks

6. Knitted Chicken and Chicks

I like how these little extra additions are used to draw attention to the collections, and engage with younger audiences. This little knitted group was placed near a display on eggs.

7. Sheep Wearing Jumper and Covid-19 Mask

The knitted jumper on the sheep drew my attention to this model, but I also like how it has been made relevant to the current situation by placing a facemask on it. This also nicely advertises the products available in the gift shop.

Sheep wearing a knitted white jumper wearing a face mask
Model horse pulling a green model cart carrying 4 bales of hay. In front of a blue and green 2-wheel cart carrying a container. The models are placed in front of a tree and fence background.

8. Horse and Cart Model

There are several horse and cart models displayed near to life-size wagons. The life-size wagons are impressive, but you can’t walk around them and it can be difficult to take in all the details on something so large. The models are great to give you an overview of the wagon, so you can appreciate the whole wagon on a different perspective.

Tips from this visit that can help you

  • You never know when and where you are going to come across something that inspires you. Open yourself up to lots of different experiences and opportunities.
  • There are lots of ways that you can make a little extra money. Think outside the box like the forestry workers.
  • You can make something stand out by juxtaposing it with something unusual, just like the knitted chickens, or stimulate the other senses in some way.

Challenge

English rural life is not something that I tend to find very interesting, which may surprise you since I took the time to visit this museum! However, I often find that the best ideas, and most inspiring things, can be found in the least likely places. What I really liked about this museum was how it drew my attention to different displays as I walked through the galleries, so I not only learned a few things but I found it a very pleasant visit. This is despite the fact that I would normally have little or no interest in these objects. Being able to get people excited and engaging with something that would not normally interest them is a great skill to have in life. Now it’s your turn! My challenge for you: Take a look at the image, below. Think about how you would draw attention to the object, and encourage people to engage with it. Aim of challenge: To help you think about the different ways that you can make yourself, and your work, stand out from the crowd.

Vanitas Still Life by Jan Treck
Label for Vanitas Still Life by Jan Treck

Questions to consider

  1. Could you juxtapose the object with something that would draw attention to it? (e.g. a handmade item)
  2. Could you place the object into a context that would engage the viewer? (e.g. a reconstructed display, or add sound effects to set the scene)
  3. Could you give the object an emotional angle? (e.g. add a story)