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Opening a door to farming's history

With Easter just two weeks away, the Museum of Rural Life is hoping to attract farmers, countryside lovers and the general public to discover the new rural gem of Reading. Danusia Osiowy finds out more.


It has recently been closed for two years following a £3.3 million overhaul, but the Museum of English Rural Life is reaping the rewards after opening its doors to the public once again.


As the country’s most extensive museum dedicated to agriculture and rural life, it has now become one of Reading’s go-to tourist attractions with more than 25,000 agricultural objects and memorabilia.


The museum was first established in 1951 by staff at the University of Reading to capture and record the rapidly changing countryside following World War II.


After extensive refurbishment, the museum opened last October with 341sq.m of additional space, including a gallery, a social learning space developed in partnership with students from the University of Reading, open access collections area, enlarged education studio, shop and reception area.


The garden also houses new features, including a shepherd’s hut and community growing spaces.


The public displays have nine new galleries curated round the concept of Our Country Lives, exploring the people who have had an impact on farming. Each one explores a theme and titles include Making Rural England, A Year on the Farm, Forces for Change, Wagon Walk and Digging Deeper.

Speakers from National Agriculture Workers Union
Milk cart and a pasteuriser


Museum director Kate Arnold-Forster says the displays have become much more interactive to challenge perceptions about rural England.


“The significant and much-needed redevelopment of the museum and its displays aims to create dynamic visitor experiences which help change perceptions about the countryside and agriculture.


“Our Country Lives weaves stories, memories, archive film and photographs from rural lives through new displays, which aim to revitalise the way visitors engage with the museum’s collections and show how this can deepen engagement with today’s countryside.


“They will offer new perspectives on how agricultural tools and machinery, wagons, ploughs and traditional crafts such as woodturning, hurdle-making, thatching, strawcraft and leatherwork formed the essential fabric of rural lives.


“Visitors will be asked to contribute ideas on what should be collected today, inspired by agricultural events attended by the museum in the 1950s.


Partly funded by a £1.8m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the museum worked alongside rural people, local communities and specialist researchers to ensure its updated displays and activities engage with important debates about the future of food and the ongoing relevance of the countryside to all our lives.

Old milk bottles
Household items

Win a spring-time cider hamper

Win a spring-time cider hamper

To celebrate the longer evenings, we are giving away a hamper of 12 home-made ciders, best enjoyed chilled watching the sun go down.


For your chance to win, all you have to do is tell us what you think the historical farming implement pictured to the right is?


Your three options are:
A A wild boar hunting weapon
B A sheep contraceptive
C Part of a field cultivator
from the 1700s


To enter: All you have to do is email your answer to danusia.osiowy@ Alternatively you can enter by post, sending your answer to: Features editor Danusia Osiowy, Farmers Guardian, Unit 4 Fulwood Business Park, Caxton Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR2 9NZ. The closing date for entries is Friday, April 7, and the editor‘s decision is final. Good luck.

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