“Windrows to the Past” – Reap the Rewards, South West

Exploring Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, as part of the Reap the Rewards event

When I first heard about the RMN seminar, I saw it as an excellent opportunity to build relationships between rural museums and to discuss potential solutions to common challenges. I am a Collections Assistant at Dorset County Museum, so I was keen to understand how we could tap into the potential of our rural collection and how we could start considering a contemporary collecting policy relating to post-war rural life. This seminar also came at a fitting time; we are currently in the midst of a multi-million pound redevelopment project and our hosts, the Somerset Rural Life Museum, have recently undergone redevelopment themselves. I was particularly looking forward to seeing how they approached the display, storage and interpretation of their rural collections.

Open Doors

First impressions really do count, especially in heritage. Attracting visitors and making them feel welcome is important for building rapport and encouraging them to return, hopefully with friends and family. At Somerset, the front of house is situated within the old Abbey Farmhouse. Built in 1894 by the Austin family it was later occupied by the Mapstones, who farmed on the site through the Second World War. It was the centre of the dairy business as well as a family home. It would have welcomed many people through the threshold, just like the museum does today. A recent addition to the exterior, is a Lias flagstone, engraved with “Oh Mr and Missus are you there within, pray open the door and let us come in” a lovely nod to the old tradition of Wassailing and an acknowledgement of the role of the farmhouse to the community. Though it may seem a small thing, the significance of that front porch goes a long way – after all, it is the first, and last, place in the museum that visitors experience.

Open Display

Discovering the collections at Somerset Rural Life Museum

Beyond the orientation space are the farmhouse galleries. With themes inspired by a Kelly’s directory and situated in the old cowsheds, it seemed apt to walk through the industry of Somerset with most objects on open display. This format honours the long, hard outdoor lives that most of these objects experienced. Their robustness is such that they can be displayed without the enclosure of a case. Open display wall mounts create space, as there is little dependence on display cases. It also creates an atmosphere of trust between the visitor and curator. These objects have been wilfully and sensitively arranged, in the knowledge that they will be respected. This highlights the fact that rural collections offer a brilliant opportunity to invest in personal visitor experience. They are some of a select few objects that we can afford to have out on open display in museums, so it was inspiring to see Somerset adopting this approach.

Contemporary Collecting

Curating records and objects which give a voice to the lives before ours is a complex undertaking and thinking about how we represent contemporary agricultural history is quite a challenge. In the seminar we discussed both the relevance and difficulties of not only curating, but also obtaining, post-war agricultural equipment for exhibition. Are we at risk of missing stories and huge developments in technology by not adequately representing post-war agricultural development? A key quote I took away from this discussion, is that urban stories will be allowed to dominate, if we don’t maintain the relevance of rural collections. It is generally accepted that most agricultural equipment is too large for museums. It also comes at a huge expense to farmers and, as such, most equipment is worked into the ground. We also need to be aware of an increasing selection of progressive apps and record keeping techniques in agriculture, in addition to the objects themselves. This is an ongoing discussion, but one we need to keep having in order to establish a coherent, and consistent, collecting policy.


Being passionate about Dorset’s agricultural history, it was great to be part of a group who can advise, illustrate and connect with the themes of rural collections. I look forward to joining the network and learning more about rural collecting policies, outreach and public engagement. Rural collections, like most, do come with their challenges. Understanding how we can document and celebrate, rather than neglect, rural heritage will improve collection policy, care and interpretation. We can make these objects accessible to everyone, in the urban and rural environment alike. We have a great opportunity in the coming decade to utilise this network and work with the digital age, rather than against it, to keep important stories alive for future generations.

Kat Broomfield is Collections Assistant at Dorset County Museum

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sowing the Seeds of Confidence at Reap the Rewards Yorkshire

The Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park

I attended the Reap the Rewards event at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park. It was a day that I had been looking forward to, as the field of rural collections isn’t something I have a specialist background in or feel particularly confident working with.

Yorkshire Museum of Farming and Murton Park

The day began with a tour of Murton Park’s enviable site. It is set in around sixteen acres, which gives them the space to have been able to build a Roman fort, Viking village and prehistoric settlement, as well as providing a home for a variety of livestock and an impressive collection of agricultural machinery. It is popular with schools and certainly the groups of small Vikings we encountered from time to time seemed to be enjoying themselves.

It really showed how valuable experiencing things first-hand can be, especially for children. Gathering around the fire in the Viking longhouse, or grinding corn in the village, brings the past to life in a way static displays simply aren’t able to.

Although most of us don’t have the luxury of Murton Park’s space and facilities, the curator, Mike Tyler, explained that several period rooms and a display of vintage washing machines have proved popular with visitors of all ages, often provoking conversation and discussion between the generations. This illustrates how it can often be possible to make the collection more relatable through fairly small and simple changes.

Rural Museums Network

In the afternoon we discussed a range of issues, including the pros and cons of recruiting volunteers, space and storage constraints and the problems involved in keeping rural collections relevant in a rapidly changing world. It was interesting to hear everyone’s ideas and opinions and to hear how other sites had attempted to solve or deal with these subjects.

The afternoon session also included an introduction to the Rural Museums Network from the RMN host, David Walker. Before attending this event, I wasn’t really aware of the network. I had vaguely heard of it, but no more than that. I now feel that I have more of an understanding of what the RMN is and what it does. It is good to know that there is such a rich resource of knowledge and experience out there to draw on if needed.

I found the day both valuable and enjoyable. It is always good to visit other sites and to meet people from different organisations, and it has certainly given me plenty to think about and some ideas for the future of our collection.

North Lincolnshire Museum Service

One of our sites, Normanby Hall, has an associated Farming Museum, which is being rebranded next year to become the Rural Life Museum. The Farming Museum has traditionally suffered from a lack of visitor numbers by comparison with the rest of the park. Part of the reason for this is thought to be that it simply doesn’t have the widespread interest or appeal of other areas, such as the Hall itself. After the session at Murton Park, I am more confident about tackling the task of trying to boost visitor numbers to the Farming Museum and of trying to make the experience of those visitors as enjoyable and relevant as possible.

I am a Collections Assistant at North Lincolnshire Museum. I mainly work with the archaeology, but I am currently responsible for the Social History collection while a colleague is on maternity leave.

Catherine Looser

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taking the Aggravation out of Agricultural Collections!

Participants at the 'Reap the Rewards: Benefiting from Rural Networks' event explore Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, October 2019

Participants at the ‘Reap the Rewards: Benefiting from Rural Networks’ event explore Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, October 2019

At Staffordshire County Museum I find our collection of agricultural machinery and tools quite overwhelming. It’s not a subject area I feel confident in. Agriculture and farming is an important part of Staffordshire’s history, so it’s a key collection but the objects are often very large and difficult to display and interpret. Compared to other collections, they aren’t always visually interesting, and they can be difficult to relate to.

In October I took part in ‘Reap the Rewards: Benefiting from Rural Networks’ at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Bromsgrove. It was a seminar for people working in museums with agricultural and rural collections. I went along to the session to meet others who were in a similar situation, to gain more knowledge on how to interpret and to find out more about the Rural Museum Network. Here are some things I learned on the day I’d like to share

1. Creating relevant rural experiences with your collection or site.

It doesn’t have to be standard display techniques, i.e. an object with a label, that gets people interested in rural activities and objects. Nick Sturgess, Head of Collections & Interpretation at Avoncroft explained how rather than just showing visitors the process of milling and explaining how it works, the visitors can taste bread made from flour that has been milled there, which additionally provides them with extra income as they then sell the flour in the museum shop.

What I hadn’t realised is there is always a way to relate your agricultural object to visitors’ everyday lives, whether that is food production, animals, workers rights etc. And a sensory experience is even better because it is something that will stay with them longer.

2. Multi layered labels

An example of a multi layered label at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings

Usually when writing object labels, we are told that less is more, we don’t want to fatigue visitors with lots of text. Just 50 words will usually suffice when creating text for an object.

Simon Carter, the Director at Avoncroft explained that more substantial labels are actually a blessing with these types of collections and showed us an example that they have installed around the site at Avoncroft. The label briefly explained where the building came from, what it was and what it was used for but then it was split into three colour coded sections; People, History and Rescue. It was a way of appeasing different types of visitors, not alienating the specialists and enthusiasts and including the average visitor who might be more interested in the people that used the building than how it was built or rescued.

By creating themes within your labels, visitors can easily pick what is most interesting to them and choose what they read about.

3. Learning about the RMN

In the afternoon we discussed our issues within our own collections and what the Rural Museum Network could do to help. The topic of storage came up as its often hardier rural collections that have the worst storage, with objects often being left in sheds or even outside exposed to the elements, but also admitting that’s ok as long as there is a plan in place. Museums don’t have the resources to deal with everything! The Lace Guild explained the difficulty in recruiting new members and expertise dying out in the field, they talked about diversifying their activities and collections to make them more accessible to younger people, with things like yarn bombing which is a fairly new phenomenon and fits in with the protest culture that is popular at the moment, especially with young people. RMN host Chris Copp addressed these issues and talked about what the aims of the network were including ideas for a distributed national collection.

This part of the seminar showed me that whatever you’re grappling with, collections-wise, in your museum, the specialist networks are a great source of knowledge and are there to help.

All in all, I really enjoyed the session at Avoncroft. It is always good to get outside your own collection and draw inspiration from another organisation. I felt that the session not only allowed me to network with other museum professionals, but I found that the solutions are often much simpler than I had imagined. Avoncroft is a prime example of using every resource you have available and being innovative can be as simple as changing your object labels. In the afternoon I found out more about the Rural Museums Network and how it can assist me in the future when working with the agricultural collections. The idea of the distributed national collection is an idea I had vaguely heard before, but it was great to be involved in discussing its potential and to hear from people who have been working on it.

I am the Collections Assistant at Staffordshire Archives and Heritage. I studied at University of Leicester, History of Art and Art Museum and Gallery Studies MA but have worked mostly with social history collections. In Staffordshire I have recently been involved in moving the collection into new stores, this has made me confront our large agricultural collection which in the past has garnered less attention than other subject areas in the museum.

Melanie Williamson


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Save the date! 2019 Annual Seminar & AGM

Save the date! The annual seminar of the Rural Museums Network will take place on Sunday 6th and Monday 7th October 2019 at Beamish, the Living Museum of the North in County Durham.

Join us on Sunday 6th October and experience Beamish’s ‘Power from the Past’ event. This is a great chance to see the museum’s impressive collection of steam and road transport in action, as well as some visiting vehicles.

Meet the Beamish team and fellow Rural Museums Network members to find out more about Beamish’s working collections and events programme. Power from the Past runs from 10am to 5pm.

For those staying locally, on Sunday evening there will be the chance to meet more RMN members for an informal dinner or drinks.

On Monday 7th October, we’ll continue the discussions. A brief AGM will be followed by a day of seminars and tours exploring new developments at Beamish. During the day there will be the chance to discuss the impact of this work and lessons learned with the wider project team.

We very much hope that you’ll be able to join us for one or both days. Further information will be available in the next few weeks, together with details on how to book. In the meantime, please do save the date!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Understanding Rural Networks – Freelance project opportunity

The Rural Museums Network (RMN) is delighted to have been awarded funding from Arts Council England’s Subject Specialist Network Fund to deliver the ‘Understanding Rural Networks’ project.

RMN is seeking to engage a freelance worker to help deliver a programme of regional-wide events that help non-specialist curators and general managers of heritage sites looking after rural and agricultural collections to develop, maintain and share expertise associated with these specialist collections, and also to celebrate their contribution to public engagement, education and enjoyment by providing ways of interpreting these collections more effectively through better use of objects and more engaging story-telling.

The ideal candidate will have experience in planning, administering and delivering events and activities, have experience of working in the cultural or heritage sector, and should be experienced in evaluating projects and writing reports.


Project Support Worker,  Rural Museums Network

Job Type: Contract

Contract Type: Freelance, 20 days (maximum)

Fee: £4,000 (maximum)

Project timeline: April 2019 – March 2020


  • To organise 10 regional events.  This will include:
    • Booking venues
    • managing catering arrangements
    • booking speakers and facilitators
    • marketing events
    • administering a travel bursary scheme
    • ensuring necessary resources are available at venues
  • To provide information on where collections, knowledge and expertise can be found.
  • To produce a draft report on location of collections and collections expertise
  • To produce a map of where collections are located.
  • To collect evidence to support final project evaluation

How to apply

  • Submit your CV and portfolio to chris.copp@staffordshire.gov.uk
  • All applications must be submitted by 9am, Monday 15th April 2019.
  • Candidates will be shortlisted and there will be a telephone interview.  Criteria for shortlisting will be based on relevant experience, quality and price.
  • Interviews will take place w/c  15th April 2019

We look forward to hearing from you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Call for Papers – CIMA: Past and Future Agricultures

The Museum of English Rural Life, Reading.

The Museum of English Rural Life will host the Congress of AIMA in July 2020.

From 20 to 23 July 2020 the Museum of English Rural Life will play host to the Congress of the International Association of Agricultural Museums, AIMA.

Please consider submitting a proposal and feel free to share this information far and wide. It would be great to have a good representative body of content from members of the Rural Museums Network at the 2020 Congress.

The Rural Museums Network Committee are also aiming to organise and co-host some elements of the programme, perhaps in the form of a workshop / sharing session intended to cater for museum professionals who aren’t agriculture experts but who might wish to benefit from expertise of the farming museum community. The format of this Rural Museums Network contribution is yet to be finalised but watch this space for more details.

Bookings for the Congress are set to open later this year once a provisional programme is in place. Details will be circulated closer to the time. Suffice to say that we hope as many Rural Museums Network members as possible will be keen to attend and participate in what we hope will be a useful event for all of us.

AIMA is an ICOM-Affiliate and an international network that we believe will grow to serve our agricultural museum sector well in years to come.

For more information on the call for papers, please visit the AIMA website here>>

Closing date for proposals: 28 June 2019

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book now for the 2018 Annual Seminar!

Book now to join us for the annual seminar of the Rural Museums Network.
Sunday 30 September and Monday 1 October 2018
Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse (part of Norfolk Museums Service) incorporates a museum of life on the land, traditional working farm, historic workhouse and beautiful grounds. The Museum has recently re-launched its workhouse galleries following a major £1.8million redevelopment supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The new displays include evocative workhouse settings, where visitors can stand face to face with projections of staff and inmates and listen to first hand stories, often tragic, sometimes inspirational, from the people who once walked those whitewashed corridors. The workhouse is put into context with accompanying new galleries which explore stories of Norfolk life.

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse: the Museum of Norfolk Life

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse –
the venue for this year’s Rural Museums Network annual Seminar

For those able to join us, there will be the opportunity to experience the museum’s annual Horse Power! Event on Sunday 30 September. This celebration of the work of heavy horses will focus on Gressenhall’s traditional farm.

The main business will be conducted on Monday 1 October and will comprise a brief AGM, followed by an extended tour of the new galleries at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. A full timetable can be found below.

We very much hope that members will be able to join us for one or both days. For more information or to book, please click here to contact us>>

Sunday 30 September
10.00 onwards – arrival for Horse Power! The event runs from 10am to 5pm, and members are welcome as guests of the museum throughout the day.

3pm – optional opportunity to network with fellow RMN members at the Mardlers’ Rest Café.

Evening – optional self-funded meal in a local venue for those staying overnight in Dereham

Monday 1 October
10.30am –Arrival and coffee

11.00am – Welcome and AGM

11.30am – Learning at Gressenhall – an insight into the museum and its formal learning programme for schools (Jan Pitman, Learning Manager)

12noon – RMN Development Study Update (Sally Ackroyd)

12.15pm – Lunch (provided)

1.00pm – Gressenhall and Voices from the Workhouse (Robin Hanley, Assistant Head of Norfolk Museum Service)

1.30pm – Tour of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse – Hannah Jackson (Operations Manager), Megan Dennis (Curator), Wayne Kett (Collections Development Officer) and Richard Dalton (Farm Officer) will lead delegates on a tour of museum, the Norfolk Collections Centre large object store and farm, offering an onsite overview of the recent changes and how lessons learned from the project are being incorporated into forthcoming work across the 50 acre site.

4.00pm – Closing remarks

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Save the date for the 2018 Annual Seminar

Suffolk Punch heavy horses working at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, Norfolk

Horse Power at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Save the date!  The annual seminar of the Rural Museums Network will take place on Sunday 30 September and Monday 1 October 2018 at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse in Norfolk.

Join us on Sunday 30 September and experience the museum’s annual Horse Power! event.  This celebration of the work of heavy horses will focus on Gressenhall’s traditional farm.  Watch as the museum’s Suffolk Punch horses are joined by visiting teams to carry out seasonal tasks, talk to those who work with these impressive animals and explore all that the 50-acre site has to offer.

Meet the Gressenhall team and fellow Rural Museums Network members to find out more about Gressenhall’s engaging events programme.  Horse Power! runs from 10am to 5pm.

For those staying locally, on Sunday evening there will be the chance to meet more RMN members for an informal dinner or drinks.

On Monday 1 October, we’ll continue the discussions.  A brief AGM will be followed by a day of seminars and tours exploring the new displays.  Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse has recently relaunched following a major £1.8million redevelopment of its Workhouse and Museum of Norfolk Life galleries, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  During the day there will be the chance to discuss the impact of this work and lessons learned with the wider project team.

We very much hope that members will be able to join us for one or both days.  For more information, please click here to contact us>> 

Posted in RMN news | Leave a comment

Your guide to interpreting carriages

As part of Staffordshire Archives & Heritage’s Arts Council Resilience funded ‘Moving On’ project, a new ‘Guide to Interpreting Carriages’ has been produced. It is available as a free download at www.staffordshirecarriages.org.uk

Horse-drawn carriages are found in museum collections across the country. As moving objects in static displays they are often difficult to interpret.

This guide, funded by Arts Council England, brings together best practice in the interpretation of carriages to help museums bring them to life. It was commissioned by Staffordshire Archives and Heritage and written by museum interpretation consultant Steve Slack, in collaboration with professionals from across the museum sector working with carriage collections.

ACE funding has also enabled the team to digitise Staffordshire County Museum’s nationally important collection of horse-drawn carriages, carts and sleighs and make them available online. The Staffordshire Carriages website features 3D imaging that you can rotate and zoom in to explore detail.

The Staffordshire Carriages website features 3D imaging that you can rotate and zoom in to explore detail, including this luxury Barouche.

The Staffordshire Carriages website features 3D imaging that you can rotate and zoom in to explore detail, including this luxury Barouche.

Posted in RMN news | Leave a comment

Rural Museums Network Development Study vacancy

On this post you find attached an advert for a consultant/worker to undertake a primarily desk-based review of RMN’s current activities and make recommendations regarding our future development. This work is being commissioned following discussion by the RMN committee and the detailed brief was developed by a working group of committee members.

The deadline for submission of Expressions of Interest is 5pm on Monday 7th March 2016.
We hope that the key findings of this study will be shared at our 2016 AGM, taking place on 25-26 May at St Fagans (please reserve these dates in your diary!)

Please click here for the advert.

Posted in RMN news | Leave a comment