The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), housed in the centre of Reading and owned by the University of Reading, was set up in 1951. The special collections held at MERL reflect a diverse range of subject matter from the records of the Council for the Protection of Rural England to the business records of many publishers as well as some of the artists associated with them, to tractor maker Massey Ferguson and Suttons Seeds.
The Landscape Institute’s own archive is also based at MERL. The collection includes plans for the restoration of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Charleston farmhouse by Peter Shepheard, who also designed the landscape for London Zoo, and the original plan for the park at Sydenham, South London when the Crystal Palace moved there from Hyde Park in the 1850s.
For many years the Landscape Institute has worked to build up an archive as a repository for the work of the profession and its contribution to society. The extensive archive includes the drawings and professional papers of many leading landscape architects including the urban designer Michael Brown (Redditch New Town), Sylvia Crowe (Commonwealth Institute, London and the roof garden for the Scottish Widows building in Edinburgh) and Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe (Atlanta History Center and JFK Memorial at Runnymede). It includes many intricate sketches and drawings by Peter Shepheard – an accomplished artist as well as landscape architect, invited by Pevsner to illustrate two books on ducks and woodland birds. Acquisitions to the archive include the drawings and project files of the Milner White practice, the first and, until its closure in 1995, the oldest landscape architecture practice in the UK, and leading contemporary landscape architect Preben Jakobsen, the fourth member of the Landscape Institute to receive its prestigious gold medal.
There is also a helpful webinar about the landscape heritage at MERL by Guy Baxter, its archivist.