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Exhibition MERL - Photo Credit Elliot Kim

‘Ladybird in Focus: Women’ at MERL is Worth a Visit

You may already be familiar with the immaculately kept gem that is the Museum of English Rural Life. Located on Redlands Road a stone’s throw from London Road Campus and the Hospital, it’s tiny and beautiful, boasting an idyllic chicken-populated garden, peaceful café space, and completely non-stop milking of their slightly insane, completely viral, ‘absolute unit’ meme.

MERL meme

The Museum has intriguing offers beyond old photos of enormous rams however, including The Ladybird Collection. Created from donations and funded by Ladybird Books Ltd, this is currently the only existing exhibit permanently dedicated to the iconic, 20th century picture books. The space tends to rotate, putting different elements into spotlight. The current exhibit places its focus on women.

The fact that Ladybird portrayed idyllic nuclear families makes this an interesting topic, with several potential lenses of analysis. Superficially, expected gender roles, and family dynamic are ever-present, while closer examination clues us into historical and social topics, such as the portrayal of women in work after the war, portrayals of good and evil, and even the subjectivity of our own perspectives. It also has points for Literature students (like myself) – the ways in which theses roles and images were prescribed for young children gives us a case study on the transmission of social ideologies – something especially pertinent in a time of information warfare and complex social media propaganda.

Physically, the exhibit is worth checking if you’ve an interest in exhibition construction and museum curating – the tiny, quiet space is well-maintained and draws you towards the central display, with a few interesting slides and a more in-depth video option, before showing off a fragment of its vast, 20,000 image collection.

In short – the MERL is always worth a quick visit, and this spotlight is a well-curated, thought-provoking addition with an impressively wide array of interesting elements for such a small space. If you haven’t yet been, open Google Maps, take a 10 minute walk, and check it out before the exhibition closes!

And if nothing else – go for the chickens.


The MERL hours and visiting information, including accessibility can be found here. ‘Ladybird in Focus: Women’ closes 17/02/19.

About Elliot Kim

Elliot Kim first started university many years ago, then dropped out as a result of health issues and realising he had no idea why he had chosen his subject. Years of work, travel, and false starts later – he decided to return to university. He now studies BA English Literature with Creative Writing, while working both as a cocktail bartender and freelance writer. He is interested in troubled youth, wilderness therapy and the development of masculine identity. He can usually be found experimenting with new recipes, bouldering at Reading Climbing Centre, and/or drinking way too much coffee.

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