Week 9, 30th Nov-4th Dec

Folder of letters from John at Winchester College
A file of letters sent to Lilian and Herbert Pendlebury from John Pendlebury whilst he was at Winchester College. Copyright: The British School at Athens

Whilst completing the catalogue descriptions of John’s letters to his parents from Winchester College I discovered more about the terminology that I was puzzling over last week. This terminology is called ‘notions’. There have been official books of the terms published, and John refers to spending time learning them in his letters. The number of notions in use has declined over time, but there is still a current booklet which pupils of the College can purchase and a glossary of some of the terms on Winchester College’s website.

I also discovered that Winchester College Football is a distinct game from football, and that both are played at the College (and were played by John). Depending on the context and terminology used it is usually possible to determine which sport John was discussing in his letters. He was a very sporting pupil and as well as playing  both types of football he took part in activities including competitive rifle shooting, cricket, fives, athletics (hurdles and high-jump) and the Steeplechase race.

After finishing the first draft of the descriptions of John’s letters to his parents from Winchester, I checked through the descriptions again making additions and adjustments. I found I was able to make more sense of some of the letters once I had learnt more about the Winchester College environment and context that John was writing in.

I have now moved on to cataloguing John’s letters to his father which were written whilst he was based here, at the British School at Athens, from 1927-28. John arrived in November 1927 with a studentship and a task to trace all archaeological finds of Egyptian origin in Greece up to 664 BC. His letters to his father reveal first impressions of the British School and his fellow residents, including his future wife Hilda White.

…Miss White who alone of the lot strikes one as being at all human, she reminds me of Vera rather. The rest are definitely sub-human.” (20 Nov 1927)

“I only wish everyone wouldn’t be so obviously learned to the eyebrows. It makes me feel like such an impostor being here at all.” (20 Nov 1927)

The British School residents wasted no time in organising expeditions to other parts of Greece. The letters I have been cataloguing are full of descriptions of trips to Thessaly, the Argolid and Crete – which has prompted regular searches on Google maps!

Map from letter about East Crete trip 1928 BSA 1410
A map of John’s trip around Eastern Crete with Hilda White, Vivien Whitfield and Margaret Rodger (from the British School at Athens) in 1928. From a letter to Herbert Pendlebury. Copyright: The British School at Athens

John’s letters from Greece are written solely to his father. His mother, Lilian Pendlebury, had died of heart failure in September 1921 when she was only 50 and John was just 16. The archive does not tell us much of John’s reaction to this tragedy as there is a gap in the surviving correspondence between March 1921 and November 1927.

The only material within the John Pendlebury Family Papers dating from the mid-1920s are a few letters sent to Herbert about John from Winchester College and Pembroke College, a travel log of John’s travels in Greece in 1923, some school notebooks containing essays, and a hand-drawn plan of Tanagra (from John’s travels in 1923). I am not yet certain whether the letters from the schools to Herbert contain much about John’s reaction to the death of his mother, but this will become clear once they are catalogued.

PEX2
Herbert Pendlebury, photograph in the John Pendlebury Family Papers. Copyright: The British School at Athens

So why is there a gap in the letters? Perhaps John ceased writing, or (as I believe to be more likely) the letters have been lost. He certainly did write to Herbert from Greece in 1923, as those letters were transcribed by Herbert into the 1923 travel log. Herbert moved to Malvern to live with his new wife, Mabel Dickinson (“Dickie”), in 1925. So perhaps the letters were lost in the move.

This week I will continue cataloguing John’s letters sent to his father from Greece in 1927-28, and then hopefully move on to his letters from London (when preparing for his marriage to Hilda White in 1928), Greece (during his honeymoon) and Egypt (1928-29).

 

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