Awesome Women in the John Pendlebury Family Papers

Over the last two weeks, I have catalogued some of the photograph albums that form part of the John Pendlebury Family Papers collection. As I wrote in my previous post, I started cataloguing one of the photograph albums containing handwritten itineraries and photos of Pendlebury’s trips around Crete from 1934-1939.

One of the biggest challenges that I’ve had to face whilst carrying out this task has been to indentify people included in the photographs. It hasn’t been easy; most of the photographs included in the album have a caption, but sometimes the handwriting is difficult to understand and other times there is no caption at all. I have, however, had great help from work carried out by my predecessor, Madelin. The great level of detail so far included in the catalogue has helped me to compare names and dates -even faces!- and the rest of the collection has given me some broader context regarding the people surrounding John Pendlebury at that particular moment of his life. Identifying these people has been, somewhat, like solving a puzzle!

Whilst I was cataloguing photographs taken during the excavations in Tzermiadho (Crete) in the summer of 1937, one in particular caught my eye. This photograph shows a woman from behind, smiling as she peers back at the camera. Next to her, a man also looks at the camera, in mockery. The photograph is captioned: ‘Vincent Desborough and Marion Pascoe’. Intrigued by this photo but, especially, by this woman, I did a bit of research into her background, and the story I found was fascinating:

Photograph captioned ‘Vincent Desborough and Marion Pascoe’ [PEN 7/2/6/728]. Copyright: British School at Athens.

Marion Pascoe Sarafis, archaeologist, activist and writer, was born in December 1913, the only child of an Anglo-Austrian family resident in Woking, England. Her childhood papers, covering the years 1913 -1938 are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. Marion’s father, Wallis Pascoe, was a stockbroker, and the family lived at ‘Bracken Hill’, a large Victorian house. It was in this house that Marion was educated by her mother, Anne Harding Kliamanek, until being sent to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in 1925. Outgrowing the Convent’s limited academic opportunities, Marion yearned to go to University and, in 1932, after being coached in ancient Greek by a priest, she finally gained a place at Oxford University to read Classics.

After graduating from Oxford University, Marion took a postgraduate archaeology course at Cambridge, and then in 1936 travelled to Athens where she joined the British School at Athens the same year. The School Annual Report for the session 1936-1937 states of her time in Greece:

Miss M. Pascoe, B.A. – Society of Oxford Home-Students. Carried out a preliminary investigation of the Hagia Marina pottery, and assisted in Mr. Pendlebury’s excavations in Crete’

 According to the Annual Reports, Marion worked with the BSA for the next two years. In 1937, she worked at Chaeronea, on the prehistoric sites in the vicinity of Smokovo and Lake Xynias, and in Athens on the prehistoric pottery from Hagia Marina and Drachmani, as well as visiting Ithaca and Milos. In May and June of that year, she helped with excavations in Crete. During 1938, she completed her work at Chaeronea and helped with the excavations at Karphi. In 1939, whilst in Milos, she met her future husband, General Stefanos Sarafis (1890-1957), a leftist republican, who was exiled from the mainland for his political ideas. Their incipient friendship was, however, broken off by the Second World War.

From the ‘British School Annual Report for the session 1936-1937’. Copyright: British School at Athens
Photographs of the excavations at Karphi in the summer of 1938. Copyright: British School at Athens.


During the war, Marion returned to England where she became a founder member of the League for Democracy in Greece, which campaigned for the release of imprisoned resistance fighters and also lobbied for human rights in the country. In 1951, she also edited a book in English about the Greek Resistance Army. She finally returned to Greece in 1952 and married General Sarafis the same year. The couple lived in Athens for the next five years, and they had a daughter, Lee Sarafis. Those were years of tireless political activism, campaigning for the United Democratic Left Party. Unfortunately, in 1957, Marion and her husband were involved in a car accident in Athens, and General Sarafis was killed. Marion was also severely injured in the crash.

After this episode, Marion Pascoe Sarafis returned to Bracken Hill, where she spent the rest of her life pursuing her interests: reading English, French, German, Modern Greek and Latin. She retained her Greek citizenship and was an active campaigner during the 1967-74 Colonels’ dictatorship. She also worked on books on the Greek resistance as well as for the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and always retained her interest in Greece. Marion died in 1999.

It’s amazing the stories that can be found behind a simple photograph, isn’t it? These chance encounters whilst working with archive material make such incredible moments and so I am dedicating this blog entry to Marion Pascoe Sarafis in celebration of Women’s History Month, by telling the story of this really awesome woman.

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