Reflections on my time as Project Assistant for the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive: 8 months of John Pendlebury and family, archaeology, travel, photographs and digitisation

Back in the summer of 2015, after a Skype interview, I was lucky enough to be appointed as the Project Assistant for the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project. I moved to Athens and the project commenced at the beginning of October. I started to learn a great deal about the Pendlebury family, archaeology and Greece.

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Postcards of Athens, [c. 1927-28], from Hilda Pendlebury’s travel scrapbook. Copyright: The British School at Athens
I spent a fascinating 8 months cataloguing the archive in detail, repackaging the archive, and working with a local digitisation office to organise the digitisation of the archive. By the time I left at the end of June the archive was fully catalogued (mostly to item-level) and the photograph albums, letters and travel logs were digitised. These 3 sections are the richest in the archive and contain a multitude of early 20th century photographs of Greece, details of many trips taken by John and Hilda Pendlebury, and family letters covering the whole of John Pendlebury’s life.  

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Travel log containing photographs and extracts from John Pendlebury’s letters to his father, from Greece 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

Many of these family letters were written during John Pendlebury’s time as a student at Winchester College (1918-1923). I am very grateful to the Wykeham patrons (supporters of Winchester College) who generously funded my work and the digitisation work which was carried out.

There is still some work to be done on completing the digitisation, inputting catalogue data onto EMu (the BSA’s cataloguing software), and linking the digital images to catalogue entries. In an ideal world I would have been able to complete all these tasks, but as the project progressed it became clear that this would not be possible. We had to prioritise tasks but also made a huge leap forward towards completion.

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to work at the British School at Athens on the John Pendlebury Family Archive. The project was really interesting and I learnt more about archaeology than I realised there was to know. I also gained valuable experience of cataloguing to item-level (which I had rarely done before) and working with EMu.

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A page from one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs, containing photographs of a house in Cambridge and of Ralph Lavers (architect) and Herbert Pendlebury (Oct 1934). Copyright: The British School at Athens

I am writing this blog post from an unusually sunny Cambridge, where I am now working as an Assistant Archivist in the Department of Manuscripts and Archives at the University Library. As those who have followed my blog or know about the life of John Pendlebury will realise, he was no stranger to Cambridge. John was a student at Pembroke College and the Faculty of Classics, and John and Hilda lived in various houses in Cambridge between dig seasons in Greece and Egypt. Most mornings I walk past the site of one of their houses (now part of Robinson College).

I hope that my connections with John Pendlebury and the British School at Athens are not completely over, but if they are I will always look back with fond memories.

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Approaching Karphi, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens
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Following John and Hilda Pendlebury’s footsteps in Crete

My 2nd trip to Crete was with the British School at Athens’ Archivist (Amalia Kakissis) and the School’s current Early Career Fellow (Roderick Bailey). We stayed at the British School in Knossos, and together with staff from Knossos followed Pendlebury’s footsteps in Crete. Well…we selected which footsteps to follow as we only had a few days. Over the 14 years that John Pendlebury spent time in Crete he (often accompanied by his wife Hilda) travelled the length and breadth of the island, probably more than once.

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Landscape near Karphi, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens

Whilst visiting Crete, we took the opportunity to recreate some of the photographs in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. You can see some of our efforts in this blog post.

Taverna, British School in Knossos:

 

First we explored the archaeological site at Knossos where John was curator from 1929 to 1934.

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South Propylaeum, Knossos Palace, 1933 (PEN 7/2/5/320). Copyright: BSA
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Throne Room, Knossos Palace (May 1928) in a photograph album in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive (PEN 7/2/4/127). Copyright: British School at Athens
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Pithos, Knossos Palace, Feb 1928 (PEN 7/2/4/37). Copyright: The British School at Athens
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Inscribed stone, Knossos Palace, May 1928 (PEN 7/2/4/128). Copyright: The British School at Athens
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John Pendlebury and Rosaleen Angus on the Royal Road, Knossos Palace, Mar-Jun 1933 (PEN 7/2/5/245). Copyright: British School at Athens

Around the Lasithi Plain we visited the sites of Karphi and the Trapeza Cave which John excavated under the BSA in 1936 and 1938, and Tzermiado village (where the excavation team was based).

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Approaching Karphi, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens
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Karphi (peak) – the settlement is just over the ridge on the right, between the Karphi and Koprana peaks. From a photograph album in the Pendlebury Archive (PEN 7/2/6/549), 24 May 1936. Copyright: British School at Athens

Views from Karphi:

 

Trapeza Cave:

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View from entrance to Trapeza Cave, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens
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Trapeza Cave, before excavation. May-Jun 1936 (PEN 7/2/6/517). Copyright: British School at Athens
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Trapeza Cave after excavation, May-Jun 1936 (PEN 7/2/6). Copyright: British School at Athens

Dig-house, Tzermiado:

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Excavation house in Tzermiado, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens

We visited Archanes and the Ideon Cave (birthplace of Zeus) on Mount Ida. These were both places that John and Hilda Pendlebury had been to.

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Church in the centre of Archanes, April 2016. Copyright: British School at Athens

The Ideon Cave and views from the cave:

 

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Entrance to Ideon Cave, May 1932 (PEN 7/2/4/405). Copyright: British School at Athens

We also spent some time in Heraklion and I visited the archaeological museum. This is an excellent museum and I really enjoyed seeing finds from Pendlebury’s excavations at the Trapeza Cave and Karphi. For example, I had seen many photographs of a monkey seal in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. Travelling to Crete not only gave me the opportunity to see the cave where it was found (Trapeza), but to see the object on display and have it explained within a wider context. Now that I have seen the excavation sites and finds first hand, cataloguing the excavation records will be all the more enjoyable.

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Workers by the Vitzelovrysis Spring near Karphi, 1939. John Pendlebury commissioned the stone surround for the spring. with the lettering designed by Eric Gill. Photograph in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive (PEN 7/2/6). Copyright: British School at Athens
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Vitzelovrysi Spring, April 2016. Recreating the original photograph. Copyright: British School at Athens

Visit to Souda Bay War Cemetery, Crete

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Me at Souda Bay. The beach and War Cemetery in the background.

In April I was lucky enough to visit Crete twice. On the first of these visits I made my way to Souda Bay War Cemetery, just outside of Chania, to see John Pendlebury’s final resting place.

Souda Bay is one of the most tranquil spots that I visited in Crete. The water in the bay is as placid as a lake, a peaceful sandy beach runs between the sea and cemetery, and the cemetery itself is well cared for with lush green grass and plants surrounding the site.

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Main entrance to Souda Bay War Cemetery
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Souda Bay War Cemetery

This is, in fact, John Pendlebury’s 3rd resting place. Though the circumstances of his death (and whether or not he was actually dead) were sketchy for some time after the events, the details are now clearer. This is thanks to a concerted effort on Hilda Pendlebury’s part to establish what had happened to her husband in the confusion of the May 1941 Battle of Crete.

Material in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive includes testimonials gathered from local Cretans who interacted with John during his last hours, letters between Hilda Pendlebury and Herbert Pendlebury about John’s death, and letters from some who were with John in Crete such as Lieutenant Commander Mike Cumberlege (who died in 1945).

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John Pendlebury’s grave, Souda Bay War Cemetery

The exact circumstances of John’s death are detailed in ‘John Pendlebury in Crete’ (250 copies printed for private circulation in 1948). To summarise: on the 21 May 1941 John was wounded in battle outside of Canea Gate in Heraklion, taken prisoner and deposited in a local house for treatment; a new German unit arrived the next day, searched the house, took John outside and shot him; he was first buried near the main road from Heraklion to the west; later he was moved to the British part of the Heraklion cemetery; and then to Souda Bay War Cemetery.

On my second visit to Crete, we (I was with British School colleagues) visited the cemetery that John was buried in, and Pendlebury Street outside Canea Gate which should be (more or less) the site of John’s death/first burial.

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A sign on Pendlebury street, “English Archaeologist, fell in the Battle of Crete”

 

Weeks 23-29, 28th Mar – 13th May

I have spent the last 7 weeks of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project cataloguing the photograph series, preparing material for digitisation and working with a digitisation company to begin digitising the archive.

So far I have catalogued 5 out of 7 large photograph albums. The majority of photographs in these albums document John and Hilda Pendlebury’s travels and work in Crete. I was lucky enough to travel to Crete twice in April and to see some of the places documented, and so cataloguing the albums at this time has been particularly interesting. I will write more about my time in Crete in forthcoming blog posts.

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A photograph of the Lasithi Plain seen from the Trapeza Cave (Crete), in the John Pendlebury Family Archive. We visited the cave, and saw a similar view, in April 2016. Copyright: The British School at Athens
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Photograph taken from near the Trapeza Cave, April 2016

Cataloguing the photograph albums has taken a long time because, like the travel logs, they are simply crammed full of photographs (the 5 albums catalogued so far contain around 1500 photographs). I am giving each photograph its own description, and some descriptions take more time to compile than others.

The descriptions take longer if:

  • I need to look up the place name in a thesaurus (as explained in my blog post of the 18th of December).
  • I don’t recognise a landscape or archaeological site (and they are not captioned) and then need to spend some time identifying the subject.
  • I have seen the photograph before, so need to find the duplicate for cross referencing. As explained in my previous blog post there is a lot of duplication of photographic prints in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive.

I have also been preparing the parts of the archive which have already been catalogued for digitisation. This preparation has included checking the numbering and packaging of items, and writing specific guidance for the digitisation of each section.

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Pages from a photograph album of Crete (PEN 7/2/4), in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. Copyright: The British School at Athens

So far digital images of sections 1 and 2 have been captured on flat-bed and book-eye scanners (the correspondence and travel logs). The first 5 photograph albums have already gone off for digitisation and once the photograph section is finished, we’ll be halfway through the digitisation aspect of the project.

During the next few weeks, as well as liaising with the digitiser and transporting material to the digitisation office, I will continue cataloguing photographs in the collection. I have just started an album which contains over 900 photographs, so I imagine this may take some time. After the photograph albums are completed, I will move on to some loose photographs of Greece and Egypt, and family photographs.

 

Weeks 19-22, 29th Feb-25th Mar

During the past 4 weeks of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project I have completed cataloguing the correspondence (though I may return to this section to add more detail), and begun cataloguing photograph albums.

The cataloguing of the correspondence (section 1) was completed with less detail than I was using to describe letters previously. This is so that this section will be ready for digitisation, as explained in my previous post. These less detailed catalogue descriptions still include a title, reference code, previous reference codes, level of description, covering dates, and extent and medium, for each item. The difference between these descriptions and the more detailed ones is that I have not described the content of the letters. I hope to be able to return to this section to add more detail at a later date.

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Letters sent to John Pendlebury’s parents (Herbert and Lilian) about his education. Copyright: The British School at Athens

The letters which I have catalogued in the past 4 weeks include: letters from Hilda Pendlebury to Herbert Pendlebury (John’s father) and Mabel Dickinson (John’s step-mother) sent just after she and John were married; letters to John’s parents about his education; and letters to Hilda’s mother and sister (Dora) from Hilda and John.

After completing the section of correspondence, I moved on to cataloguing photograph albums (in section 7). These are a priority because they are a slightly unknown quantity. What I mean by that is that each photograph is to be catalogued to item level and the number of photographs varies from album to album. There is also duplication of photographic prints between albums; between albums and loose photographs; between albums and negatives; and between albums and travel logs (section 2). This duplication needs to be checked and described in the catalogue (through cross-referencing) to avoid future confusion and digitisation of duplicates.

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Pages from “Album Mycenae” containing a diagram of the Treasury of Atreus or Tomb of Agememnon, notes, and photographs of features of the tholos tomb. Copyright: British School at Athens

The first photograph album I catalogued is labelled “Album Mycenae: The Tholos Tombs of Mycenae & elsewhere with The Citadel of Mycenae & its Environs.” This contains plans, notes and photographs and represents John Pendlebury’s work documenting and understanding archaeological sites during his studentship at the British School at Athens (1927-1928).

The volume also contains some, seemingly unrelated, loose photographs of Knossos and a temple in Egypt. Some of these photographs took some time, a bit of detective work, and picking the brains of an archaeologist who knows the subject matter, to be able to catalogue them. It is really very helpful to be surrounded by specialists who know what a specific site looks like or what a type of pottery is called.

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Loose photographs of Knossos found slotted inside “Album Mycenae”. Copyright: The British School at Athens

I have also started cataloguing a photograph album of Greece compiled by Hilda in 1927-1928. I’ve already noted a lot of duplication of photographs which are in John’s travel logs for the same period. This makes a lot of sense as John, Hilda, and other students or members of the British School at Athens, travelled in Greece together during these years and often shared photographs.

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Students of the British School at Athens travelling in Greece: Bob Dixon, Hilda White (later Pendlebury) and John Pendlebury (photograph by Margaret Rodger), [24 Nov 1927]. Copyright: The British School at Athens
Next, I will continue cataloguing photograph albums (there are 7 of these) and then move on to family photographs and bundles of loose photographs. I am hoping to overcome some of the challenges presented by the loose photos (most of which are unlabelled) by cataloguing these after the other photographs. Some may be duplicate prints, or I may be able to identify them more easily as I’ll be more familiar with the subject matter.

Weeks 17 & 18, 15th-19th & 22nd-26th Feb

Over the past 2 weeks I have completed cataloguing section 2 of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive (records of travels and journeys); sorted a file of around 100 undated letters from John Pendlebury to his father (and succeeded in dating some of them); continued cataloguing correspondence; and prepared an order for archival repackaging materials.

The file of undated letters included 21 sent from Pembroke College, Cambridge, when John was a student (1923-1927). I had previously thought that these letters were missing from the archive, and wondered what had happened to them, so it was a relief to find that they were here after all. Subjects covered include John’s examinations, Herbert Pendlebury (John’s father) sending him academic notes, John’s contemporaries and tutors, and sporting activities.

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Undated letters from John Pendlebury to his father (Herbert Pendlebury), sent whilst John was a student in Cambridge (1923-1927). Copyright: The British School at Athens

Dating the letters from Pembroke College was fairly straight forward, as most were written on College paper or Hawks Club headed paper (a members-only social club for sportsmen at the University of Cambridge). Some of the other undated letters have presented more of a challenge. It has been necessary to read the letters carefully, look for any clues or events which may date the letters, and cross reference them with letters that do have a date. For example, I was able to roughly date some letters that mentioned using Uncle Stanley’s camera, as there is another dated letter in which John describes meeting Uncle Stanley who was generously giving him a large camera.

One of the undated letters gives an amusing glimpse into social and sporting life on an Egyptian Exploration Society excavation in Armant, Egypt, in January 1929. The camp had just received a delivery of hockey sticks and John writes…

“They improve the game immensely and are a great advantage, our game has gone up tremendously since we stopped using walking sticks”.

In another undated letter, John recounts how he had accidentally revealed himself to a dining room full of strangers in Munich during his trip across Europe with Bob Dixon in 1927.

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Extract from a letter, from John Pendlebury to Herbert Pendlebury (Munich, Oct 1927). Copyright: The British School at Athens

The later part of the records of travels and journeys (section 2 of the archive) contains accounts of John and Hilda Pendlebury’s travels in Greece, written up by Hilda and with added photographs. These accounts were written after the events, and a small section was published as ‘A Journey in Crete’ in ‘Archaeology’ (Autumn 1964, Vol. 17, No. 3).

This last section of “records of travels and journeys” also contains a folder of information about travel routes in Crete which came from the British School at Knossos. This folder is part of an accession received from Sinclair Hood (Director of the BSA 1954-1962 and Honorary Curator at Knossos 1962-63). The folder seems to have been kept in Knossos for use by others wanting to travel around the island, and contains details of journeys made by John and Hilda Pendlebury but also by their contemporaries including Humfry Payne, Thomas Dunbabin and Mercy Money-Coutts.

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Folder and contents, “Routes in Crete”, from the British School at Knossos (1927-1939). Copyright: The British School at Athens

Finally, I have decided how to repackage the material within the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive and prepared an order for the repackaging material. Perhaps not the most exciting or glamorous area of archive work, but certainly essential to the task of preserving the archive for future generations. Repackaging is particularly important for photographic material which is much more susceptible to environmental factors such as heat and humidity, and is often damaged by original packaging. The collection includes a variety of photographic negatives in different sizes, glass plate negatives, and many photographic prints (around half of which are in volumes such as travel logs or photograph albums).

Next, I will be returning to cataloguing correspondence. I will catalogue the next section of letters in less detail (than the earlier letters) in order to get them ready for digitisation. I’ll hopefully be able to return to the descriptions later and add more information, but for now getting the digitisation element of the project underway is a priority.

Weeks 15 & 16, 25th-29th Jan & 8th-12th Feb

During the past 2 weeks of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project (with a week-long break in the middle) I have finished cataloguing John’s travel logs, and seen a different perspective on things by cataloguing Hilda’s travel log (there is just one in the archive).

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Pages from one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs, containing photographs of Kodok (Fashoda) in South Sudan and Abu Simbel in Egypt (March 1938). Copyright: The British School at Athens

The last of John’s travel logs was very interesting, and includes some fantastic photographs. It covers a trip to archaeological sites in Iraq (including an Oriental Institute of Chicago excavation at Tell Asmar, and Babylon), Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in 1933; a 2nd trip to Palestine (with Hilda this time) in 1935; a journey from England to Egypt in November 1933 which included stops at Gibraltar and Pompeii; and a trip (which John took alone) to Sudan, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan and Egypt (where he met up with Hilda) in 1938. The volume also includes the less exotic locations of the Lake District (Oct 1933) and Hadrian’s Wall (Aug 1937), and photographs of a house in Cambridge that the Pendlebury’s must have been considering renting.

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“Dumping” at the excavation at Khafaje [Khafajah], Iraq, (Feb 1933). Copyright: The British School at Athens
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A page from one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs, containing photographs of a house in Cambridge and of Ralph Lavers (architect) and Herbert Pendlebury (Oct 1934). Copyright: The British School at Athens

John’s travel log contains a photograph of a Nairn Car in Ramadi, Iraq. I did a little research about these to find out why John may have photographed it. It turns out that the Nairn Transport Company ran a service taking passengers between Beirut and Baghdad from 1923 to 1956, and that the Middle East Centre Archive at St Antony’s College in Oxford has the company’s archive.

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Nairn Car at Ramadi, Iraq (Feb 1933), in one of John Pendlebury’s travel logs. Copyright: The British School at Athens

Hilda Pendlebury’s travel log takes the form of a scrapbook containing a handwritten account, postcards and photographs. The handwritten account is of a trip to Italy (which is undated but judging by the content must have been between 1922 and 1925) which Hilda went on before she met John, and it seems that she travelled from the United Kingdom with a group of archaeologists to see sites around Rome, Naples and Florence. Following the account of her travels to Italy, the scrapbook does not contain any more handwritten accounts but does contain further (mainly unlabeled) photographs and postcards of Cambridge, Melrose Abbey in Edinburgh, Whitby, Venice, Athens, Rhodes and Crete, as well as photographs of John and Hilda’s wedding.

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Part of handwritten account of a trip to Italy, by Hilda Pendlebury, illustrated with postcards and a photograph. [c. 1922-25]. Copyright: The British School at Athens
The photographs of Crete in Hilda’s travel log were unlabeled and hard to identify for the untrained (in archaeology) eye. Luckily I was able to cross reference these photographs with photograph albums of Crete within the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. The photographs in Hilda’s scrapbook turned out to be duplicated in the photograph albums, where they were labeled.

As well as finishing off cataloguing the travel logs I have begun entering catalogue data into EMu (the BSA’s cataloguing software) which I discussed in week 5. I am getting to grips with the software which is a little different from systems that I have used before, and it feels good to have begun getting some of the data into its final form. Entering the data into EMu is a good opportunity to double check my catalogue entries, and to add information or correct things where details have become apparent through familarisation with the archive.

Next week I will continue entering data into EMu and continue cataloguing records of John and Hilda’s travels. Now I have pretty much finished the travel logs, the next section is comprised of accounts of John and Hilda’s travels written much later by Hilda (probably in preparation for a publication).

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Postcards of Athens, [c. 1927-28], from Hilda Pendlebury’s travel scrapbook. Copyright: The British School at Athens