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.

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Week 11, 14th-18th Dec

This week I have been cataloguing letters from John to his father (Herbert) which were sent during John and Hilda’s first excavation season in Egypt (Nov 1928-Mar 1929), John’s first season as Curator at Knossos (Mar-Jul 1930), during a cruise around some of the Greek islands (Apr 1929), and from Athens, Sicily and Cambridge.

Letters from Sicily, Athens and Egypt
Letters sent to Herbert Pendlebury from Sicily, Athens and Egypt. Copyright: The British School at Athens

John’s future career looms large as a subject in the letters I have been cataloguing this week.  There is discussion of a job offer from the British Museum, Herbert’s encouragement for John to accept a lectureship at Cambridge University (which John enthusiastically declined), John becoming the first recipient of the Macmillan studentship at the BSA, and accepted offers of the Curatorship at Knossos and Directorship of the Egyptian Exploration Society excavation at Amarna.

The archive shows that John was extremely pleased to receive the unexpected offer of the Directorship of the Amarna excavation. He writes…

“Amarna means a real chance of making a name – and what is more a definite position and hold on both sides. It is a great and famous site and it is the biggest compliment I have ever been payed to be asked to succeed such celebrities as Petrie, Borchardt, Peet, Woolley, Griffith and Frankfort”.

The Egyptian Exploration Society Lucy Gura Archive has digitised film footage of life at the Amarna excavation, which features John Pendlebury and is available to watch online.

Other subjects covered in the letters include a dispute with Spyridon Marinatos (Director of the Candia Museum [Heraklion Archaeological Museum]), disagreement with conclusions in John’s article on ‘Egypt and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age’, publication of ‘Aegyptiaca’, and a cruise around the Greek Islands with Charles and Isabel Seltman.

Postcard from Chios
A postcard from Chios sent to Herbert Pendlebury from John Pendlebury, during a cruise around Greek islands (Apr 1929). Copyright: The British School at Athens

This week I have been getting to grips with the Getty Geographical Thesaurus, a controlled vocabulary tool, to decide which version of place names to use. This tool is particularly important for cataloguing the material about Greece and Egypt, as there are quite a few variants of place names [partly due to differences in transliteration from different alphabets] . Using controlled vocabulary terms will help researchers look for material relating to places and ensure consistency in my cataloguing.

I will be taking a break over Christmas, but when I come back at the beginning of January I will continue cataloguing John’s letters to his father.

About the John Pendlebury Family Papers…

A poster from a BSA exhibition about John Pendlebury, first shown in 2001, to commemorate the Battle of Crete
A poster from a BSA exhibition about John Pendlebury, first shown in 2001, to commemorate the Battle of Crete

The John Pendlebury Family Papers not only tell us about the life and work of John Pendlebury, they contain a wealth of information on John’s parents and stepmother, Hilda Pendlebury (née White), Hilda’s family, and many colleagues and friends of the couple.

The collection has been named the “John Pendlebury Family Papers” rather than the John Pendlebury Papers because of the mixed provenance of the collection. For example there are many letters within the collection that were sent to John’s parents and to Hilda.

Unlike many personal papers collections, this is not a collection which belonged to John in its complete state. The bulk of the collection was given to the British School on the recommendation of a Curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, who had  received it from Joan Pendlebury (John and Hilda’s daughter). Material had been extracted and given to the Egyptian Exploration Society before it arrived at the BSA.

Some further material came to the British School from Hilda Pendlebury, via the Society for Hellenic Travel, in 1976. Material was later received from Sinclair Hood (former Director of the British School at Athens and excavator at Knossos), and most recently moved from the Mercy (Money-Coutts) Seiradakis collection and excavation records in the British School Archives into the Pendlebury collection.

A file of letters thanking John for sending copies of his book 'The Archaeology of Crete' in 1939
A file of letters thanking John for sending copies of his book ‘The Archaeology of Crete’ in 1939

The John Pendlebury Family papers have previously been sorted and catalogued to some degree by a student on an Archives and Records Management MA course, during a 2 week work placement.

The current project to digitise and catalogue the papers in detail is being generously funded by the Wykeham Patrons of Winchester College.