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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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 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

Weeks 13 & 14, 11th-22nd Jan

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Photograph of John Pendlebury taken during his honeymoon (22 Sep 1928). Reference: PEN 2/2/3/7. Copyright: The British School at Athens

These past 2 weeks have been all about cataloguing the travel logs which I discussed in my previous post. I am currently part way through the 5th (of 6), and these have followed John and Hilda’s travels up to 1931 so far.

Most of the items in the travel logs are small photographs that have been stuck in and labelled by John. John’s captions should be very helpful when I come on to cataloguing the section of loose photographs (many of which are not labelled), as I believe there are possibly photographs printed from the same negatives or at least from the same occasions.

It has been interesting to look at photographs of places in Greece and Italy (John and Hilda visited archaeological sites in Sicily and mainland Italy from December 1929 to January 1930), but I have also enjoyed the photographs of people. Most of the people featured are mentioned in letters, or in other papers, in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. Having photographs of these individuals helps to bring the papers to life.

Here are some of my favourites from the last 2 weeks.

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Photographs from a 2 day trip to Khalkís, Erétria and Thebes from Athens (March 1930). Copyright: The British School at Athens
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Photographs of John and Hilda Pendlebury during their honeymoon (September 1928). Copyright: The British School at Athens
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Photographs from a day trip which Hilda and John went on to Vouliagméni (near Athens), 19 May 1928. Copyright: The British School at Athens

 

 

Week 12, 4th – 8th Jan

This week I have had a break from cataloguing letters, and started cataloguing travel logs within the John Pendlebury Family Papers. Cataloguing the letters has been taking a long time as they are so detailed and there are so many of them (1125 in total). We decided it would be best for me to move on to another section for a while so that I can get some of the material ready for digitisation quicker, but also because the letters and travel logs relate to each other.

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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

The travel logs that I am cataloguing now are from the same period as letters that I have already catalogued. They are helping me to add extra detail to the descriptions of the letters, and I am adding cross references into the descriptions for the letters and the travel logs. This should be helpful for future researchers.

At the beginning of the week the BSA Archivist and I discussed how to best structure the descriptions of the travel logs. The travel logs are notebooks with itineraries, descriptions and a lot of small photographs stuck inside. Each photograph is to be catalogued to item level and there will also be a higher level description of the volume. We thought about how things will be numbered in the digitisation process to make sure that everything has a unique reference number, and that the reference numbers for the digital images and physical items match up. We had to consider that double page spreads will be captured in the digitisation process, and whilst these are not to have their own catalogue description they will be numbered.

The travel logs in the John Pendlebury Family Papers are a series of 6 volumes. The first volume was compiled by Herbert Pendlebury (John’s father), whilst the others were compiled by John.

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First page of travel log of John Pendlebury’s trip to Greece with Mr Cullen, 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

For the first travel log Herbert wrote out extracts of John’s letters sent home from Greece in 1923, and photographs have been added to the volume (presumably after John’s return). John had travelled to see archaeological sites with James Cullen (a young Classics master) during the Easter holidays of his final year at Winchester College. The travel log not only documents the pair’s tour of archaeological sites in Greece, but also their journey through Europe.

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Photographs of James Cullen and John Pendlebury with locals in [Livadeia], Central Greece, 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens
The travel logs are a fascinating and detailed record of John and Hilda’s travels in Greece and Sicily, and also John’s trips to Iraq, Syria and Palestine (in 1935) and East Africa (in 1938). I have found it very interesting to see John, Hilda and their travelling companions’ photographs of sites that I recognise in Athens and Corinth.

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Travel log containing photographs of sites in Athens, 1923. Copyright: British School at Athens

So far I have catalogued the first travel log from 1923, and partially catalogued “Greece 1927-28 Vol. I”. Next week I will continue cataloguing the travel logs.