Sarah works one day each week for The Portman Estate as their Consultant Archivist, taking care of a treasure trove of documents dating back to the Middle Ages. Amongst the records are handwritten letters from Queen Victoria to Lady Portman, original plans of the area and individual buildings, lease books and photographs.
1Can you explain your role in one sentence?I am employed as a consultant archivist for The Portman Estate. I am responsible for looking after a historic archive dating from 12th – 20th Century, which records the lives of the Portman Family and their Estates. I respond to enquiries about the history of the area and its buildings from people within the Estate, those within the organisation who are undertaking renovations, as well as interested members of the public. Looking after the archive is an ongoing job – there is always plenty of listing to be done.
2How long have you been doing this job?I have been in this role for almost 18 months, although I have worked in this field for over 30 years. I am now the consultant archivist for both The Portman and Howard de Walden Estates, in addition to doing other freelance work. I am based here at The Portman Estate one day a week.
3Did you find yourself in this role by accident or by design?A bit of both really. A previous archivist mentioned the vacant position to a mutual friend, who then told me about the opportunity and I applied. There aren’t that many of us who work in this field, so we all tend to know each other. Working for an urban Estate is different from the majority of my previous roles, which have mainly been with local government or country estates.
4What’s the best part about your job? The variety is wonderful. I love old documents and here I have access to Medieval charters, letters from Queen Victoria to Lady Portman, old title deeds and historic maps and plans. I love finding out about the way people lived in the past and how places have changed over time. This job enables me to do exactly that.
I enjoy researching for exhibitions and material for The Portman Estate website. It is wonderful to be able to share all this fascinating history with the wider public. A particular highlight last year was an exhibition called Marylebone Remembered, that we held to mark the WWI Centenary. Using the company’s minute books and local newspapers, I found out about hospitals that were set up in the area for soldiers, the role of women from the Estate in the war, the sanctuary provided here to refugees and the war memorials that are now contained within Marylebone. We held a public exhibition in Portman Square and all the material can now be viewed on our website.
5What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in your job? As part of the WWI exhibition I had to go around the Estate with a photographer, taking up to date photos of key sites. One of these was All Saints Church on Margaret Street, which contains an unusual war memorial. The church is a very impressive building, full of ornate fixtures and decorations. As we entered the church we could hear snoring, much to our surprise. It turned out that the church was being used as a homeless night shelter. It was quite wonderful that amongst all this history and splendour, the church was supporting the local community in such a practical way. We certainly didn’t expect to see homeless people resting on the pews when we stepped inside, but we did still manage to take the photo we needed.
6What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?My Christian faith is important to me and I am very involved in the life of my local Baptist Church. My husband and I run a children’s club on a Friday evening for 4 – 8 year olds. Between us we organise craft activities, games, songs and stories, as well as co-ordinating the other volunteers. I have been involved in running the club on-and-off for the past 26 years.
7What do you like about this area? I love the wide mix of buildings here, from the grand houses to the hidden mews. I always try to walk a different route from the station to the office, so I can learn more about the area and familiarise myself with the Estate. There’s such a fantastic selection of shops. I passed three independent hardware stores on my walk from the station this morning – there are none where I live in Aylesbury!
8Where’s your favourite place to go for lunch in the local area? I tend to always bring sandwiches with me. If I do venture out at lunchtime it will be to see friends or family who have come to visit. I enjoy taking them to the Wallace Collection restaurant. The food is delicious and the place has a really nice ambience. After lunch we can walk round some of the galleries and admire the collections which completes the experience.
9Who is YOUR hero and what is it about them that inspires you?A lady called Corrie Ten Boom. She was Dutch and worked as a watchmaker in Harlem with her father and her sister. The family provided shelter to Jews during the war until they were caught, and she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Her sister sadly didn’t survive the camp, but on being released, Corrie travelled around the world. She has written a couple of books about her experiences which I first read as a teenager and enjoyed re-reading a few years ago. I have been inspired by her faith, her experiences and her ordinariness. She was an amazing woman.
10If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be? I love Medieval history – I am a real Medievalist at heart. I would love to visit the Crusader Castles in Turkey, although I believe most are out of bounds at the present time. I have heard they are enormous and a world apart from the ones we have here.