As the College’s Archivist, Clare Sargent has a unique understanding of the school’s history and culture. We caught up with her to find out more about her role in preserving Radley’s archives for future generations.
I started as Head of Library in 1995. Richard Morgan wanted to create a vibrant central library here, so I was appointed as the school’s first professional librarian, tasked with setting it up.
Before I arrived, the school had the Wilson Library, which was made up of Lakeside, Blue Room and Panelled Room, and the Singleton Library (currently home to Admissions). It was run by boys and dons but it wasn’t really being used and a lot of small departmental libraries had developed, duplicating work and resources. My role was to centralise resources and establish a vibrant cross-curricular academic space to improve standards within the school. My appointment made me one of the first female academic heads of department.
I came from Queens’ College, University of Cambridge where I’d headed up a building project for an undergraduate library but my expertise is in rare books and manuscripts so the archivist’s role here was always on the horizon!
When was the archivist role established at Radley?
The archive was originally run by A.K. Boyd who wrote the centenary history. Boyd had been a boy here in the 1900s and subsequently a history teacher here. Various history dons handed the role on before it came under the remit of Tony Money, again a boy here in the 1930s, a don in the ‘60s and full-time archivist during his retirement. I worked with Tony until his death. In 2014, Angus McPhail asked me to take on the role full-time, so I stood down as Head of Library to concentrate solely on the Archives. Until that point no one had done the ‘nitty gritty’ of archiving – establishing a policy to about what to collect and creating a full catalogue.
In 2008 we had the archive surveyed by the National Archives and several aspects, such as the Shop accounts and Natural History Society’s biodiversity records, are of national importance.
Can you tell us a bit more about the physical and online archives?
From the 1940s to the 2000s, the archive lived in the Bursary, before moving to Tony Money’s flat at the top of Mansion and then to the Library where it currently resides, growing at a phenomenal rate.
In the 2020s it grows electronically more than in physical form. There are two aspects to this – some records that only exist in a physical format, like original photographs or printed school magazines, are copied to create a digitised version. Most of these records are added to www.radleyarchives.co.uk to create a digital archive. (The originals are all kept!) Alongside this we also have ‘born digital’ material. This describes items that have never existed in any format other than digital, for example our videos, our website, photos, publications and reports. These are a much greater challenge because they can be changed or deleted very easily, so I have to be aware that they exist to preserve them.
What changes do you see reflected in the College’s history?
Two changes stand out for me from my time researching and writing Untold Stories. The first is women – when I arrived most of the women working in the school were cleaners, matrons and secretaries. There were five female members of Common Room. Women started to come into senior positions, such as Julie Fletcher as Head of Finance and Sarah Ballard as Head of HR, from the 2000s onwards, which has had a big impact on the community and on career structures here. A second change is same sex marriage, which was legalised in 2014 and allowed gay men and women to be open about themselves and their relationships in a way in which they never were before, thereby encouraging positive role-modelling for the boys and the wider community.
How has it been seeing your most recent book, Untold Stories published?
It’s been a nice culmination of a period of very hard work. As a historian, I look for the gaps and the silences. The history I wrote reflects this and is very different to most other school histories – I was looking for the instances when names were not appearing in school records and what has changed in cultural attitudes to allow them to begin to appear. In contrast to the previous histories of the College, this is a contemporary approach which is cultural and social.
What makes Radley a special place to work?
The support I receive to do my work properly and of course, Radley’s beautiful grounds. I love the creative aspects of my work – writing in particular. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of roles over the years; I’ve taught Classics, been a Sixth Form master, an Oxbridge supervisor and still teach 6.1 EPQs, all of which ensures that I meet the boys which is so important.