Duchy of Lancaster


Sophie Leverington - Archivist

Sophie Leverington talks about her work as Archivist at The Duchy of Lancaster, up until her departure in December 2020. She explains the role of The Duchy as the private estate of The Sovereign and its association with The National Archives, dating back to the acceptance of Duchy papers by the Public Records Office 1860s.

Sophie describes some of the Duchy's treasures including a copy of the Magna Carta, a Beadles Uniform, postcards and employees' long lost toothbrushes!


Website: https://www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk/about-the-duchy/history/

Records held by TNA: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/browse/r/h/C83

Recording of the Savoy - Beating The Bounds Choiristers 1927: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVA47E1KJ97WQNUF854M24JE7NSN-RTV/query/Savoy

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

hello and welcome to the max communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by sophie leverington archivist for the duchy of lancaster hi sophie would you like to introduce yourself and talk about how you came to be where you are today hi i'm sophie i am i've been the archivist for the duchy of lancaster for just over four years and prior to that i worked in a number of different institutions um including bbc for a short time um after qualifying with their um the ma in archives and records management at ucl a few years ago so i've had quite a varied past with experience at different institutions which has been great um so the dutchy covers quite a wide area where are you based so we have a number of properties um a number of surveys across the country we have two main offices one in london really central just off waterloo bridge and so that's great for me for my commute in um and then we have a secondary office in lancaster castle um up north so that's that's a really great place to visit and i know a lot of staff go up there just um as an excuse to sort of poke around the castle and explore that so that's great how do you spend an average day in your role then so when i when i first started i was employed to create a catalogue of all the records held by the duchy um they'd had a number of different people working here before who'd sort of been amateur historians and sorts of sony professional archivists but um i was hired as the first professional and so initially my first my first tasks were revolving around sort of appraisal of the records um creating hierarchy um cataloging repackaging records um also i should mention that when i was first hired the intention was to send quite a lot of our records to the national archives and so i have i've been working quite closely with them to um decide what records are appropriate and to be sent to them for members of the public to view um but aside from that in recent recent years um i've also taken on responsibilities with digitizing materials and just because we have a lot of our records are used by staff on a regular basis and we're finding we're having issues locating some materials um every now and then so uh digitizing stuff just to make sure that they could find um whatever they wanted without you know taking their records um out of storage which has been a godsend especially during the last few months with coronavirus um working from home we've found a lot of people have been able to find what they're looking for without having to come into the office which is obviously something we've been trying to avoid so um that's been that's been great um also i've i've also done um quite a lot of work with iron mountain we've got some records stored there um and have been sold there for a number of years um so i've been working with them to sort of go through um in line with our new retention policy and just sort of weed through the stuff there and work out what you can get rid of because there's a lot of records there that we've not sort of looked at or thought about for almost decades and um obviously that's not ideal to be accruing costs um yeah it's just been it's it's really very day to be honest i get i get inquiries quite a lot and sometimes some stuff sometimes from members of the public and sometimes you get those through um and it's it's just great to just have a right variety in the day and um such an extensive collection so much history here it's it's great to have the chance to explore that every now and then can you tell us a bit more about what type of material you're dealing with in the collection yeah um so the the dutch of lancaster is um primarily an estate archive um so quite a lot of the records are property-centric so we've got a lot of deeds and leases and we also have these uh reports written by our surveyors and we've got them bound dating back to the 1800s and some of those are quite interesting to flick through because they go through um they're written when people go to view estates and properties and things and sort of report back to the office and talk about the condition things are in and things like that and some of the old ones got personal opinions on um on tenants which is quite interesting a lot of personal opinions actually more like um almost like dickensian uh description levels that go into um exactly what the person looks like and it gives you a real insight into um what what life was like at the time as well the way things are written it's really it's quite antiquated it's quite entertaining to flick through those every now and then um but yeah we've got it's surprising when i first started i thought you know i did my background research from what the duchy of lancaster did and the history and i thought oh it's probably just going to be all about the land and the estates but there's quite a lot of human history involved as well we've got quite a lot of strange items and we've got um a lot of personal papers from past staff members and think that they maybe just didn't want to find someone to store them at home at that time so they may just snuck them into the office um and left them there so you've got a lot of travel diaries um we've got postcards from holidays in the 50s and 60s that people took family photographs um just really a really weird sort of collection of materials that you wouldn't expect to find um also on occasion found a sort of remnants of when people have been on an overnight stay somewhere so i found a toothbrush in one of the boxes alongside someone's report so i think maybe they just shoved everything away forgot that their personal effects were in there um also we have um a couple of spades which have been engraved um the names of the queen and the duke of edinburgh um a few years ago maybe even more than that probably about 10 15 years ago they went to a ceremonial tree planting on one of the states so um we've got the memento for that um amazing occasion in our in our records um that's i think that was one of the first things i saw when i first started that sort of took like made me sort of have a second look because i thought i didn't really expect to see that here um and also we've got a we've got a beadles beautiful uniform so beadle is um we're not 100 sure on his actual role but um if it just amounts to this but he is sort of like the ceremonial head of a ceremony called the beating of the bounds which is like a really ancient ceremony that has taken place in the savoy in london for i think maybe centuries and it's sort of like a way of reclaiming the rights of the land so traditionally the beadle will sort of lead the procession and his uniforms sort of almost like naval he's got quite a jointy admiral's hat and a blue blue coat with buttons brass buttons on and sahili's possession of choir boys from the savoy chapel um rounds the boundaries of the savoy and they sort of bash a certain point each corner of the boundary and i think one of them might have been underground in one of the drains so there's there's pictures in the archive of a choir boy being lowered into a into a drain to tap on the boundary so that's that's something i found quite quirky and interesting about the dutch of lancaster um they've uh this this is the sort of ceremony that they've been doing since since um gosh i don't know when but probably since the establishment of the savoy um and i think they stopped doing it in 1969 um and then just before i joined they they'd done it again um i think in 2010 they did a sort of mock version of it and just because it's been quite a big anniversary so they they sort of brought it back but i don't think they um lowered a choir boy into the drain i hope not happening actually dates back to the 13th century but it sounds like a lot of your material is kind of a bit more recent than that yeah so i'm not entirely sure how this came about but um in about 18 1860 um a lot of our more ancient records were transferred over to the national archives i'm not sure entirely sure why this happened because we don't we're not um you know the national archives traditionally only accept sort of governmental records um and that sort of thing so i'm not really sure how we ended up sending our records there um but we did so we have um some really some of our really interesting stuff is there we've actually got a um a copy of the magna carta um which is held by the national archives for us and the 1297 copy i think it is um so that's that's one of the really old things there but um the most most most of the records here are sort of 1700 onwards and when i was doing my catalog in the basement i did come across a document signed by henry the eighth but i couldn't work out what it was and it didn't look like an official document so i've set that aside for the national archives they're hopefully going to help me decipher what that is um but yeah most of our records now are general business records and more recent historical records as the first um sort of paid archivist in the duchy of lancaster what was your biggest challenge when you came to managing the collection um i think initially the the most difficult sort of challenge to overcome was the so getting my head around the extent of the records and the the way things had been listed and they as i mentioned before they had had historians and and sort of um semi-professional record keepers in the um they and they've listed they've listed quite a lot of the material but it wasn't in a way that i really understood they created a system um that was a bit strange and um so i think because i i'd obviously come from a background of doing things in a specific way so it was more it was quite an adjustment to sort of think right how do i how do i adapt this how do i work with this and so that was probably the initial challenge um but also as the duchess of business um i found one of the main challenges has been sort of to work with management and get them on board with the archives project um obviously with a business you're focusing on generating money and things like that so with with the archives project it did take quite a lot of time to sort of give examples of why um investment in good records management good archive keeping was going to be beneficial for the dutch in the long run um quite early on we had a we've got lots of storage rooms um in the london office but they're in really in a really bad location they're underground and we're right by the river um and we're also sort of at the other side of i think there's a main water mains running at the top of the hill and we're at the bottom of the hill and then the river is below us so we quite often have issues with flooding in our basement storage so quite early on this happened and it quite badly affected a lot of our records so um that was quite a big challenge but then it also gave me the opportunity to say to management these records are important these have been damaged um because of this storage they're currently in it gave me the opportunity to say if we move these records somewhere else if we package them differently this will be beneficial to them and they'll be in a better condition in the long term so it's about utilizing the information that you have and making sure it's accessible in the future yes yeah and um making sure that it can be used in a way that makes um processes that the dutch of lancaster efficient because i think before before i came um obviously we had a number of members of staff who knew quite a lot about the records because they'd been here for so long so they knew where everything was they knew what um how to work with them and but they were the only ones that knew where everything was and i think although that was good to have people that were so knowledgeable about knowledgeable about the um collections it did sort of create an obstacle because they if they weren't in or if they were busy then that would slow everyone else down if they they were requesting a particular document or a map or something and they didn't know where it was so i think me coming in i think i realized quite quickly that my main goal should be to make that process easier make it more accessible so that those people who knew where everything was wouldn't have to be dependent upon all the time and it also takes the stress off staff as well because they they don't have to think about so many different things at once it's great that they've decided to invest in the archive then to to help streamline their business yeah it's been it's been a really good um it's been a really good project and we've just we've just acquired um axial collections the cataloging software so um all of the catalog that i've created over the past few years will be input into there and then that will be accessible by all members of staff across the duchy and it'll be accessible remotely so we obviously have a lot of staff that go go out into surveys um across the country um so it would be it'd be really useful for them to be able to get hold of the map when they're in the middle of like the lancashire countryside or you know working from their desk at home rather than having to call one of us and ask us to send a copy over so i think i think that aspect of it the final result has been really well received oh fantastic you've mentioned a lot of the items that you have in the collection but what is your personal favorite that's really that's really difficult i think i think my personal favorite will probably be something it's not it's quite an unassuming object but i think i love it because it's quite it's quite old and it looks it looks quite shabby um it's it's a seal matrix which is just basically um like like a stamp that you'd put into a blob of wax just seal a document um so i think it's i think it's from the 13th century um or something like that because i found it in a box and it had been sent off to the british museum i think in the 60s to um be identified and it came back with a little slip of paper saying i think this is the 13th century um and that was about it but i just i just love it because it's it's about the size of their about the size of a pound coin it's really small and it's just got a tiny little carved design on it um but it just feels like it's been handled for centuries so i just i'm just really fond of that oh so it's something you can touch that other people throughout history have touched yeah i think that's one of the things i really like about archives that sort of physical side of things where it almost ties into ties into museums like museum work quite well it makes you feel like obviously you've gone back in time in a way so you're open to queries from the general public but you have a lot of your collection available at the national archives at q is that correct yes um most of our public public records are at the national archives and i think they were sent there a couple of hundred years ago we're technically not open to inquiries um but we do occasionally get them and we do answer them if we consider them a reasonable um request because we i'm part of quite a small team there's two other members of staff who deal with records related information and but they also have other responsibilities so inquiries are very much not a focus at the duty of lancaster but we do we have had researchers in very very occasionally um i think it's just it's it's it tends to be maybe local historians or people that have some sort of connection with the duchy that come in um and again that's sort of those requests to come in are screened by us to make sure that we're happy that they can't get the information elsewhere and um the request is reasonable um yeah we're just we're quite a small office so we don't really have the capacity to to deal with researchers on a regular basis yes thank you for agreeing to speak to me today sophie it's been really interesting hearing about at the work that kind of goes on behind doors at the duchy of lancaster because obviously it's it's owned by the queen um who is is not um one for throwing the doors open willy nilly as you say researchers who have a valid reason to come in that's fine but it's it's not it's not buckingham palace is it no thank you sophie thank you