When I realised I wanted to pursue a career in archiving in 2019, the phrase ‘Covid-19’ had not yet been uttered. I was finishing up an MA in Theatre and Performance Studies and started to volunteer at two archives in central London to get a taste of what it might be like. The tasks I was doing were basic and rather monotonous, but I enjoyed the process nonetheless and it proved to me that I was on the right track. Then everything was shut down, including both places I was volunteering, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to gain anywhere near a year of experience to be able to apply to the Archives and Records Management MA.
I was relieved that Westminster School were continuing to go ahead with their usual year-long archive internship, and even more relieved when I was offered the job and had some form of stability over the pandemic, following the end of my university course. Starting in September meant that the first wave had come to an end, so, with misplaced hope, I began the year working five days a week in the archive office on site. This was quickly reduced to three days a week on site and two from home, negotiated so that we could continue to work on some of the physical material in the office that had been somewhat pushed to the side in the first lockdown.
The benefit of starting anything during the pandemic is that you have no prior comparison to how things used to be. While I would occasionally hear about annual events being cancelled or day-to-day life around the school feeling different than usual, I had no experience of this mythical ‘before’ and so I didn’t actually feel like I was missing out on much, regardless of whether that was truly the case.
While two days a week at home wasn’t what I’d expected, it did give me plenty of time to get to grips with the online system and the intricacies of our online catalogue. Since the majority of people who find our archive likely do so via this website, I hope that the extra time spent on it will have improved user experience and make it easier to get quick information from the records of our former pupils. Relationships have begun to be been tagged to make family connections clear, and Old Westminsters with links to the Slave Trade have been identified using UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership database and the details of their involvement added to their entries. The latter work has now grown into a series of articles, where exciting discoveries have been made about the earliest known Old Westminster of colour, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Black grandson, whose widely believed date of death has been incorrect for decades.
I truly do believe there has been a lot of benefit to this additional time spent working on the online catalogue, but the three days a week spent on site have been invaluable when it comes to getting to grips with working on a physical collection. Putting together displays, cataloguing items and repackaging material feel like fundamental skills that I am glad to now have more experience with. I’ve also been lucky enough to be offered the chance to stay on in the role while getting my Archives and Records Management MA part time so, with any luck, I might get to experience a ‘typical’ Westminster School year after all.
Bethany Duck works as the Archives and Records Assistant at Westminster School and will begin studying her Archives and Records Management MA this year. You can follow the Westminster School Archives on Twitter @WSchoolArchives.