Under Raking Light: Sarah Lewery

For the first in our recently updated ‘Under Raking Light’ feature we invited Sarah Lewery from the Churchill Archives Centre to tell us a bit about herself…

© Sarah Lewery


Where did you study? Where do you work?  I studied history at Lancaster University and then, after a couple of years working in archaeology, undertook the (then) Society of Archivists Certificate of Archive Conservation (while at Cheshire Record Office).  I now work at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge as the senior conservator.

Bone or Teflon? Why?  Bit of both.  Learnt with bone but a recent colleague put me onto Teflon… I tend to grab whatever is closest, which seems sacrilegious, I know.

Apron or white lab coat?  Oh dear, neither these days.  I don’t do very much practical work, and when I do, it tends to be packaging/mounting or minimal paper repairs. I don’t worry about my clothes…

The gloves: on or off?  Generally off except for the obvious times they are needed.


We’re just warming up! What are you working on right now?  Strangely, back to working on some recently acquired materials from the Churchill papers which are being prepared for digitisation… long story.  Also doing the annual defrost of our freezers and checking whether anything needs reconditioning.  Writing a report on the environmental conditions in our stores over the last three months and starting to do some proper research into low energy/passive climate control, as we are looking at improving existing storage areas as well as planning for expansion.  

When you tell people what you do for a living, they……….. ?  Think I’m an archivist!  And then when I explain it properly they say that I must be very patient.  

What conservation technique or treatment are you constantly impressed with? And why? Remoistenable tissue, because it’s so customisable, versatile, and stores well, ready for use as soon as you need it.

What’s the most depressing thing about the conservation profession? What changes would you like to see?  It can be characterised as a restrictive activity rather than as assisting the opening up of collections.  Conservators are sometimes seen as the ‘spoilsports’, which I find deeply depressing. 

When I see……….., steam comes out of my nostrils!  Poor packaging done by trained archivists.


Who are your role models or mentors? Who or what inspires you?  Professionally, Deborah Phillips and Christine Brown (both now retired conservators).  Personally, my 77-year-old friend Josy, who is the best person I know.

How do you preserve/conserve yourself? What keeps you going?  Running, long-distance backpacking, gardening, cooking, reading, being with friends.

If not conservation/preservation, what would you be doing right now?  Horticulture, nutrition or medicine

If you could invite anyone round for dinner, who would it be? What’s on the menu? Brian May, Tim Minchin, Jarvis Cocker, Jo Brand, Kathy Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, Greta Thunberg – for a Greek veggie feast with lots of red wine and swearing.


What music rocks you to sleep? I love all types of music except perhaps experimental jazz

People would be surprised that you……….. What’s your secret hobby?  Not very surprising, really – macramé

You get your kicks by……….. ?  Dancing the night away

What’s your favourite book?  Oh blimey!  The one that always springs to mind is An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, but last year it was Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Desert island survivor: What conservation tool would you take with you? Why?  The corner rounder!  It just finishes off packages and boxes so nicely, and I use it all the time…

Thanks for sticking with us to the end! Last question: if you could give just one piece of advice to a new conservator, what would it be?  Enjoy the collections while you can get anywhere near them… and do your utmost to reduce the energy consumption in your storage areas and the waste of materials in your organisation.

…And we’re done! Unless there’s something else you would like to say in conclusion?

Power to the people!

Sarah Lewery on a mountain
© Sarah Lewery

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