Volunteering at the Cathedral: Perspectives from an Archive Volunteer

Have you ever been intrigued to know just what are volunteers get up to while volunteering at the Cathedral?  Well now you can get an inside view from one of marvelous Archive Volunteers

I’ve been volunteering one day a week in the cathedral archive for the past couple of months, helping to catalogue the small collection accumulated from the construction of the cathedral up to the present day. I recently undertook a postgraduate qualification in Information Management, which included lots of theoretical work on organising collections of items and documents, but I was keen to get some practical experience under my belt as well. I had always been interested in archives and museums, so when I saw the mailing list post asking for volunteers to do some cataloguing at a cathedral, I jumped at the chance.

I wasn’t familiar with Guildford cathedral before coming to volunteer here, but I knew that it was, unusually, a fairly modern building. Despite the scaffolding and works happening all around, it was still an imposing sight when I made the first climb up to the top of Stag Hill. I met the Project Archivist, who explained what I would be doing and showed me the collection – folders of photographs, documents, correspondence… and a drawer full of designs which I would come to know quite well over the next few weeks. My workspace would be a small porta cabin tucked away behind the cathedral, into which a small stream of items would flow to be entered, described, scanned and cared for.


The designs I came to know best were the kneeler patterns, produced by a variety of people mainly between the 1940s and 1960s, many of them officially approved by the architect Edward Maufe. They all followed a basic template and colour scheme, but were designed around many different themes such as professions, industries, saints, religious iconography and prominent events of the period. There was even one depicting Sputnik, created to commemorate the “International Geophysical Year” 1958-59. The photographs, too, showed the construction of the cathedral, special events, visiting dignitaries, and of course the cathedral at different periods in history. Each design or photograph was much more than simply a dry record of events – they reflected the concerns of the age, demographics, fashions, attitudes and ideas of the people involved with the cathedral.


As well as cataloguing the archive, I’ve also learned a lot about the overall project going on at the cathedral. Part of that project is encouraging more people to visit and discover the history and events for themselves. Another aim is to encourage people like me to come and help out in whichever way they can. I can say that I’ve found the experience very rewarding, not just in terms of my initial aim to get some cataloguing experience, but also in terms of discovering a hidden world within the cathedral walls. It has once again underlined to me the importance of archives in preserving cultural heritage for future generations. Myself and the other volunteers are gradually completing the archive catalogue, which will eventually be available to search online. Above all, it feels good to be a part of this project and to know that the work I’m doing will hopefully be useful to people in the future.


If you have been inspired to get involved in volunteering at the Cathedral we would love to hear from you.  Please take a look at our Volunteering pages on our website or at our specific archive pages.