Dr Sarah Bendall

Dr Sarah Bendall was not only Merton’s first female Fellow Librarian, but also the first person to hold the position full-time. She was in post from 1994 until 2000, and was simultaneously Fellow Archivist from 1995.

Sarah has a long-held interest in maps, college histories and archive collections, which combine her passions for geography, history and librarianship. Born, bred and schooled in Cambridge, she first came to Oxford for her undergraduate degree in Geography (at Jesus College), and then went to Sheffield University to study for an MA in Librarianship.

From Sheffield, she moved back to Cambridge, as sub-librarian at Emmanuel College. There, she studied for a PhD, researching into the estate maps of Cambridgeshire. She held a research fellowship and then a supernumerary fellowship at Emmanuel, during which time she worked on a history of the college, and on one of the special collections in the library (that of William Sancroft, a 17th-century Archbishop of Canterbury). This all stood her in good stead for her next role at Emmanuel, as College Archivist from 1991 to 1994.

1994 was the year that Sarah came to Merton. As a Senior Research Fellow with her own research interests, she studied the history of Merton’s collection of manuscript estate maps and town plans. She also continued to pursue her research interests in the history of cartography, which resulted in the publication of the Dictionary of Land Surveyors and Local Map-Makers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1530-1850 (British Library, 1997). This was the second of her books in this research area, the previous one being from her years in Cambridge: Maps, Land and Society: A History, with a Carto-Bibliography of Cambridgeshire Estate Maps c.1600-1836 (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

One of the globes in the Upper Library
It was during Sarah’s time that the library introduced a computer catalogue, and also began digitising the College's medieval manuscripts. She also oversaw a project to conserve the Upper Library globes, supported both by grants and by North American alumni.

After six dedicated years as Merton’s Fellow Librarian and Archivist, in 2000 Sarah returned to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where she was appointed Development Director. She still holds that position, as well as those of Fellow Librarian, Fellow Archivist, and Curator of the Douglas Finlay Museum of College Life.

Despite this long list of responsibilities, Sarah finds the time to follow her research interests; college history remains a theme alongside cartography. She was a co-author of A History of Emmanuel College Cambridge, and is currently engaged in writing about the history of the estates of Trinity College, Cambridge, as contributory chapters to a book on that college’s history.

Sarah is treasurer of The J B Harley Research Trust, which offers Fellowships in the History of Cartography, and Secretary of the Cambridgeshire Records Society. She finds relaxation in playing the cello and listening to classical music.

Merton & Me

Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?

What a beautiful historic quad.

Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?

Filming in the Upper Library for the BBC, when the lighting engineers painted the plasterwork with light.

Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.

Learning to recognise birdsongs during lockdown – but I’ve got a long way to go!

What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?

Be really interested in people. Hosting a party is fun but needs careful planning.

Describe Merton in three words.

Amazing library; a privilege to be there