Packing Up a Life
My husband, the architectural historian and critic, Peter Blundell Jones, died in August 2016. It all happened very fast. I didn’t think to ask him where he wanted his archive to go and he didn’t leave any instructions in his will. It is an important body of material. In the course of his career Peter had interviewed leading architects all over Europe, taken millions of photographs, and kept all the research material for the books he had written. After a lot of thought and consultation with the children, I decided it should go to the University of Sheffield. The School of Architecture had been his academic home for the last twenty-two years of his life and it was where he had consolidated his reputation. He was happy there and was loved and respected. I felt confident that this was the right place.
It was, however, just the beginning of my job as Peter’s literary executor. Over the last year I have been preparing his archive for transfer to the university and that has been no small task. It wasn’t just that there was a huge amount of material – Peter kept EVERYTHING – but it was completely unfiltered. His correspondence was particularly problematic as it was ordered simply in chronological order, the personal mingling with the professional. Peter kept almost every scrap of correspondence, however trivial. One of the first letters in a box that I opened at random was from my lovely late mother-in-law thanking us for cooking Christmas dinner. I had to go through everything, picking out letters too personal to go into the archive, right back to the 1960s, years and years before I met him. I have had through my hands virtually every letter that Peter ever received. He often kept copies of letters that he sent, so sometimes I saw the other side of the correspondence, too. I began to feel like someone in a story by Borges, living someone’s life by proxy, going further and further into the past, almost overwhelmed by the deluge of information.
I have finished now. Forty-eight boxes are waiting to go to the university when lockdown ends. It has been poignant – heart-breakingly so at times – but it has also been wonderful to relive our years together. I have a sense of the whole of Peter’s life and can see how rich and rewarding it was. As for me, my task has been a labour of love, and also a way of grieving.