Sarah Clarke: First female Black Rod appointed in 650-year history of House of Lords

Wimbledon championships director appointed as top official in the House of Lords. The position is named after the ebony staff its holders carry

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 17 November 2017 14:18
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‘I am both deeply honoured and delighted to be invited to take up the role of Black Rod,’ Ms Clarke said
‘I am both deeply honoured and delighted to be invited to take up the role of Black Rod,’ Ms Clarke said

A senior Wimbledon boss has been appointed as the first female Black Rod in the 650-year history of the House of Lords.

Sarah Clarke, who is currently championships director at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, will take on the historic post early next year, whose duties include summoning MPs to hear the Queen’s Speech at Parliament’s state opening – where the door of the House of Commons is famously slammed in the Black Rod’s face.

She will be known as Lady Usher of the Black Rod – the first female to hold this title – after David Leakey steps down at the end of the year.

Black Rod is named after the 3.5ft ebony staff, or mace, the holder carries, topped with a golden lion as a symbol of the office’s authority. The staff is used to knock three times on the door of the House of Commons ahead of the Queen’s Speech.

Ms Clarke, who held roles at four Olympic Games and the London Marathon, said: “I am both deeply honoured and delighted to be invited to take up the role of Black Rod.

“Over many years I have been fortunate to work at the heart of some of the world’s most complex events and institutions.

“To be given the opportunity to join such an experienced and dedicated team is a great privilege.

“The House of Lords is a place where the smallest detail is as important as the big picture and the depth of heritage and tradition is second to none. I am truly looking forward to starting work.”

As well as maintaining order within the House of Lords, Black Rod acts as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, with responsibility for major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster.

The Queen appoints Black Rod on recommendation from a panel chaired by the Lord Speaker.

Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords, said: “I am very pleased to welcome Sarah Clarke to the role of Black Rod. As the first woman to take on the role, this is a historic moment for the house.

“People are most familiar with Black Rod for the part they play at state opening, but the job is much more than that.

“Some of the most important work happens behind the scenes in organising addresses to Parliament by visiting heads of state and other state events, as well as ensuring we have appropriate plans in place to keep the important work of the Lords going in a crisis.”

He added: “The Lords has a great record of women taking on senior political roles. Five of the last seven Leaders of the Lords and the current Leader of the Opposition have been women as well as both my predecessors as Lord Speaker.

“I am sure Sarah will continue that tradition and do an exemplary job as Black Rod.”

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