UK's first female bomb disposal expert becomes University Marshal

UK's first female bomb disposal expert becomes University Marshal

UK's first female bomb disposer becomes our University Marshal

The UK’s first female bomb disposal expert has her hands full with a new challenge – becoming the University’s first woman marshal in its 809-year history.

Lucy Lewis has been appointed University Marshal – the first woman to hold the post. Her first 'working day' wielding the Marshal's mace also saw another first as she brought up the rear in the first all-female procession (for the graduation of Christ's College, whose Master is Professor Jane Stapleton) on the 7 April Congregation.

Prior to her recent appointment, she was a University Constable for eight years (after completing a law degree). 

She joined the Army in 1989 and while serving with the Royal Engineers became the first woman to operate as a Bomb Disposal Officer.

She later transferred to the Royal Military Police and served a further 8 years with her last post as a staff officer in Ministry of Defence before retiring as a Major in 1998 to start a family.

During her military career, she was a joint service mountain expedition leader, heading up expeditions to Ecuador, Iceland and Sardinia.

The first woman to carry a University of Cambridge ceremonial mace in procession was Nicola Hardy, who was appointed an Esquire Bedell on 1 October 2003 and is still serving.

Lucy said: “I am delighted and deeply honoured to be the first woman to be appointed to the historic post of University Marshal.  I have thoroughly enjoyed serving for the last 8 years as a member of one of the oldest Constabularies in the world and will carry the traditions and many experiences gained into my new role. I now very much look forward to leading the multi-talented team of University Constables who come together to make the Congregation ceremonies and University events safe, orderly and memorable for all.”

Current University Marshal Carl Hodson said: “It is great for Cambridge that Lucy is to be appointed as our first female University Marshal. Lucy is well versed on being the ‘first’ female in a uniformed functional service and I have no doubt she will do an excellent job in her new role.”

The University Marshal is one of a trio of ceremonial mace-bearers at the University of Cambridge. The two Esquire Bedells, Nicola Hardy and Sheila Scarlett, carry silver maces given by the Duke of Buckingham, Chancellor 1626-28, while the Marshal carries a slightly shorter mace, part silver and part dark mahogany, presented by Buckingham's successor as Chancellor, Lord Holland.

This was carried by the Yeoman Bedell until that post was abolished in 1858, but since 1908 it has been used by the Marshal.

Alumnus John Louis Lassen Perry called it a “great achievement”, commenting on Facebook: “The Mace is an interesting object. Heavy, apparently, and covered with dents. I saw a student ask the Mace Bearer once what it was for. ‘Didn't they use the mace to hit people on the head in the old days?’ he asked. ‘Yes’, said the Mace bearer, ‘as the dents attest. Ask too many such questions, and the impression of your head may join in that historic tradition’.”

The two Esquire Bedells process in front of the Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor, while the Marshal walks behind them. The Bedells wear the gown, hood and square cap of a Cambridge Master of Arts, but the Marshal uses a special black gown and top hat.

The Marshal, like the Bedells, is appointed by the University's Council and it was formerly a full-time post, providing assistance to the Vice-Chancellor including management and preparation of the Senate-House.

Today the role is part-time and has responsibility for two main areas; first assisting the Vice-Chancellor and the wider ceremonial team to perform ceremonial year-round, which includes occasional Royal and VIP visits and also church services as well as graduations, and secondly supporting the Proctors in protecting good order and freedom of speech. To assist them the Marshal trains and leads some twenty-six part-time University Constables, appointed under the Universities Act 1825 for a disciplinary and ceremonial role that must respect modern Health and Fire Safety and Diversity requirements as well as the culture of an academic community.

As well as working to make ceremonies safe and smooth-running as a whole, at graduation the Marshal regulates the flow of graduands being presented for admission to their degrees. Since 2005 the retiring Marshal, Carl Hodson, has been the reassuring presence greeting thousands of students in the Senate-House who are about to graduate, in some cases for the second, third or occasionally fourth time.