Her Majesty The Queen has today approved the appointment of Sarah Clarke as the new Black Rod. She will formally take on the duties of Black Rod early next year, succeeding David Leakey CMG, CBE the current Black Rod who leaves the post at the end of this year.
Sarah Clarke is currently the Championships Director at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where she is responsible for the organisation of The Championships, Wimbledon. She has previously held roles at four Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport.
Sarah Clarke is the first woman to be appointed to the role of Black Rod in its 650-year history. As such, she will be known as The Lady Usher of the Black Rod. Black Rod is appointed by the Monarch on the recommendation of a selection panel chaired by the Lord Speaker.
Black Rod is a senior official in the House of Lords who, as well as their famous role in summoning the House of Commons to hear the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, heads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers. Black Rod also leads on business resilience and continuity planning for the House of Lords.
Commenting Sarah Clarke 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.”
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. Sarah’s fantastic record at Wimbledon and elsewhere shows she is the right person for the task.
“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.”
Richard Lewis, Chief Executive of The AELTC said:
"The All England Club would like to congratulate Sarah on her appointment as Black Rod and reflect our gratitude for her contribution to The Championships over several decades in a range of posts, culminating in her role as Championships Director. Her experience in delivering intricate projects and high profile events is ideal and her expertise will be put to excellent use in this new challenge. All of us at Wimbledon wish her the very best and every success in her future role.”
Notes to Editors
1. The post of Black Rod combines the duties of: Lady/Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod; Serjeant-at-Arms in the House of Lords; and Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain.
2. Black Rod is responsible for and participates in the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster including the State Opening of Parliament and State Visits. The postholder is also responsible for organising access to and maintaining order within the Lords Chamber and the precincts and is responsible for the Queen's residual estate in the Palace (the Robing Room and the Royal Gallery) and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.
3. Black Rod is an important contact point for members of the House during the day-to-day business of the House. Black Rod leads Black Rod’s Department as Head of Office and is also currently the House of Lords lead on business resilience and continuity arrangements for the House within Parliament’s overall arrangements, working closely with the Director of Facilities on delivering business continuity plans. Black Rod also works closely with a number of other services across Parliament, including the Lords Department of Facilities and the Serjeant at Arms’ Office in the Commons.
4. Black Rod's role at the State Opening of Parliament is one of the most well-known images of Parliament. Black Rod is sent from the Lords Chamber to the Commons Chamber to summon MPs to hear the Queen's Speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod's face to symbolise the Commons independence. He then bangs three times on the door with the staff. The door to the Commons Chamber is then opened and all MPs follow Black Rod back to the Lords Chamber to hear the Queen's Speech.
5. Historical background to the role of Black Rod
- The name ‘Black Rod’ refers the staff of office, an ebony staff of three and a half feet topped with a golden lion, which is the main symbol of the office's authority. The name Usher comes from the Latin ussarius which means doorkeeper.
- The earliest known reference to the role of Black Rod as the Usher to the Order of the Garter is in letters patent from 1361 which refers to Walter Whitehorse performing the role. Walter Whitehorse is believed to have been the first person to hold the post. The earliest detailed account of Black Rod’s duties comes in the statutes relating to Officers of the Garter which were enacted in 1522. The statute relating to the Usher explains the original purpose of the black staff which was carried in lieu of a mace as a symbol of authority, empowering the Usher to arrest those offending against the Statutes and Ordinances of the Order of the Garter and admonishing those within the Order as necessary.
- The first reference to Black Rod in connection with Parliament comes in Garter statute of 1522 which states that Black Rod has an additional duty to ‘keep the doors’ “in the High Court called Parliament”. It is thought that, when Henry VIII moved from the Palace of Westminster to the Palace of Whitehall, Black Rod, a member of the Royal Household, stayed behind to act as usher to the House of Lords.
- The first reference to Black Rod in the official Journals of the House of Lords dates to 1601 when the post was held by a Mr Richard Coningsby. The first reference to Black Rod’s duty of summoning the Commons to attend the Sovereign comes in 1614 when the official Journals of the House of Commons record that Coningsby came to let the Commons know that the King had called for them. The practice of slamming the door in Black Rod’s face is thought to have come later after Charles I’s attempted arrest of the ‘five members’ in 1642.
- There are thought to have been 60 holders of the position of Black Rod since 1361.
- There are also Black Rods in the Parliaments and legislative assemblies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
About Sarah Clarke
Regarded as an expert in the major events world and an exceptional administrator with a diverse range of skills and expertise, she has been involved in venue, event and project management for over 30 years, working across a wide range of operational and strategic areas at iconic events and well known institutions.
Her professional career has included leading the operational delivery of The Championships, Wimbledon, since 2013 as Championships Director, following on from the role of Championships Manager in 2009.
Areas of direct responsibility have included detailed annual planning and coordination across the wide range of internal groups and external organisations involved in The Championships. Responsibility for all sport related aspects, public access to and services at the Tournament, transport, security, contingency planning, stewarding, ticketing and Royal Household liaison also fell within the remit.
Aside from Wimbledon, she has also held various roles in broadcast and media operations at four Olympic games (Beijing, Turin, Athens and Atlanta), and was heavily involved in the 2012 London Olympic Games Tennis event.
In a volunteer capacity she assisted with H.M. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert in 2012, and H.M The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations at Windsor in 2016.
Over the years she has also worked at different times for organisations including London Marathon, Wembley Stadium, UK Sport and CARE International UK.
Educated at Wolverhampton Girls High School, she holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Leicester.