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Head Porter’s portrait unveiled

Trinity Head Porter Peter Windmill isn’t one for the limelight. But he has taken part in Louise Riley-Smith’s project to paint the portraits of the Head Porters of Cambridge colleges.

Portrait of Peter for Riley-Smith's Head Porter's Project
© Louise Riley-Smith

The exhibition opens on 18 June at the Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, and is free to view until 24 June. For Mrs Riley-Smith, a professional portraitist, Head Porters are the ‘unsung heroes of the Cambridge colleges,’ and the two-year project to paint their portraits has been a labour of love. She spent an average of six hours on each portrait, either in her studio or in college.

Mr Windmill has more than 20 years’ experience at Trinity College, which he joined after a military career. He became Deputy Head Porter in 1999 and Head Porter in 2008. Today Mr Windmill manages 39 staff and is responsible for the smooth running of the Porters Lodges at Great Gate and Burrell’s Fields.

We talked to him about sitting for his portrait and the changing role of the Cambridge college Porter.

What were your first thoughts when Louise Riley-Smith invited you to take part ?

I was very surprised and a little hesitant as I had never done anything like this before. But after meeting with Louise and discussing what would be involved in having my portrait painted I agreed to take part.

What do you think of your portrait?

I have only seen the completed portrait on the artist’s website, and as the image is quite small, it doesn’t have the impact that I imagine the original has. It will be interesting to see it for the first time.

What was it like having your portrait painted?

My portrait was painted in Louise’s studio here in Cambridge and to be honest, I didn’t realise how much effort it takes to hold the same pose for each sitting, especially when you are wearing your ceremonial cloths and your top hat.

College Porters are a well-known phenomenon to University members but less so to the general public. Do you think this exhibition will raise awareness of the role of Porters?

Peter Great Court
© Graham CopeKoga

I would think that those who don’t have a knowledge of the University imagine Porters as either railway porters who carry bags or as old men similar to those  depicted in ‘Inspector Morse’ or ‘Porterhouse Blue.’ In fact, the role of the College Porter is very important  because they are normally the first people who visitors to the colleges meet.

During my time at Trinity the role of the Porter has evolved quite dramatically. All Porters now have to be trained as fire marshals and first aiders and all Senior Porters are required to undertake management training. The Porters have also taken on additional responsibilities for health & safety and fire safety.

We are an integral part of the college system and responsible for dealing with all emergencies and security – everything from patrolling and monitoring CCTV to dealing with everyday enquiries from visitors. My role is quite varied and no two days are the same. I could be dealing with fire safety one day and the next day liaising with the police about a VIP visit, or dealing with something as simple as finding a parking space for a college guest.

I hope that the exhibition will depict us as approachable and professional characters from different backgrounds that present the modern colleges in a positive way.

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