Sarah Clarke is first female Black Rod in 650 years

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Sarah ClarkeImage source, AELTC/Jed Leicester
Image caption,
Sarah Clarke is championship director of the All England Lawn Tennis Club

Black Rod - a Parliamentary role that can trace its origins back 650 years - is to be a woman for the first time.

Sarah Clarke is currently in charge of organising the Wimbledon tennis championships.

She will be known as The Lady Usher of the Black Rod when she starts her new job early next year.

Black Rod is best known for the State Opening of Parliament, knocking on the door of the House of Commons to summon MPs for the Queen's Speech.

As well as organising ceremonial events, Black Rod, who can earn up to £93,000 a year, manages a team of 30 staff involved in the day-to-day running of the House of Lords.

Ms Clarke, who has previously worked in senior roles at four Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport, replaces current Black Rod, David Leakey, who is retiring.

She said: "I am both deeply honoured and delighted to be invited to take up the role of Black Rod."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Black Rod is best known for summoning MPs to hear the Queen's Speech

She said the House of Lords was "a place where the smallest detail is as important as the big picture and the depth of heritage and tradition is second to none," adding: "I am truly looking forward to starting work."

Lord Fowler, who as the Speaker of the House of Lords advised the Queen on the appointment, said it was an "historic moment".

He said Black Rod played an important role 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: "Sarah's fantastic record at Wimbledon and elsewhere shows she is the right person for the task."

Image caption,
Current Black Rod David Leakey is retiring

Black Rod summons MPs to the Lords to hear the Queen's Speech but has the door to the House of Commons slammed in his face, and has to knock three times to gain entry.

He is the monarch's representative in the House of Lords and the routine is symbolic of the House of Commons' independence from the Crown.

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 - there are thought to have been 60 holders of the position since then, all men.