In addition to the main group of papers within the Westmorland archive there is a collection of 57 volumes. These volumes range from household accounts to volumes of medical recipes and cover a variety of dates from the 16th to the 19th century.
Recipe for Laudanum from from a 17th century book of medical recipes. There is a little surface dirt at the edges of the pages and some strikethrough of the iron gall ink. The binding is sound and all that is required is cleaning and the correct packaging.
As the volumes are generally in good condition we asked one of our volunteers to measure them for custom made book boxes. He carefully measured the height x width x depth of each volume and these measurements were sent to Conservation by Design UK. They then produced clamshell style boxes specifically made to the measurement of each volume. This style of book box does not require adhesive and is held with slots and tabs. The most important thing is to measure carefully as the company producing the boxes relies on your measurements. Luckily our volunteer was very accurate and the boxes fit perfectly. (Note to all – always make your packaging to fit your archives, never the other way around!)
clamshell book box
The boxes were kindly paid for by the The Finnis Scott Foundation.
Whilst surveying the 137 boxes which house the Westmorland collection, it became clear that almost all of the documents required cleaning. 800 years of storage and handling has resulted in a liberal amount of dust and soot.
We have a very dedicated team of conservators but even they could not clean all of the documents before the end of the Westmorland project! So we decided to ask our Record Office volunteers and also the Oundle Decorative and Fine Art Society if they could help us.
The answer was a resounding YES so we arranged a half day training session to tell them about the archive and to show them how to safely clean all but the most fragile documents.
Training session for volunteers at the Record Office
The volunteers hard at work.
They are now steadily working their way through the boxes – it will take time as the cleaning is a slow process – and one of the volunteers, Chris Myles, has progressed to making simple wrappers and boxes from archival materials. His engineering background has made him invaluable in measuring and creating packaging from boxboard and paper.
We could not complete this project without them and we hope to recruit more to help us for the next 5 months.
The Northamptonshire early wills are a collection of Tudor and Stuart Wills which were bound into 28 large volumes in the 1870s. The Victorian spring-back bindings – though stylistically inappropriate for Tudor manuscripts inside – are stout, functional and open flat, allowing good visual access to the manuscripts.
The manuscripts are written in iron gall ink on handmade paper. Judging by the watermarks the paper was possibly made in London and Schieland in the mid 1500s.
At some point in the distant past the wills became wet and mouldy and there are signs of this water/mould damage to the paper throughout the collection. A further issue is the fact that the damaged paper was repaired, possibly at the time of the Victorian binding. Repairs were made using Glassine paper, a common book/paper repair material at that time. Sadly the Glassine paper has not aged well, it has become discoloured and brittle and is causing further damage, both chemical and mechanical to the Tudor paper beneath.
The challenges for the conservator are:
- to clean the volumes
- to remove the old glassine repairs without further losses
- to repair the water/mould damaged paper using conservation grade repair materials
The aim is to stabilise the volumes so that they can be safely handled and digitised.
Watch this space for reports on how things are progressing!
We decided that the best way to approach such a large collection was to recruit a conservator to concentrate on this material.
We approached The National Manuscript’s Conservation Trust and they were very supportive of the project. They assessed our request (along with all of the other applications they receive each year) and by the summer of 2013 we heard that we had secured the funding for a conservator.
By autumn we had interviewed some wonderful conservators and Mark was appointed.
There were two very unusual items in the collection which the Trust gave us funding to send to external conservators. We chose the Northampton Leather Conservation Centre based at the University of Northampton and you can learn more about their work on their website http://www.leatherconservation.org/
The book of advice to children is a beautiful embroidered book containing family advice and notes from the 1620s to the 1770s. It features writings from generations of Apethorpe’s ladies and includes helpful advice such as:
‘Be not flattered with wine when it looks red in ye glass for as a Wiseman sayth it will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder’
An unusual leather covered document box was also sent to external conservators. The usual style of a ‘banjo’ box is a circular seal container attached to a longer section to contain the rolled document. This example is a square section for the smaller documents and a longer section for two rolled documents. The box is decorated with gold tooling and bears the tooled description ‘A restitution of the armes of Mildemay with a pedegre of that familie and evidence to prove the same’.
The Westmorland collection is housed in 137 boxes and stored within the archive (see the Westmorland page on this blog for more information about the collection).
Having purchased the collection (with very generous support from many bodies including the NHMF, The Finnis Scott Foundation, The Friends of the National Libraries, The Coral Samuel Trust and a local campaign group) we then needed to survey the conservation needs of the collection.
So we chose 34 boxes of material at random and inspected the contents carefully. We noted the types of material and where items were damaged. We found overfilled boxes, damaged parchment and fragile paper – none of this is surprising given that some items on the collection date back to the 13th century.
It was clear that a conservation plan was needed.
Meet our team of conservators – they are (pictured left to right) Mark Hingley, Nicola Piper and Alison Faden.
Mark is a project conservator working exclusively on the Westmorland collection (funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust).
Nicola is our resident County Council conservator and she works for us part-time on a wide range of our collections and also advises researchers in our public rooms.
Alison is a project conservator working on our early wills and probate collection and she also works with us part-time.
Over the coming months you will see more of their work behind the scenes to ensure that the archives are cared for and accessible.