Packaging the packaging

When I carry out preservation training sessions, I always emphasize the importance of archival packaging: it protects our (and your) records from over-handling, keeps them out of light, provides a barrier for rodents, insects, mould and water, and stops them getting covered in layers of dust. The ‘archival’ bit matters, as that means the quality of the packaging is such that it won’t in itself cause damage to the documents through any chemicals that may have been used in the production process. Invariably this means that when we take in new records we discard the old, often damaging, packaging – I’m sure you’ll agree there’s no reason to keep these:

 

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and sometimes the packaging is such an integral part of the history of the document, that we keep it as well. A prime example of this is D22/1, a large rolled document from 1764, which is still in its original leather-covered, wooden box:

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Beautiful, isn’t it? Both the parchment document and wax seal have survived in perfect condition in that box for the past 255 years, so I see no need to remove them.  However, the box itself is also made of organic material and therefore needs protection from light, insects, etc. This time it’s the original packaging that needs the archival kind.

We make our own archival packaging from various types of archival card and board; the first step in the process is measuring the length, width and height of the item as this determines the size of card we need. We then transfer our measurements on to the board and check whether the item will fit. The checking before cutting away the flaps is essential, as it’s very easy to end up with a box that’s just that little bit too tight or too loose. 

In order to make our new box a bit sturdier, I stuck a sheet of archival fluted board on the base – fluted (corrugated) board is very strong while also being lightweight, making it ideal to use if you want a stronger box that isn’t too heavy.

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Now we just need to fold over all the flaps and tie it all together with some unbleached cotton tape and our original box with contents is safe for the next 255 years!

D22 1 finished closed

 

Sir John Franklin’s loss

At 7 p.m. on 22 April 1825 the Arctic explorer John Franklin received the tragic news of the death of his first wife Eleanor. He was then at Penetanguishene on the shore of Lake Huron, now in  the province of Ontario, Canada, as he was making his way on his second land Arctic expedition. We know all this because it was recorded in the last letter he ever wrote to his wife. He had written to inform her of his safe arrival, his impressions of the area, his wish that she could have been by his side and his hopes of hearing of her continued improvement. He also about the flag she has made for him, which was “snug in the Box and will not be displayed ’till we get into a more northern region”. He  tells her that Mr Back [George Back] and the men have arrived, after which comes the simple line:

7PM The distressing intelligence of my dearest wifes death has just reached me                 John Franklin

John Franklin letter on news of wife's death 2

In a letter started on the same day to his sister-in-law Mrs Kay, he adds that he actually received news of the death from the newspaper.

When John Franklin wrote these letters, it was exactly two months since Eleanor had passed away, just before 12 o’clock in the evening of the 22nd February. His wife had been ill for a year or so with tuberculosis, and by early February 1825 there was every indication that she would soon be dead. For most of that year Franklin had been deep in preparation for his second land expedition. His first one in 1819-1822 had been little more than an unmitigated disaster; a few geographical and scientific discoveries, but at huge human cost, with the deaths of 10 men, including two who had been shot dead amid starvation, despair and almost endless misery. This had been partly due to his being continually let down by those people tasked with providing him with the right supplies in the right places at the right times. In spite of this, he had still wanted to try a similar mission, which the Admiralty sanctioned, impressed by what seemed to be his heroic leadership in incredibly trying circumstances.

He had, therefore, done everything he could possibly do to make sure the disaster was not repeated, by thoroughly preparing the way and putting in as much as groundwork as possible. It would actually prove to be work which did produce results, as his second expedition certainly did not end the same way as the first. It was not without its hardships and privations and even deaths, and if it did not quite achieve all he would have wanted to, there is certainly no sense that it failed because of any lack of planning on his part.

His year of preparations had coincided with a period of family bliss, with the birth of his adored daughter Eleanor in June 1824. In spite of his wife’s periods of illness, there is no doubt that the marriage was remarkably happy for both of them, somewhat surprising in the light of their different characters and the occasionally awkward period of their engagement. As it became increasingly apparent how poor her health was in the New Year of 1825, it was a real dilemma for Franklin as to what he should do: to stay with his wife or go ahead with the expedition as planned . As it turned out, it was Eleanor who made the decision for him. She insisted that it was his mission to go and nothing must stop him.

He, therefore, set sail on his expedition from Liverpool on 16th February. Although her  death had seemed imminent, he continued to write to her, as though she might still in fact be alive. There are four comparatively light-hearted letters which he wrote to her; the first started on board ship in New York on 1st March, with updates on the 7th, 14th and 15th March: the second in New York on 22nd to 24th March; the third written on 26th March in Albany, the capital of New York State, 150 miles north on the Hudson River, up which he was travelling -this last letter was definitely sent, as it arrived at their home address of 55 Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London, with a postmark for 10 May 1825. The fourth and final letter on 22 April we have encountered above.

Back at 55 Devonshire Street, in his absence in late February 1825, Eleanor was being nursed by assorted family members. Her older sister Sarah Henrietta Kay was there, as was John’s sister, Hannah Booth, down from her home in Ingoldmells in Lincolnshire. Also present was Hannah’s daughter, Mary, who would later go on to marry John’s great friend and fellow expedition member, Dr. John Richardson. They sent joint letters to him, reporting  on the situation back at Devonshire Street. The first letter was written not long after Franklin had left her, reporting that she was in a slightly better state, greatly composed and sleeping comfortably; Eleanor had been talking about him and had made the telling remark that she was thankful that he had gone; Dr Thomson called and pronounced that he found her infinitely better than expected. It is not dated, but the letter is postmarked 14 February 1825, having been sent care of Thomas Langton, esquire, Liverpool. Another letter dated 17 February was sent by the same route, and it had even more encouraging news from another doctor, Sir Henry Halford. His words are directly quoted at the start.

“I do not think Mrs Franklin out of danger by any means, but I have no hesitation in saying that she is less ill than she was, and that my hopes of her ultimate recovery are much higher than they were               Henry Halford”

Henry Halford on Eleanor Anne Franklin

It is clear he did receive this news of a more positive development from the letter written to Mrs Kay on 22 April. He had obviously been hoping for further letters from Hannah and Mrs Kay on her continued improvement and was frustrated that the post from Liverpool seemed to have been delayed. Unfortunately, any brief hopes that might have been raised were soon dashed.

On 25 February sister Hannah wrote to inform him of the death of his wife. She did not stint from telling him that her sufferings had been very great in the final days until shortly before her actual death, “the violent restlessness and shortness of breath continued without interruption, but she had not such horrifying feelings as when you saw her, nor had she ever so violent a struggle as that night we witnessed on the sofa”. Her end was apparently calm and composed, although neither Hannah and Sarah were actually there when the final breath was drawn. The doctor confirmed in his post mortem the following day that Eleanor had died of tuberculosis, and she was buried on 1st March.

 

 

Essential electrical maintenance work, 29 April – 10 May 2019

 

Essential electrical maintenance work will be taking place at the Record Office from 29 April to 10 May 2019.

This may result in some disruption to the retrieval of the historical documents from our stores.

If you’re planning to visit us during these dates, we strongly advise that you contact us in advance of your visit, then we can let you know whether we’ll be able to access the original records you’re wishing to view.

“Why don’t you just digitise it all?”

If we had a £ for every time we have heard this question…

There are many reasons why archive services do not scan all historical documents and make them available electronically – one of the main reasons being the inherent instability of digital files. Most professionals would now dispute that we are really heading for a digital dark age but that doesn’t mean we can be laissez-faire about the preservation of digital content.

As technology changes so rapidly, preservation of digital data actually requires much more active management than most of our paper and parchment collections – the computer I’m typing this on doesn’t even have a CD/DVD drive let alone a floppy disk drive (although fortunately, we do have access to both of this within the office).

There are many examples of lost digital data, the loss of over 50 million songs from MySpace being the most recent – see If it’s online, it’s not permanent. Internet archives can disappear.

Here at Derbyshire Record Office we have been thinking about how we preserve digital content for many years, but this is still something very much in development. However, in the last few weeks we have made good progress and more digital archives are now being received. Watch this space for further developments.

 

An easy historical gluten-free cake recipe

We haven’t blogged about historical food experiments for a good while, but this weekend I was in the mood for baking, so I thought I would try out a recipe that intrigued me in Clara Palmer-Morewood’s recipe book from the 1830s: Rice Cake.

Rice Cake recipe (jpeg)

Rice Cake

Ground Rice half a pound, sugar & butter each one pound. Put them into a pan before the fire, as the butter melts stir them gently together with a wooden spoon, beat nine eggs very well and add them to the other ingredients immediately before putting into the oven, the rind of a Lemon may be added.

I halved the recipe (why waste a whole pound of butter and sugar if it all goes horribly wrong?!) and used the following:

1/4 lb /  110 g of rice flour
1/2 lb / 225g butter
1/2 lb / 225g sugar
4 eggs (our eggs are likely larger than those they had in the 1830s)
grated zest of a lemon

I stirred together the flour, sugar, lemon zest and butter in a pan over a low heat until the butter was melted and the mixture was well blended, then took it off the heat to cool a little.  In a separate bowl I beat the eggs until very light and fluffy, then gently folded them into the rest of the mixture, trying to keep as much of the air as possible in the batter.

The mixture went into a greased and lined loaf tin (I used a 2 pound loaf tin) and then into the oven at 180 degrees centigrade.  After about 25 minutes it had browned nicely but  was still very wobbly in the middle so with a piece of foil on top to prevent burning I gave it another 20 minutes.

The result was subsequently enjoyed with a nice cup of tea.

Cake

It’s not fluffy cake but it is deliciously moist from all that butter and has a lovely lemony flavour.  It’s also extremely easy to make, requiring only minimal baking skills.  And it’s suitable for people on a gluten-free diet too.  I highly recommend it!

Cake close up