The hidden talents of the Record Office team have been stirred… inspired by the Sir John Franklin story some of our staff members have specially recorded some traditional music to accompany our new online exhibition for Google Arts and Culture.
The tradition of singing, or chanting, of sea shanties and ballads aboard ships flourished during the 19th century. Long journeys at sea and repetitive hard work were alleviated by the singing of hauling and working songs, alongside tales of tragedy and loves lost documented in tunes and laments. ‘Handsome Molly’ is an old-time banjo and fiddle tune with a maritime theme, and this fantastic version has been recorded for us by ukulele player and singer Mark Psmith (our records manager!).
‘I wish I was in London Or some other seaport town I’d set my foot on a steamboat And sail the ocean round
While sailing around the ocean While sailing around the sea I think of Handsome Molly Wherever she may be’
Folk music has long taken inspiration from historical tales, and what better than a story that meets such a haunting end as that of Franklin and his crew. ‘Lady Franklin’s lament’ is a traditional folk ballad, which first appeared as a broadside ballad around 1850. It speaks from the perspective of a sailor on board a ship, who dreams about Lady Franklin and her plight to find her lost husband.
‘We were homeward bound one night on the deep Swinging in my hammock I fell asleep I dreamed a dream and I thought it true Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew
With a hundred seamen he sailed away To the frozen ocean in the month of May To seek a passage around the pole Where we poor sailors do sometimes go’
This version was recorded by folk singer and musician Ewan D Rodgers and features vocals and whistle playing by Clare (our assistant conservator!).
Here is a nice repair job I carried out on one of our Franklin letters, written by John Richardson to John Franklin in July 1823. It was a particularly satisfying one, as this letter originally had a missing corner piece, which amazingly our project archivist Neil had managed to find! After it had been matched up to its rightful home, I re-attached the piece using a wheat starch paste and spider tissue, and filled a hole with handmade repair paper. See the results below – it just goes to show how easy it is to lose information when paper becomes damaged, but luckily this time we could help!
If you’re in Buxton this afternoon and need to shelter from the heat of the day, why not join our friends at Buxton Museum for their free family event, making carnival masks and hats inspired by ancient creatures!
On the 11th June 1847 Eleanor Franklin wrote in her diary how much she and Lady Jane Franklin were enjoying their visit to the ancient ruins around Salerno, just south of Naples. That morning she writes about hurrying after breakfast to see the Cathedral, with it’s impressive Roman sarcophagi, pillars and mosiac work; where a saint’s bones are said to lay in the crypt beneath.
Many years later someone added a rather harrowing note to that page – that this was also the day her father Sir John Franklin had died on board the H.M.S. Erebus, trapped in the ice off King William Island, on his fateful journey to find the Northwest Passage.
Chosen from an early 19th C collection of poems, prose and ‘general whimsy’ known as the ‘Attic Chest’, edited by Eleanor Porden. The editor has given a little input to the original version, which was contributed by Eleanor’s friend Mary Ann Flaxman.
…a book about Arctic Explorers! ‘The Icy North’ by Henry Harbour c.1904 contains biographies of Sir John Franklin and Fridtjof Nansen. It was part of a series published by Collins’ Clear Type Press, which included biographies of ‘the Lives of Men and Women who have achieved fame by the services they have rendered to their country or to mankind’ (other titles included ‘Peerless Women’ and ‘Old Sea Dogs’)
‘Never did arctic explorers leave England fuller of hope, more confident of a speedy return, than Franklin and his companions on that May day in 1845’
As part of the Mining the Archives Project, I will be giving a talk at Derbyshire Record Office on Friday 30th October 10.30am-12.00noon, all about the conservation work I have done on the project so far.
If you would like to find out more about exactly how I’ve conserved and preserved these fantastic historical documents, and also see them in the flesh, then come along!
I’ve been busy working away on the mining the archives project and thought I would give a quick update on what’s been happening to that volume we found all the lead deposits in…
The 18th Century account book of Robert Thornhill (D307/B/19/1) has now been dismantled and cleaned. The cleaning process was very delicate as the edges of the pages are very fragile. Each page has been lightly surface cleaned using a ‘smoke sponge’ which is designed especially for conservation cleaning, and then brushed gently with a very soft Japanese brush.
The next step in preparing the pages for repairs is to wash them… yes really! It may seem like a strange thing to do, but we actually give each page a bath in a tray of water! This removes damaging dirt and impurities, and also re-invigorates the paper fibres giving it additional strength. The inks are tested for solubility first, as we don’t want to lose any of the information. The pages are given support whilst they are in the water using insect netting, and with a bit of care can be handled easily when wet.
Documents in a bath of water
Insect netting supports the documents so they can be handled when wet
Before and after washing
Dirty water remains!
After a good soak, the pages are removed from the bath and are left to air dry individually on pieces of thick blotting paper. Once dry they are ready for repairs to be carried out.
I never thought that during this project I would literally be mining the archives… until this week when I began work on dismantling the 18th Century account book of Robert Thornhill, and to my surprise, hidden between the pages, I discovered what appeared to be deposits of lead!
This caused quite a scare for our health and safety team – Lead is a highly poisonous metal, and if it is inhaled or swallowed it can cause serious damage to the nervous system or brain. This being so, I stopped working on the book immediately, and our health and safety manager rushed to the scene to advise us on how to proceed.
Lead is dangerous if it is inhaled or ingested, but to inhale it the particles must be very fine and dust-like. Luckily the particles of lead we found were relatively large, and there was no evidence of dust, so we were told we were safe to proceed with precautions – wearing a mask, gloves and protective clothing; hand washing and proper disposal of the gloves and masks; and ensuring that the work area is cleared of all debris with Hepa filter vacuum cleaner…
However, in the midst of all this excitement, we had a thought… the discovery of lead in this account book might tell us something about its history – the environment in which it was written, and where the work was carried out. We have collected samples of the lead and debris from the guttering of the pages and are hoping to get these tested using Infrared Spectrometry, a method of analysing the samples to identify the substances present. The findings could give us more clues about the provenance of the book, and lead mining history in general, which would potentially be valuable information for researchers.
Who knew this long neglected account book would cause such a stir?!
I have now completed the bulk of the conservation work on D248: Barmaster’s Lot and Cope account books, 1831-1870. Here are some of the repaired pages:
It really has made such a difference to all those pages which were in many pieces, as they can now be handled safely. The final few pages we came across in this pack were slightly different in appearance and texture to the others, and we think there may have already been some historic conservation procedures carried out on them which now requires some extra special treatment.
Whilst we investigate and decide what to do with the above, in the meantime I have begun work on the next document identified as part of the project; D307/B/19/1: Account book/ledger of Robert Thornhill, 1768 – 1829.
This 18th Century account book is still in its original, parchment-covered binding, which has considerable damage from a damp storage environment. The book has suffered extensively from damp penetration, leaving the edge of every page extremely fragile and crumbling away. In its current condition this item cannot be used by researchers, as turning the pages will result in significant loss of information.
Before I can repair the pages, the first job is to very carefully take the whole book apart. Each page will then be cleaned and washed before repairs are carried out. The original binding is too badly damaged to be re-used, so it will be kept with the item as part of the collection, and the repaired pages will be re-bound in a new binding.
So… scalpel at the ready, I will update you on how dismantling it goes!