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.
…this time for World Poetry Day (today!)
Poor little Moth, how low thou’rt laid !
Would, thou hadst never thoughtless play’d
Round yon seducing light,
And flutter’d in its magic beam
Like one enchanted in a dream
Or vision of the night
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If you would like to find out more about exactly how I’ve conserved and preserved these fantastic historical documents, and also see them in the flesh, then come along!
Its free, but you will need to book a place via our Eventbrite page by following this link: Eventbrite Mining the Archives Talk
or call the Record Office on 01629 538347
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!
I’ve been working away on the conservation of documents as part of the Mining the Archives Project, and have so far repaired over 50 individual pages of D248: Barmaster’s Lot and Cope account books, 1831-1870.
Each page is extremely fragile – the book has been badly damaged by damp and mould, which has caused the paper to lose all of it’s strength and it is literally falling to pieces. The book had been dismantled years ago, so the pages are in no particular order with fragments muddled up and all over the place. Before I can begin the treatment process the first task is to puzzle all the pieces back together so that all the bits are in the right place. This can be very tricky due to the extent of the damage, a bit like a very complicated mouldy jigsaw puzzle!
Once I am sure everything is in the correct place I can begin the repairs. I have to be certain about this, because otherwise the information may not appear accurate, particularly as these are account books, so contain a lot of complicated numbers and arithmetic. After painstaking attempts, if I can’t find where a piece definitely goes, it will be saved in case researchers (or jigsaw enthusiasts) want to try and attempt to find where it fits in the future.
As you can see it requires a lot of patience, but it is very satisfying when you manage to match one up successfully!
One of my projects this week has been repairing the parliamentary enclosure plan of Doveridge, from 1791 (Q/RI 36) which was in a rather sorry state. The map had originally been flat, but then subsequently folded up, which had eventually caused it to split in two. It had then been rolled up for storage, causing even more damage and splitting along the folds.
You may have heard that we recently received funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to conserve some of the rare and important lead mining documents we have in our collections.
The lead mining history of Derbyshire is unique – its roots run deep into our local cultural heritage, and its legacy is still visible today in the landscape and traditions of the Peak District. Much of the written material which relates to this important part of our history is held here at the Record Office.
With the help of lead mining researchers we have identified the most important documents which are in need of attention. These documents have been severely damaged by damp and mould, and many of them are falling to pieces, which means they are in no fit state to be handled (or even digitised) and are currently unavailable to researchers. Its up to us to ensure their survival – without vital conservation work they would never be seen, and the information contained within them would be lost forever.
As project conservator on the Mining the Archives project, its my job to carry out the conservation work on the documents. Last week I began the first part of this work – repairing D248: Barmaster’s Lot and Cope account books, 1831-1870.
This item has around 100 loose pages, which were at one time bound together in an account book. Continue reading