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?!