I’m just finishing our submission for the Behind the Scenes category of the Derbyshire Heritage Awards 2016 (our Mining the Archives project, which you may have read about in other posts). These annual awards are organised by the Derbyshire Museums and Heritage Forum, to celebrate all the excellent work that goes on in the heritage sector in Derbyshire. You don’t need to be a member of the Forum to submit an entry, so if you belong to a heritage organisation and you’ve recently completed a project, why not see if it fits one of the categories? There are six categories to choose from, including ‘Best Project on a Limited Budget’, ‘Young people in Heritage’ and ‘Best Volunteer Project’. All the details are on the Derbyshire Museums and Heritage Forum website; the closing date is Friday 5 August 2016 and – as I have found out – the form is very easy to fill in.
We hope to see you at the Awards Ceremony at Crich Tramway Museum on Friday 7 October!
For those of you who followed Clare’s posts about the work she was doing on our two very badly damaged lead mining account books: the conservation is now finished. Clare went on maternity leave a few months ago (a boy!), but we were lucky enough to be able to recruit newly qualified paper conservator Madeleine Marshall to finish off the project. Clare’s last post described how she washed all the pages of the 18th century volume, so let me explain what happened next…
Once all the pages were clean, they needed to be repaired so they would be safe to be handled again. You can see in the photographs how Madeleine carefully needles out infills for the missing areas – basically we put new hand made paper where the original paper has crumbled away. We also sandwich the page between two sheets of very thin tissue, made from manila fibres, which gives it extra strength without obscuring the writing. To stick it all together we make up our own adhesive, wheat starch paste, so we don’t add any potentially damaging chemicals to the documents.
Needling out the repair
Laying the repair in its place
The repaired pages are then re-assembled in their book sections and re-sewn:
The repaired sections
Sewing the textblock
Once we have our textblock we attach new boards:
Then we cover the book in book cloth:
The newly covered book drying out under weights
During the project we managed to turn this jigsaw puzzle
Clare puzzling the pieces
into these readable sheets
Fragments we couldn’t place with 100% certainty have been encapsulated, so they can still be examined
and this disintegrating book
into this readable one
If you’d like to see either the actual volumes or their digitised images, ask for D7925 (the 19th century former jigsaw puzzle) and D307/B/19/1 (the 18th century rebound volume).
We remain grateful to the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust for their funding.
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!
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