a lucky letter repair

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!


Letter to Franklin from John Richardson


Missing piece of the letter


Letter before repair


Letter after repair


Missing piece re-attached


Letter after repair – infill

Repairing The Past

Have you ever wondered whether storing those precious old family photographs in a shoe box under the bed is really the right thing to do? How do archives store their old documents, photographs and books? And what can be done when they’ve been damaged? Come to Derbyshire Record Office on Wednesday 26 March to find out as the Conservation Team presents ‘Repairing the Past’. Senior Conservator Lien Gyles will explain all about the way the team protects Derbyshire’s written history from pests, mould and other dangers; then join us behind the scenes in the Conservation Studio to see how paper can be repaired. You can even bring along your own family documents for individual advice on safe-guarding them for future generations.

Location: Derbyshire Record Office, New Street, Matlock, DE4  3FE                               Time: Wednesday 26 March, 2.00pm – 3.30pm                                                                   Cost: £3.00 (concessions £2.00)                                                                                             Places are limited – to book call Derbyshire Record Office on 01629 538347 or email record.office@derbyshire.gov.uk

Be aware: the Conservation Studio is only accessible via two flights of stairs. However, the talk itself will take place in an easily accessible room, which is also where we will give advice about any documents you might like to bring.

Repairing the Past

First World War Letters

A stack of letters still in their envelopes

A stack of letters still in their envelopes

There’s a fascinating article on the BBC News website today, explaining how the postal service managed to deliver millions of letters to and from front-line soldiers during World War One (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25934407).  It’s answered many of the questions we in the Conservation Team have been asking ourselves while we clean, repair, digitise and re-package the hundreds of WWI letters in our collection.  Many are still in fantastic condition, even though the paper used wasn’t very good quality.  But after a hundred years they can all do with a gentle clean and some snug, made-to-measure packaging.  Some of the letters are still folded inside the original envelopes – wonderful to see, but not so good for their long term survival.  Creases in paper have a tendency to turn into tears, so we’re opening out the letters, mending tears and strengthening creases where necessary and then storing the letters with the envelopes but not inside them.

A letter and its envelope before treatment

A letter and its envelope before treatment

A letter being cleaned

A letter being cleaned

Repairing an envelope

Repairing an envelope

Letters and their envelope repaired.  We decided to keep the hurriedly opened look of the envelopes, just strengthening the edges so not more gets lost.

Letters and their envelope repaired. We decided to keep the hurriedly-opened look of the envelopes, just strengthening the edges to avoid further losses.

As conservators it’s our job to look at paper and inks, to make decissions about a document’s condition and treatment and to ensure its availability to researchers now and in the future.  The one thing we’re not supposed to do is read the contents; that’s a job for the archivists and we’re usually very happy to leave it to them.  But in this case, it’s proving very difficult not to get caught up in the words that jump out at us.  How are you supposed to glance over a letter from a soldier who you know died soon after and ignore his touching comments about his baby daughter?  Or see al the kisses he sent to his wife without contemplating the many lost husbands, fathers and sons and the pain of those who were left behind?  Handling and reading these letters provides a powerful link to a time not really so very long ago and a group of people we’re still much closer to than we often realise.

We’re currently looking for volunteers to help with our Derbyshire Lives in the First World War project, so if you’d like to find yourself surrounded by some of the thousands of words that were sent across the Channel or would enjoy the opportunity to delve deeper and investigate the impact of the First World War on the people of Derbyshire, why not have a look on our volunteering website http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/services/volunteering/default.asp