As the Book and Paper Conservator for the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I occasionally have the privilege of being able to see, and every now and then carefully handle, treasures within the archive that are too fragile or in such poor condition that general handling by searchers or staff would result in further damage, and potential loss to the item.
Within in this category fall a number of the account and rent books relating to the history of Croome Court. These paper-based records date from 1719 to 1915 and detail the general and household accounts, and allotment rental accounts, providing an insight into the running of the estate detailing costs and names of local suppliers and tenants.
Before conservation treatment
Many of the items have suffered from inappropriate storage conditions throughout their history, resulting at best in a layer of surface dirt, at worst, damp damage and subsequent mould damage on papers and bindings. Although the items are now dry and the mould is no longer active, it has left the paper very soft and powdery. A number of bindings have broken down, with broken sewing and spine folds, combined with disintegrating paper to such an extent that any handling, however careful, causes the items to crumble and suffer further damage.
In keeping with the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service's commitment to ensure the proper management of Worcestershire's heritage for current and future generations, a grant application was made to, and gratefully received from, the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, with the title of 'Accounting for Croome'.
After conservation treatment
As a result of this grant, I have begun working on the General Estate Accounts, which will soon be available for public consultation. Treatment involves immersing the documents in water to wash away dirt and impurities. Tears and areas of loss are repaired using fine Japanese tissue attached with wheat starch paste, before the documents are sewn into covers of acid-free card. This leaves the documents in a more robust condition, able to withstand future handling. For those that are particularly damaged and crumbly, I have attached fine tissue to both sides of the document, which means the documents can now be read and handled safely.
Detail of text following conservation treatment
The future longevity of the documents is enhanced by the fact they were initially made from high quality handmade paper. This paper responds well to washing and repair and now that they are stored in stable environmental conditions, they will go on to tell the story of Croome Court for many years to come.