Secret Spines of the Stuart Collection

  • 16th April 2015

Alongside my work of conserving the Archive collections within the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I am also responsible for conserving the Stuart Collection for the Libraries and Learning Service.  Housed within the glass cabinets on level 4 of The Hive, the Stuart Collection consists of approximately 2000 volumes relating to the Civil War and Stuart period.

The collection was established John Grainger, a bookseller on Foregate Street from around 1838 until his death in 1900, when he bequeathed the collection of approximately 1000 volumes to the Victoria Institute. Over the years, the collection has gained another 1000 volumes but is now in need of extensive conservation treatment to enable the items to be publically accessible.

In the course of my work I have surveyed the collection, checking each volume to determine if it could be used without causing further damage, and what treatment needed to be carried out if it could not be used in its current condition.

Treatment then began on the 221 cloth-bound volumes that had been identified as being ‘unusable’ in their current state.  Typically, these volumes had spines that had torn along the ‘joints’- the area where the cloth bends and flexes to allow the cover of the book to be opened and closed.  Treatment involved attaching a replacement spine made from aero linen that had been coloured to blend in with the colour of the original cloth.

 B4657 Cary’s Memorials Volume 1 1842 showing typical damage to cloth-bound volumes

The process often uncovered lining papers that had been hidden from view since the book had initially been constructed. Termed ‘Printer’s Waste’ these spine linings form part of a long tradition of bookbinders using material to hand when a book is constructed.  The process can be traced back at least to the late medieval period to what are known as the Worcester Fragments. These are a collection of 25 short pieces of vocal music from the later 13th to early 14th century that had been used as binding material in various books that had been recovered from Worcester Cathedral Priory.  Once it was recognised that these scattered fragments came from the same source it was possible to piece them together, though much remains missing.

These may not be the Worcester Fragments of the future, but I have enjoyed this glimpse into these ‘secret spines’ that very few people get to see.  These spine linings will now remain hidden from view until their next round of conservation, in many years to come.

Spine-lining of B5712 Clarendon Historical Society’s Reprints 1882

Spine-lining of B4818 Records ofChurches of Christ 1854 (Recto)

Spine-lining of B4818 Records ofChurches of Christ 1854 (Verso)

By Rhonda Niven, Conservator       

Alongside being busy working on our Archive collections and the Stuart collection, Rhonda is able to provide advice and preservation and repair work to external customers. We are able to carry out preservation and conservation work on a range of materials including paper, parchment, leather and cloth bound volumes. Our Conservation Studio is fully equipped with modern facilities, although we do not provide conservation services for objects or paintings. For more details, discussion and a quote, please contact Rhonda via                 


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