Conservation in action: repair of Powick parish minute book

  • 3rd December 2015

Here at Worcestershire Archive Service we are committed to preserving and protecting the records that are deposited in our care. What happens though when items come to us in a less than desirable condition? Thanks to the very varied custodial histories of the collections that come to us, we can never be quite sure exactly what condition they may be in. If documents have been exposed to particularly damp conditions, have become damaged through rough handling, or have even come into contact with pests, we may need to carry out some repair work before we can make them available for researchers to access. As we have so many items that need treatment our Conservator, Rhonda Niven, works in conjunction with Archive staff to assess the demand for each item in order to prioritise her next project. In between her other responsibilities Rhonda then works to repair items that are currently deemed to be ‘unfit for issue’. Here Rhonda tells us about one of the records now available once again thanks to her hard work.

Text-block prior to treatment

With 12 miles of Archives to work on, and only one Conservator, as you can imagine, there is plenty of work for me to do.  I am pleased to say I can now tick one more volume off the ‘not for general issue’ list, making it available for public consultation. 

The Powick Parish meeting minute book (reference b850 BA3802/4(i)), 1732-1798, had suffered from previous damp damage leaving the paper soft and crumbling, the sewing falling apart, boards detached and areas of the leather binding lost.  Because of this the volume was too fragile for consultation as any handling, however careful, would have resulted in further damage to the paper and binding materials.

Volume prior to treatment

Spine prior to treatment

To repair the volume, the text-block was carefully cleaned with a soft brush to remove surface dirt, and the remaining sewing threads were removed.  A detailed record of the sequence of the pages was made in order that the volume could be reconstructed in the correct order – an experienced Conservator never trusts the page numbers (this, the voice of bitter experience!) as these can be entered incorrectly.

The pages were then washed in cold water, followed by hot water to remove dirt and impurities that had been absorbed into the paper.  Then washed again in a solution of Sodium Hydroxide to provide an ‘alkaline reserve’ within the papers to protect them from future acidic damage.  Torn and damaged papers were repaired with thin Japanese tissue and paste and re-assembled into sections ready for re-sewing.

Pages during the washing process

A replacement spine was constructed from aero linen which had been toned to match the colour of the original leather.  Aero linen is a material popular with Conservators as it is quite thin, but incredibly strong, making it ideal for the moving parts of books such as spines and re-attaching boards.  It can also be toned easily using Acrylic paints to match original colours of cloth and leather.

Text-block spine following re-sewing

Volume following repair

The volume is now back in one piece and available for consultation in the original archive area during opening hours, just leaving the many others on the ‘not for general issue’ list to be repaired! 

By Rhonda Niven

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