Tag Archives: Conservation

Plastics and their effects on archival documents

You may have noticed that plastic packaging has been hitting the headlines lately. Having watched the BBC’s Blue Planet II series recently, it would be hard for anyone to ignore the devastating effects that plastics are having on our marine life and the environment. However, did you know that plastics (amongst other common office stationery!) also cause long term damage to archival collections?

Common products such as Sellotape®, plastic wallets, plastic covers, comb bindings and ring binders as well as paperclips, bulldog clips, pins, staples, post-it notes, glassine paper and rubber bands have poor aging properties with plastic and rubber based products deteriorating rapidly causing damage to paper and other materials that come in contact with them.

Typical problems I see with documents we hold and accessions that come into the archives are:

Adhesive tape-Sellotape®

Adhesive tape- Sellotape® can quickly degrade, with the plastic part of the tape becoming discoloured and separating from the adhesive, leaving the sticky adhesive on the document. This in turn can cause damage to the document itself and other documents within the same enclosure. The picture above is adhesive tape which has deteriorated and caused yellow staining to the paper support. Continue reading

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Attending Historic England’s Salvage and Disaster Recovery course

It feels that hardly a month goes by that we don’t hear or read a story in the news about natural disasters such as floods and man-made disasters such as war, terrorism and arson. Rarely reported is how these ‘disasters’ affect cultural institutions and how valuable cultural heritage is damaged or destroyed. Recent events such as the flooding in Paris in 2016 where the Louvre had to move their collections to safety and the Glasgow school of Art fire in 2014 and it subsequent restoration (to be completed in 2019) mean that disasters like these, although unlikely to happen, are never far from my mind as a conservator.

Since joining the Archives and Collections team in May 2016, a major part of my job is planning and implementing ‘The Emergency and Collections Salvage plan’. The purpose of plans such as these is to be able to respond effectively to emergency situations such as fire and flood and ensure business continuity. Having successfully written a plan, purchased salvage equipment and members of staff receiving training from Harwell in 2017 on salvage techniques, I felt it was important to gain a deeper understanding of how a disaster situation might unfold and to be able to get hands-on experience of salvaging objects from an incident and using salvage equipment.

Some of our salvage equipment!

Whilst writing the plan, I heard about English Heritage’s Salvage and Disaster Recovery 3 day course with West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS). After being on the waiting list for just over a year, I finally got the chance to attend with the Facilities Manager in February 2018.

Continue reading

Parchment

To continue the theme of Conservation for this year’s Explore Your Archive week, today’s blog is all about parchment and features some of our parchment documents.

The Guild Book of Knowle. An illuminated parchment manuscript dating from 1451 – 1541. [MS 3000]

Parchment is made from specially prepared, untanned skins of animals which are mostly sheep,  calves and goats. Vellum is a higher quality skin made from a young calf. Without scientific analysis, however, it is very difficult to determine what animal the membrane is from and how old it is.

To make parchment, the original animal pelt needs to be dehaired. The pelts are soaked in water for about a day to remove all blood and grime. It is then taken out and put into a dehairing bath to remove the hair. This usually lasts about 8 days but in winter this can last up to 2 weeks. The dehairing liquor was originally made of rotted, or fermented, vegetable matter but by the Middle Ages, this included lime. The pelt would be stirred with a wooden rod in a stone vat about 2 – 3 times a day.

Once it is removed from the dehairing solution, the skin is then soaked in clean water so the skin can be ‘worked’. The skin is then stretched on a frame, which would be as simple as a wooden frame with nails stretching the skin. This would be left open to the air so they could be scraped with a knife to remove the last bits of hair and get the skin to the right thickness. As the animal skin is made from collagen, this would form a natural glue whilst it was drying so the skin would keep its stretched form once removed from its frame.

To make the parchment more aesthetically pleasing or more suitable for the scribes, special treatments were used. One treatment included rubbing pumice powder into the flesh side of parchment while it was still wet on the frame was used to make it smooth and to modify the surface to enable inks to penetrate more deeply. Powders and pasted of calcium compounds were also used to help remove grease so the ink would not run. To make the parchment smooth and white, this pastes (starch grain) of lime, flour, egg whites and milk were rubbed into the skins. This is why parchment will have a rough and a smooth side.

Our oldest document in Archives Collections. [[DV 14d Outsize] 435324]

Unsurprisingly, the oldest document we hold in our archives is recorded on parchment. This is [DV 14d Outsize] 435324 – Agreement between Simon, Bishop of Worcester, and Waleran [de Beaumont], Earl of Worcester, settling various differences which had arisen between them. We believe the document dates from between 1139 and 1143, based on the names that appear in it, despite the date 1160 being recorded on the actual document!

Coroner’s Court Roll

You may have seen yesterday’s post getting Explore Your Archives Week off to a great start with an account of an event we held in Archives & Collections on Saturday. One of the items out on display was one of our newest acquisitions – the Coroner’s Court Roll, which was actually conserved by Birmingham Archives staff in the 1970s.

Conservator, Lucy, showing off the Coroner’s Court Roll

Although it looks like parchment at first glance, the court roll is actually made of paper. The wooden case it is housed in is not ideal, as wood emits volatile organic compounds which can damage the document. However the casing forms part of the item and so it will be kept in it and stored in suitable environmental conditions to preserve it long-term.

The role of coroner has existed from around the 12th century. The position of Birmingham Coroner is a relatively new one, having been in existence from around 1838, when the newly created Birmingham Corporation sought to establish their own Quarter Sessions and as a result of this, the position of Coroner. Note that prior to around 1838, inquests for deaths in Birmingham would have been held in Warwickshire, as Birmingham reported to the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions. The role of the Coroner’s Court is:

  1. to investigate sudden or suspicious deaths which are reported to him/her,
  2. to deal with applications to transport a body to another country for burial or cremation
  3. to investigate cases of Treasure Trove (the discovery of buried coin or other valuables)

Archives & Collections are lucky in having an almost complete holding of the inquests held in Birmingham over the whole period there has been a Birmingham Coroner. The Coroner’s Office has recently deposited the original “roll of the inquests” covering 1838 – 1875, a microfilm copy of which is available to view in the Heritage Research Area. The roll records very little detail on the cases, giving names, address, cause of death and verdict. There are no further details relating to the death and on the whole, the entries do not tell you any more than you would find on a death certificate.

As I’m sure you will appreciate, this is not an item that will be served in the Wolfson Centre – for conservation reasons!

Explore Your Archive 2017


 

Explore Your Archive week is here!

Each year, here at Archives & Collections, we like to get involved with the Explore Your Archives campaign to raise awareness of the work that the archives does. You may remember the past couple of years, we opened up our collections to visitors through pop-up exhibitions.

This year, the theme is conservation and preservation and on Saturday, we welcomed members of the public on a tour of the archives. Starting in the Wolfson Centre, our Conservator, Lucy, talked about the items we had out on display and explained a little about the types of material they were made of. The turn out was fantastic and everyone really enjoyed having the chance to look behind the scenes in our archives storage areas.

Members of the public enjoying their visit to Archives & Collections as part of Explore Your Archives 2017

We are running the event again on Friday (which is now fully booked) and so SPOILER ALERT as throughout this week, we will be featuring some of the items that were on display. We hope you enjoy!

For other events happening around the country, please visit the Explore Your Archive website.

Explore Your Archives 2017: Behind the Scenes in Conservation

This year’s Explore Your Archives week runs from Saturday 18th November to Sunday 26th November. The mini-campaign is to highlight the vital and highly-specialised preservation and conservation work of archive conservators.

Behind the scenes at Archives & Collections

Unlike the past two years when we have opened up our archive collections through pop-up exhibitions, this year we are offering the chance to look behind the scenes…

Ever wanted to know what the Conservator gets up to in the archives? Ever wondered what is in the gold part of the Library of Birmingham building? You can find out by coming along to this workshop about how we look after Birmingham’s most treasured documents, with a behind the scenes tour of the stores and Conservation Studio.

Spaces are limited to 12 people – so book early by e-mail at archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk to avoid disappointment!

 

There are two workshops:

Saturday 18th November 1pm – 3pm

Friday 24th November, 2pm – 4pm.

 

Venue:

Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

 

For details of how to get to the library, please see the Library of Birmingham website for details.

For more about the Explore Your Archive campaign, please visit http://www.exploreyourarchive.org/.

 

 

What are we up to during Birmingham Heritage Week?!

We’ve got a variety of things for you to do with us here in Archives & Collections during Heritage Week (which starts on Thursday), and we’d love you to join in!

 

Behind the Scenes: Conservation in the Archives

Friday 8th September, 2pm (booking essential)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

Ever wanted to know what the Conservator gets up to in the Archives? Ever wondered what is in the gold part of the Library of Birmingham building? You can find out by coming along to this talk about how we look after Birmingham’s most treasured documents, with a behind the scenes tour of the stores and Conservation Studio!

Spaces are limited to 12 people – so book early to avoid disappointment!

 

Introduction to Archives & Cataloguing Skills Workshop

Saturday 9th September, 11-1:00 (booking essential)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

This workshop will provide an introduction to Birmingham’s Archives, with a particular focus on how you can add to the collections through e.g. your heritage project. It covers the following: What does the Archives & Collections Service do? What are Archives? (with a chance to view and handle original archive material from the 12th to the 20th centuries!); Getting your collection into the Archives; and a practical introduction to cataloguing your Archive.

 

The Reality of Partition: Hand-over of Project Archive to Archives & Collections

Monday 12th September, 12-2pm (drop-in)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

This project has focused on the heritage of the immigrant population that came to Great Britain in the first months and years after Partition, an event which marks its 70th anniversary in 2017.

What impact did Partition have on the Indian and Pakistani population already in Britain, and on those who decided to take up residency when independence was declared?  What do today’s British Asian population know about the history of the decision, how it took place, and the effect it had on their own families. Similarly, what does the wider British population know about this?  These are all questions the project has sought to address, especially since most of these stories are shared only amongst an intimate family group or other small number of people within a particular community.

The project archive will be deposited (handed-over) to Birmingham Archives & Collections between 12 and 2pm on the 12th of September – why not come along and observe, talk to the project managers, and watch the film –  ‘The Reality of Partition – Real stories told by Birmingham & Black Country residents’.

 

Heritage Research Area Familiarisation Session

Saturday 16th September, 11am-1pm (booking essential)

Venue: Heritage Research Area, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

Meet experienced staff at this free event which will act as a general beginners’ guide to resources such as maps, electoral and parish registers as well as digital resources on Ancestry Institution and software for reading local newspapers. Spaces are limited to 12 people per session. Please email archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation. Please note this session is not aimed at answering specific genealogical enquiries.

 

Let’s Play Traditional Bangladeshi Games!!

Saturday 16th September, 11am-1pm (drop-in)

Venue: Heritage Learning Space, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

 

Traditional games are part of the intangible heritage and a symbol of the cultural diversity of our societies. Played for hundreds of years by children and adults in rural and urban Bangladesh, traditional games brought here by first generation immigrants are on the verge of disappearance. These toys and games are representative of Bengali culture and psyche. They signify our people’s creativity and imagination as well as the fun-loving spirit of family bonding. Having recently deposited our documentary oral history recordings from our Stories & Games project with Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we now invite you to come along to the Archives on the 16th of September to learn about and play these games!

 

Booking: A couple of activities are drop-in, and for others booking is essential via archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk  – see above for details!

 

Directions and maps: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/article/visitorguide/visitorguide-summary

 

There is so much going in Birmingham Heritage Week this year! Find out more here: http://birminghamheritageweek.co.uk/