A Helping Hand

Mary Clayton-Kastenholz has been working as a conservation assistant at Lambeth Palace Library for the past month. Prior to this she volunteered with the printed books team assisting with cataloguing and collections care tasks. In this blog post Mary discusses her work as a conservation assistant.

In addition to assisting with the ongoing boxing and cleaning projects that are preceding the move to the new building, I have been helping to conserve some flat objects from the Church of England Record Centre. Most of these documents are from a series known as ‘chancel plans’; architectural drawings of the front section of churches drafted in the late 19th century, depicting proposed restoration schemes. These documents are an important, active legal record for the Church; in many localities, ownership of certain houses can still come with a formal obligation to care for the local church chancel (‘Chancel repair liability’). It is important for the Record Centre that these documents are accessible, stable, and clean for reader access.

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Starting to clean G.2774 (CERC) with a chemical sponge

To clean these documents, I have used a ‘smoke sponge’, so called because it can be used to remove smoke damage and soot, as well as effectively removing surface dust and dirt. To begin I would first carefully unfold the document, setting aside any other items that may have been stored inside. In the case of the chancel plans, the outer document often contained several pieces of tracing paper illustrating aspects of the proposed 19th century renovations; often these also required surface cleaning. Once unfolded, I would weigh the document in several places, and carefully use the sponge to lift the dirt using a diagonal dabbing motion. Tracing paper, which becomes extremely brittle over time, is only cleaned where dirt is visible, usually on a few outer edges. Dirt on the tracing paper usually sits very loosely on the surface, so it is possible to remove it with almost to no pressure. With the larger paper chancel plans I would clean the whole surface taking care not to disturb any inscriptions in pencil. I was expected to test any other media (ink and water colour) to make sure they are not going to come off. The smoke sponge is made of vulcanised rubber or a synthetic equivalent and is essentially an aerated eraser which can remove any material drafted in graphite.

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Deed 40966 (CERC) before and after cleaning

I then used a Stabler Mars eraser, to carefully rub away any particularly ingrained dirt areas, but only on the edges and at a distance from the media on the page. Once the surface had been cleaned, I used a soft goat’s hair brush to brush away any loose dirt and miniscule pieces of sponge. Both sides of a document are cleaned, and in some cases the reverse sides, before they were rehoused in archival boxes. It is important to note that conservation surface cleaning does not return an item to its original state. The process described only removes surface dirt that is not deeply ingrained. Documents that have been exposed to high humidity often look very similar before and after cleaning, as the dirt sinks in and sets in the paper when it is exposed to moisture.

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ECF/11/4/392 (CERC) before and after cleaning

Once cleaned, the documents are carefully encapsulated in Melinex (archival quality polyester film) which is cut to a size just larger than the document and sealed on three sides. Any pieces of tracing paper that had been folded inside the plan are fully encapsulated, as any handling risks immediately damage to these fragile documents. The encapsulated tracing paper elements are then stored inside the Melinex envelope with the outer plan, so that all the elements that were stored together when they came to the lab are also together when they return.

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G.2774 (CERC) after a full clean

An interesting consequence follows the flattening and encapsulation of documents; when they are returned to the storage facility they take up far more lateral space than when they left. In their new form they are best stored in plan chests or large conservation-grade portfolios rather than in archival boxes. In planning the equipment for the new library, more plan chests and wide shelves are being projected, so that there will be space to store objects that change format as a result of their conservation.

Item of Interest: The Incorporated Church Building Society.

This month’s Item of Interest post was written by Vida Milovanovic (Archives Assistant) and celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Incorporated Church Building Society and its connection with Lambeth Palace Library.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) and to mark the occasion, a new publication ‘Free Seats for All’ by Gill Hedley will be launched on behalf of the National Churches Trust.

As the repository of the ICBS archive, Lambeth Palace Library is proud to showcase the collection and explore the history of the organisation.

Founded in 1818, the ICBS was the principal voluntary Society for promoting the building, enlargement, re-seating, and restoration of Anglican Churches throughout England and Wales. Set up by lay church-members, in response to a huge increase and redistribution in the population and because of a lack of state aid, ICBS was the foremost Society in building and restoring churches throughout the most active period of church building since the Middle Ages.

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ICBS 7232
St Mary Fishponds, Stapleton, Bristol
Alterations and additions, plan dated August 15, 1871.

A parallel initiative subsequently resulted in the government granting a million pounds towards the building of new churches under the guidance of the Church Building Commission.

The Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1828. Whilst it did not build churches, it donated generous grants of up to £500 towards new buildings and, perhaps more importantly, as many parish churches were in a state of disrepair and could not offer accommodation for the poor, supported the restoration and enlargement of existing churches. From 1830 onwards, state aid weakened, and the Society increasingly began to donate money towards the building of new churches. The extra accommodation built was designed and constructed on the principle that it was to be available free of charge so that it was suitable for the poor. The administration of the society was transferred in 1982 to the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, which has now been succeeded by the National Churches Trust.

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ICBS 7972
Holy Trinity, Ingham, Norfolk
Lithograph from The Building News from July 21, 1876 with groundplan, elevations and interior view.

The Society required building request applications to be submitted in a consistent and uniform fashion, with drawings and plans of the proposed work. As a result of such strict guidelines, a wealth of records pertaining to individual churches were created and, as a consequence, a voluminous archive collection was born.

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ICBS 7878
Plan of parish church of St Nicholas, Romersham, 1877, featuring floor tiles in colourful detail.

The ICBS archive includes over 15,000 files relating to applications by parishes for grants from the Society. Catalogue details are accessible online. The earliest file dates from 1818 and the latest from 1982. Individual files may include application forms, correspondence, plans, building specifications, engravings or artists’ impressions, certificates of satisfactory completion, parochial subscription lists, parish magazines, and from 1867 onwards, photographs. The files include over 12,000 plans, accessible online via the Library’s image database. The Library also holds a series of minute books, dating between 1818-1989, numbered 1-36, and additional volumes, numbered 37-42, including a volume relating to the foundation of the Society. The volumes record the proceedings of the ICBS committees and its Annual General Meetings.

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ICBS 3686
Lithographic print of the exterior view of St Matthew’s Church in the parish of Lyncombe and Widcombe, Somerset, dated 1847.

Since becoming available, the records of the Incorporated Church Building Society have been extremely popular with our readers and the collection continues to be one of the most heavily consulted. The ICBS archive documents the work of numerous architects in building new churches and also enlarging and altering existing structures, including some of the most prominent practitioners of their day. Some researchers are interested in the work of particular architects or architectural trends, but the archive constitutes a source on the built heritage of thousands of communities throughout England and Wales, and many enquiries are from local historians interested in a particular church.


Item of Interest: the H. H. Willmore Collection

Today’s Item of Interest post comes from Lizzie Hensman, Archive Assistant at the Church of England Records Centre (CERC), who will be talking about the collection of Henry H. Willmore .

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Window detail of South West Spire

The stage section of the warehouse at the Church of England Record Centre holds a whole range of aging files of obscure origins. Although the Record Centre now only accepts records from the central bodies of the Church of England, we have some collections donated by members of the public.

The Henry H. Willmore Collection is one such donation. Composed of 14 files, it forms a near complete encyclopaedia of church spires in England which was donated to us in 1960 by his widow M. Kathleen Willmore after the Dean of Gloucester made a request for guidebooks to churches. From 1935 to 1940 Willmore visited over 800 churches all over the country, in preparation for publishing a guidebook with a working title of “Stone Spires in England (Including Brick & Stone Examples) With Some Relevant Observations on Towers, Parapets etc.”. He travelled from the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Truro to the parish church of Ambleside in Cumbria. In fact the only counties with no churches included in the main body of his work are Kent, Northumberland and County Durham. Unfortunately Willmore died in September 1940, before managing to complete the work, but what he did do is very impressive.

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Window Detail of Central Spire

The entries for each church include a description of the spire, some history of repairs carried out on it and gorgeous sketches of the windows and ornamentation. It feels like you should be able to play guess the church with some of the more well-known cathedrals. However, some of the drawings are of such small detail that it would seem almost impossible if you didn’t know the church architecture and history well to be able to identify them. So I’ll be very impressed if anyone can work out which cathedral the images here refer to.

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Window detail of North West Spire

The building of the cathedral in question commenced in 1880, but two of the spires weren’t finished until 1910. The architect was John Loughborough Pearson (although it was completed by his son Frank) and it is one of only two English cathedrals to have three spires.

Have you guessed yet?

For anyone wondering, the cathedral was Truro.

As well as entries for almost every stone spired church in England and Monmouthshire, Willmore’s book would have contained a history of architecture in England, focussing, of course, on the use of spires; and explanations of their construction and distribution around the country – making it a remarkable work for a retired Naval Officer with a side interest in architecture.

This collection is available on our online catalogue here.

The Post War Church

St. Anne, East Wittering

The Church of England Record Centre has opened an archive of almost 1000 files on post-war church architecture, providing an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the construction of ecclesiastical buildings in 20th century England.


Faced with a need for building projects to reflect demographic change and respond to the destruction of the Second World War, in the late 1950s, the Church Commissioners created a record of new Anglican churches and church halls constructed after 1946, which they maintained into the 1970s. Compiled initially to provide a pool of inspiration and knowledge for future building projects, the resulting series of files on almost 1000 churches includes architectural plans, photographs and information on the cost, materials, architects and builders.

Although it is apparent that the Commissioners never achieved their aim of a complete record of all new construction, the archive nevertheless offers researchers an opportunity to explore a wide range of architectural styles, techniques and regional variations. The records cover a period when architecture was feeling the effect of restrictions on building materials as well the impact of new thinking on the interaction between church building and function, as vocalised by the Liturgical Movement.

The new catalogue for the archive can be found by searching the online catalogue for ‘CC/Arch’, http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/calmview/

A Tale of Two Churches

St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, has recently won an architectural award for best modern church, awarded by the National Churches Trust.

Reading this while thinking about a subject for a blog post that would illustrate the variety of material held at the Church of England Record Centre, I thought how wonderful it would be if we had some information about St Paul’s to further illuminate the history of this unique church building.

As I made my way through the files in the Record Centre holdings for St Paul’s, I began to notice that the material was leading me in a slightly different direction to the one that  I had expected.

Files at CERC
Files at the Church of England Record Centre, before work began

Starting at the beginning, the first file on St Paul’s opens with a letter dated 1855 from a Mr William Cotton who writes to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners that he has a plot of ‘about 70 acres of land situated in the large and populous parishes of Limehouse and Stepney which I am about to offer for building purposes.’

At this point, St Paul’s did not yet exist and Cotton does not want to just build a new church, but to create a whole new parish.

While the area at that point had a very small population of  around 100-200 people, Cotton was offering sites for 1300-1400 houses, the rents of which would support the incumbent. The population was largely made up of working people and Cotton was keen that this new parish church be ‘like our ancient parish churches, free to all the inhabitants of the proposed parish.’

It is tempting to speculate about the motivation behind this generous bequest. Cotton proposes that the church will be built at a cost of £5000 and that he will endow it with a parsonage and a stipend for the first clergyman of £150 per annum. There is a clue in one of his letters where he mentions that two of his sons are in Holy Orders, but the material in the files gives us precious few insights into the man himself – that would be a different archive and a different story.

Map showing the land bequeathed by Mr. William Cotton, edged in green
Map showing the land bequeathed by Mr. William Cotton, edged in green

The BBC News website explained that the award-winning church was built around 1960. This made me think that the original church must have been heavily damaged in the Second World War, but the only mention of the church in the files is in the form of an Order in Council of 6th January 1944, deferring restoration of the church of St Paul’s for 5 years until 10th May 1948. This Order was then extended ‘until the Commissioners otherwise direct.’

It was surprising then, to find this note on file dated 8th June 1961:

The new church of St Paul was built to an entirely new design almost entirely on the site of the old church. I do not know whether this can properly be classed as restoration (not needing the Commissioners’ approval) or whether it should be regarded as a new church (requiring the Commissioners’ approval). However, I am inclined to think the former and in any case the church has now been built without the Commissioners’ approval and I imagine it is unnecessary at this stage to seek it.  

Turning the page, I then found this somewhat sheepish letter from the London Diocesan Fund dated 20th July 1961:

I am very sorry that inadvertently the Reorganization Committee did not notice that the Order on the 6th January, 1944, had not been rescinded.

These two finds were very suggestive of the chaos of post war Britain, a wonderful piece of pragmatism on the part of the Commissioners and point to the success of Cotton’s new parish in that the strength of the community necessitated a new church to be built. Exploring the files, it was interesting to be led by the material and to see a story begin to emerge that could only be fully completed by exploring other archives with complementary material. From the glimpses of its history that the Church of England Record Centre holds, it seems that St Paul’s has some more interesting stories to be told.

Amy Finn, Archivist, Church of England Record Centre

Records cited:

ECE/7/1/8947 Part 1