From ‘Not Fit for Production’ to Reading Room ready

A volume of three related pamphlets from 1723 in Sion College Library was severely mould damaged and flagged for conservation treatment. They are about the trial of Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, who was charged with treason for his involvement in a Jacobite plot [Sion Main Quarto D34.1/At8]. The paper lost sizing and fused into a block. Previous attempts to open the book had resulted in numerous tears and losses. In many places the paper was very pulpy and weak. The title page of the first pamphlet was adhered to the inside front cover and the last page was adhered to the inside back cover. The boards of the covers were so degraded that it was crumbling and falling away in chunks.

Inside of front cover showing title page adhered to front endpapers and pastedown.

The covers and pages displayed all the colours and textures of mould I have seen on books across my years as a conservator. It was pink, green, black, and grey. It was powdery, granular and imbedded in the paper fibres. During washing, some of the mould was very slimy and slippery.

Thankfully, the central pages were less severely damaged (i.e. less tears rather than no tears, slightly stronger paper rather than incredibly weak and damaged paper). This shows the protective nature of bindings to the text block. Despite the severe damage, this could, with an intense conservation treatment, be saved.

Degraded state of binding and textblock before treatment. Pages are mould damaged and fused together; cover has many large losses.

The covers were removed and the spine was cleaned with xantham gum. The text block was separated along natural breaks into front, middle and back sections. These three sections could then be treated in successive but separate treatments which would help to retain the order of the pages. Due to the damage, it was not possible to check the collation or note any printing errors before treatment, so it was more essential to be diligent about the order of steps undertaken.

The pages were washed in warm water with a small amount of propanol added to aid wetting. A small fan brush, a thin Teflon folder, and fingertips were all that was used to separate the pages. Creating waves of water around the small openings that were initially available allowed the gentle but strong power of water to do much of the work. My fingerprints were the most abrasive tool to interact with the wet pages. In many places the mould was too firmly embedded in the paper and could not be removed without causing damage. Pristine pages were not the end goal. Instead, the intended result was pages that could be turned and a document that could be issued to readers.

Conservator washing pages. Note acidity being released into the water.

After washing, the pages were resized and further treated for mould with a sizing agent in solvent. The methylcellulose size supported the weakened paper fibres and the solvent helped to mitigate any remaining mould spores. Next, the pages were lined with a 5gsm machine-made Japanese tissue adhered with cooked wheat starch paste. The condition of the pages considerably improved after lining. They could now be easily and safely handled. They were arranged into sections and infills applied as needed. Where possible, detached pieces of the original text were repositioned.

After treatment; pages have been washed, lined, repaired and bound into a simple new structure.

With the paper repairs complete, the pages were sewn on linen thread and bound into a pamphlet binding structure devised by the V&A Museum for one of their pamphlet collections. This structure is clean, modern, and non-adhesive. It is slim and lightweight allowing the three pamphlets to be stored in one box which reduces the amount of shelf space needed while still protecting the items. Additionally, this structure more closely resembles the original nature of these items as three related but distinct texts. This item is now safe to handle and can be accessed in the reading room.

Talitha Wachtelborn, Sion College Collection Conservator

Collection Care – A student placement book conservation experience, part 2

By Juliana Cordero, Books and library materials Masters student, West Dean College

My most intensive project while at Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) was the treatment of one book from a two-volume set of world geography from the Sion College Collection, Parallela geographiae vetertis et noua from 1649 B12.0/B76. I worked on this book under the direction of Sion Collection Conservator Talitha Wachtelborn, who completed the second volume.

I assessed and established treatment options to Talitha’s guidance as it was important to have a unified treatment methodology between the two conservators.  Both volumes had detached boards and no spine coverings. The sewing was broken and the spine folds were very brittle due to acid degradation. Additionally, the volume I worked on had deep cuts through several layers of paper where maps had been cut out, presumably for sale individually.

Brown leather book textblock laying on its side with no leather over the spine. Evidence of sewing is visible from six vertical brown stripes across the spine.
Sion College: B12.0 B76 volume 2, untreated spine

After surface cleaning, I locally resized the spine folds in order to add strength to the paper and to limit the number of paper repairs needed. Locally resizing was a new treatment for me, and since learning of it I have implemented it in other conservation projects. The size included a solvent and therefore Tal and I completed a risk assessment and ensured I applied it under fume extraction. The size was applied to the spine folds using a fan brush to allow a light, even coating.

Cream coloured paper bifolio on light table shows brighter areas where paper is missing.
Sion College: B12.0 B76 volume 2, applying Japanese tissue with wheat starch paste while on the light table

Due to the heavy damage and the necessity of resewing the textblock, each individual spine fold was repaired. These repairs were performed on a light table which made it easier to see paper tears and holes and to position the Japanese tissue repair strips. In sections where a conjoined page was missing, it was decided to infill with a western handmade paper that was a similar weight to the original paper. In areas of excessive damage, a heavier weight Japanese tissue was used to infill losses to enable resewing the book. Due to the many repairs needed and my limited placement time, I was unable to complete the entire treatment which would have consisted of resewing the textblock and recovering the spine with leather. The most dramatic photo of the treatment is where the repair sections can be seen next to the unrepaired sections.

Stack of folded cream coloured paper making up the spine of a textblock. Upper section is smoother. Middle section is rough with areas missing. Lower section is smooth.
Sion college: B12.0 B76 volume 2 in mid-treatment, difference between completed sections visible

In addition to my conservation and preservation projects, I participated in several team training sessions. During these sessions and other opportunities, I learnt about:

  • parchment repair methods including historical methods and adhesives,
  • pest management,
  • temperature and humidity checks,
  • the assessment of books for loans,
  • assessing objects for exhibitions and lectures,
  • disaster training,
  • what is needed to prepare for digitization, and
  • a new method of spine removal and lifting of leather on boards in preparation for a leather reback.

Continuing Professional Development

Four people sat around a table. Person in lower left corner is holding a piece of parchment with black and red ink.
Juliana is located lower right corner holding a piece of parchment.
Historic parchment repair workshop with Collection Care team led by Lara Artemis, Senior Conservator

It was not only the collection and location that enabled me to grow as a conservator, but the people that I have met and worked with. The knowledge and skills that I have learned during my placement at LPL are invaluable and will help me succeed in both my Master’s studies and my career.  I would like to thank Lara Artemis, Meagen Smith, Talitha Wachtelborn, Maria Martinez-Viciana, Arianna Mangraviti, Avery Bazemore, and Atsuko Matsumoto for all their teaching and support, and everyone else at LPL who gave me such a warm welcome and helped in making such an amazing opportunity possible.

Preservation – A student placement experience of collection surveying and box-making, part1

By Juliana Cordero, Books and library materials Masters student, West Dean College

As a Master’s student at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, I was lucky enough to have a five-week work placement with the Collections Care team at Lambeth Palace Library (LPL) early in 2022 where I learned new skills and techniques and refined my current abilities. I was given the opportunity to work on different projects and participate in several training activities. The variety of the collections and the people with whom I worked have given me invaluable information and experiences.

The LPL collections allowed me to get a better grounding in the daily routine of a book and library materials conservator by working on preventative conservation projects, assisting with daily tasks, talking with my colleagues about working with new materials and meeting people from different areas in the library. The wonderful and skilled Collections Care conservators welcomed me and were very generous with imparting their knowledge of treatments, techniques, materials, and the many aspects of a conservator role.

I worked on 4 distinct projects during my time at LPL including documenting and cleaning of a portion of the Court of Arches collection (a project written about on this blog by other authors), surveying and rehousing a portion of the Chancel Plans collection, boxing the unhoused Archbishop’s Registers and treating a Sion College volume, see second blog.

Chancel plans

The Chancel plans are composed of architectural drawings of church chancels (the space around the altar). The collection includes a combination of modern machine-made paper, handmade paper and tracing paper in a series of bundles that often contain one or two large paper plans and one or more corresponding tracing papers.

The Chancel plans project allowed me to experience how to survey a large collection and taught me the different elements that need to be noted when undertaking a survey. While I was only able to survey a small portion of the collection, I gained an appreciation of one of the first steps in the conservation of a collection.

Two stacks of creased paper on the left is a cream coloured folded plan and on the left a smaller stack of folded tracing paper pages.
Chancel Plans: a fractured tracing paper plan and the corresponding paper plan before surface cleaning, ECE/11/4/444 Minster (Isle of Sheppy) chancel
A stack of creased paper in layers showing a cream coloured plan with architectural details and measures with a smaller stack of folded tracing paper pages.
Chancel Plans: chancel plan bundle with an larger format plan on paper, three plans on tracing paper and an early photograph, ECE/11/4/446 Moreland Chancel

After completing a portion of the larger survey, the next step was to clean and rehouse the plans. The chancel plans were cleaned using a chemical sponge and a soft brush. The paper plans were often canvas backed and in good condition, which meant that they were easy to clean with gentle motions. However, the tracing paper condition varied depending on types of tracing paper. Some of the tracing paper plans were extremely fragile and damaged while others were in good condition.

A tracing paper plan of Milton next Sittingbourne chancel after surface cleaning and flattening
Chancel Plans: Unfolded and cleaned tracing paper plan, ECE/11/4/441 Milton next Sittingbourne chancel
A tracing paper plan of Milton next Sittingbourne chancel in archival plastic sleeve for safe handling
Chancel Plans: Tracing paper plan housed in sleeve for safer handling, ECE/11/4/441 Milton next Sittingbourne chancel

Most of the damage to the tracing paper documents was along the folds. Due to their brittle nature it was often not possible to unfold the documents without fracturing them. Tracing paper documents that were already damaged or were too fragile to unfold, were placed in a manila folder awaiting conservation treatment. Tracing paper and heavier weight documents in good condition and able to be unfolded were surface cleaned and rehoused in labeled Melinex™ sleeves.

I valued this project as it introduced me to the treatment and handling of translucent papers. Because of the range in dates of the chancel plans, I was able to see the transitions and changes in manufacturing and quality over time.

Archbishop’s Registers

Juliana Cordero standing on the right using a wooden book measuring tool with a brown volume within the measuring bed.
Archbishop’s Registers: Measuring registers
Eight grey archival upright book boxes
Archbishop’s Registers: Completed boxes ready to be reshelved

Boxing the Archbishop’s Registers was good practice for making collection housing while limiting material waste. Under the guiding eye of Avery, I measured and made 33 boxes using a Zund project cutter which infinitely speeds up the box making process over hand cutting each box. Despite the electronic help, it is even more important to be accurate in the measuring of each volume. Each book was carefully measured and information recorded about the archbishop, date, volume, and record number so it could be printed on the box spine. The dimensions were input into the Zund software and the box was cut. Part of the purpose of the project was to fit several boxes on one sheet of folding box board in order to maximize material usage.

Juliana Cordero, a woman, standing to the left of two shelves of grey boxes
Archbishop’s Registers: Completed boxing of the collection. Remember to calculate expansion space!

Collections Care taster day: Court of Arches

By Kris Massengale, Library and Information Studies MA student, University College London

During a two-week work placement at Lambeth Palace Library, I was invited to participate in a day’s worth of the Court of Arches act books restoration project at the Collections Care studio as a taster session of sorts to become acquainted with the Library’s approach to conservation. I was joined by both a new member of the Library staff and by a master’s student from a different university than myself who was writing an article on the damaging properties of iron gall ink, and for this reason sought the guidance of Lambeth’s experienced conservators. We were brought into the studio bright and early and given a comprehensive rundown on the terminology, methodology, and background of the project, as well as why it is important to the Library and its users before we tried our hand at conservation work in practice. The details of our preparation and the processes that followed will be outlined in detail below.

Methods of Evaluation

As an introduction to the Collections Care studio and the Court of Arches act papers restoration project, we discussed how and why collections decay, and what can be done to mitigate this process. The following elements were identified as possible agents of deterioration:

  • Dissociation
  • Fire
  • Incorrect temperature
  • Incorrect relative humidity
  • Light
  • Physical forces
  • Pests
  • Pollutants
  • Thieves and vandals
  • Water

Relevant to the conservation strategies used is the fact that the Court of Arches collection exists in varying states of physical degeneration or injury as a result of improper storage and exposure to the elements. The quality of most – if not all – of the documents were affected predominantly by dirt, either ingrained into the material itself or sitting atop the surface as a blemish, limiting the legibility of the manuscript text. That isn’t to say, however, that all of the damage can be attributed solely to environmental neglect. In the single day I spent working with the materials, I encountered, for example, fire damage that could be attributed most likely to instances of human incaution, such as a candle being knocked askew upon a desktop. Thus, it is important to understand the role of accidental mishandling, both contemporary to the time of their creation, and that which remains a risk when users and staff interact with archival materials in the present day.

The act books vary in size, composition, and material, with little consistency to their design. Typically, an outer layer of parchment will serve as the wrapper for the rest of the materials inside; this parchment will often have taken the brunt of the elemental damage, meaning that it is dirtier compared to the inner contents. Many of the texts are oversized, and weights are used to flatten them during the cleaning process. Inside the wrapper, there could be more parchment, or – especially true as one traces a progression through time, when the cost of paper production becomes less prohibitively expensive – paper folios (Andersen and Sauer, 2022, p.46).

An example of corrosive iron ink gall damage.
[Fig. 1] An example of corrosive iron gall ink damage

Iron gall ink is the most common writing material with which manuscripts were written. This is problematic in that, despite its popularity and accessibility during the Early Modern period, and as previously mentioned in regards to the research interests of the other postgraduate student who joined us on this day, iron gall inks are corrosive [Fig. 1]. Iron gall inks were created through an assortment of methods and ingredients, thus making the approach to their conservation complicated at best. Originally made the ink of choice for manuscripts due to its deep, black colour, iron gall inks fade over time into a characteristic brown; the reason for this transformation, however, is not fully understood (Díaz Hidalgo, Córdoba, Nabais, et. al., 2018, p.2-3). The solution itself is typically composed of iron salts, gum arabic, and, most significantly, gallic acid, which is extracted from tree galls boasting a high concentration of tannin by being cooked, soaked, or fermented; galls themselves were formed by the eggs of parasites such as aphids, wasps, and flies within certain types of trees (Ibid., p.5).

Though a single, agreed approach to the mitigation of corrosion from iron gall ink has yet to be decided, Lambeth Palace Library takes a preventative approach to further deterioration through careful handling of materials most susceptible to loss from iron gall ink-related fragility. That is, careful assessment and monitoring of the instances in which this damage has occurred, and restricting access to the documents most vulnerable to further cracking, tearing, and abrasion are some of the ways in which the Collections Care department works to ensure that the historical legacy of documents such as the Court of Arches act books will be preserved for future generations.

A damage code document was compiled by conservators working on the project, wherein acronyms have been assigned to describe the condition of documents for ease of assessment. Outlining the possible imperfections that one may encounter when handling the act books, the document is flexible and can be modified in response to new discoveries as they occur. This is the first step in the restoration process, which is undertaken by contract conservationists and members of the Collections Care staff in turn. The documents are assessed according to the damage code document by conservators before the cleaning process begins, with additional notes being added as one progresses through the material. As the act books had already been accessioned and catalogued by the Archives department in 2021, the burden of textual bibliography is not a concern of those working on the project. Let us now take a closer look at the meaning of the codes within the document, which are recorded on a sheet of paper during the assessment process.

At work in the Collections Care studio.
[Fig. 2a] At work in the Collections Care studio

The first line of assessment occurs when conservators note physical material of which the document is composed. As previously mentioned, a parchment (PC) wrapper (WR) was often used as a protective sheath for the internal paper (PP) documents. Similarly, all of the documents include writing, typically in iron gall ink (IGI). It is not uncommon to find evidence of applied wax seals (AWS) or embossed paper wax seals (EPWS) upon further investigation into the material. While some of the documents are sewn (SEW) together, others are pinned (PI), or held together by a parchment tacket (PTK). Evidence of revenue stamps (RST) also become increasingly common as one moves chronologically through the collection.

The material is then assessed based on observable damage. There are three categories of assessment, indicating that the items are in “Good,” “Fair,” or “Poor” condition, respectively. Just as well, these fields are open to modification; I was told that the conservators have recently decided to add a “Very Poor” condition category due to the extensive damage present on many of the documents. Dust (DU) and ingrained dirt (ID) is common, especially on parchment wrappers; the internal papers are typically cleaner, with the wrapper preserving its internal contents. There are several categories which allow for granularity when describing physical damage resulting in loss to the documents. Small edge tears (SET) are set apart from large edge tears (LET), just as creases (CR), which indicate unintentional creasing in the paper, are differentiated from folds (FLD), indicating likely intentional, permanent folding of the material. Instances of brittle paper (BP) and brittle parchment (BPC) are also recorded, so that decisions can be made in terms of the suitability of the documents to be handled by the public.

Used chemical sponges and vinyl erasers after a full day of restoration work
[Fig. 2b] Used chemical sponges and vinyl erasers after a full day of restoration work

The final two columns, “Treatment” and “Conservation materials used,” are handled by the head of the project; thus, my involvement in the process ended here, aside from the use of vinyl erasers (VE) and chemical sponges (CS) by the other volunteers and myself to clean the documents to the best of our ability once we had assessed them and recorded the appropriate damage codes [Fig. 2a, Fig. 2b]. A “before” and “after” of the cleaning process, that of my own work, can be seen in [Fig. 3a, Fig. 3b]. After the materials have been assessed and cleaned (in this case by myself and the two individuals who joined me on this day), repairs are made by the head of the project, who looks at the damage codes we have recorded throughout the process and decides on an approach to take in the repair of the materials. This can include unfolding material that ought not be folded (UF), traditional repair to paper (TRP), humidification (H), pressing (PW), or washing the documents by hand (W). While the collection was assessed for the presence of mould by the archivists who accessioned it, and was deemed clear, the possibility of mould still exists and is reflected in the “Treatment” category on the basis of whether the mould removal was done chemically or mechanically (MOURM, MOURC).

 A Court of Arches act book document before cleaning
[Fig. 3a] A Court of Arches act book document before cleaning
The same document after being cleaned
[Fig. 3b] The same document after being cleaned

An anecdote – perhaps legendary in conception – was supplied to me by the Collections Care team to illustrate the importance of staff literacy in conservation. It went like this:

An older individual had served as the sole librarian tending to a rural library for approximately half a century. When conservators arrived for an appraisal of the collection, it was discovered that an observable portion of the books suffered from similar patterns of damage to the spine. This librarian had, over the course of many years, pulled books from the tightly-packed shelves by the spine. Over time, this constituted long-term damage to the binding, and the spine began to separate from the text block until, eventually, it would become detached altogether. It was not that this librarian did not care about the preservation of the library’s holding; rather, it was an issue of ignorance on the topic of best practice in collections care.

This instance of one librarian causing so much damage to a collection was meant to drive home the point that damage is always cumulative. The books were not damaged by one or two instances of mishandling, but by the same act being performed repeatedly over a number of years. Each time we interact with an object, we are subjecting it to wear. Even delicate handling only serves to slow the process of deterioration. Beyond user requests and subsequent handling in the Reading Room, all interactions with printed and archival materials serve as points of departure for aggregate deterioration of the collections. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Retrieving
  • Carrying
  • Shelving
  • Reading
  • Issuing
  • Cataloguing
  • Browsing
  • Exhibiting
  • Copying or imaging

Therefore, it is important to note that the everyday tasks we perform as librarians have just as much potential to damage materials as misuse by patrons – perhaps more so. Because we handle these items everyday, there runs the risk of overlooking their importance, and subsequently our personal responsibility in their preservation. In one example of combatting dissociation during conservation work, Lambeth Palace Library encourages employees to take frequent breaks so that they can separate themselves from their work and refocus when necessary.

Collections care in libraries and archives should be a task allocated not only to conservators, but the duty of everyone who interacts with the materials – staff and users alike. Lambeth Palace Library has taken a robust approach in their conservation training, making it a priority rather than an afterthought in their policy. It is important to note that damage to collections is not only cumulative, but that the role of library staff as the people who interact with the materials more frequently than anyone else plays a significant role in this cumulative damage. The opportunity to participate in the Court of Arches act books restoration project as an introduction to the Collections Care studio is a visionary initiative to involve staff outside of Collections Care, as well as external students and professionals, with the department, allow them to ask any questions they may have about conservation, and try their hand at the craft. To analyse materials for damage using a clear methodology is crucial in teaching users and staff alike to identify and isolate these instances of damage as they come across them.


Andersen, J. and Sauer, E. eds., 2002. Books and readers in early modern England: material studies. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Díaz Hidalgo, R.J., Córdoba, R., Nabais, P., Silva, V., Melo, M.J., Pina, F., Teixeira, N. and Freitas, V., 2018. New insights into iron-gall inks through the use of historically accurate reconstructions. Heritage Science, 6(1), pp.1-15.

What the History student should know about archive collection care

By Georgia Wood, History Masters student, Queen Mary University of London

As someone currently undertaking a History MA at Queen Mary University of London, I feel somewhat qualified to speak on how a history student thinks about archives. I perceive archives as treasure troves of knowledge awaiting discovery and analysis, but never considered how the pieces I request get into my hands.

Teaching about the archive mostly surrounds what considerations the history student and future historian need to make when considering the materials we can access. However, one problem that is brushed over during our course is the physical condition of documents that have often been carelessly discarded and then exhumed by archivists.

My workshop at Lambeth Palace Library was dominated by being taught how to clean and conserve manuscripts. An incredibly delicate process, cleaning manuscripts is necessary to ensure that not only the text is visible and legible, but also ensure the cleanliness and safety of the archive and its users. I had never considered the need to quarantine and observe a collection for possible infestations or active mould. Upon seeing Lambeth’s quarantine room where newly acquired items are held in wait before they can be examined by the archivists, I began to reconsider the role of the archive and how historians understand historical documents.

Rectangular piece of parchment with middle section a dark brown from ingrained dirt.
Court of Arches [Bbb/818] at start of surface cleaning

I was assigned to cleaning documents from the Court of Arches, Bbb series, created in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I saw how a document can be given new life under the care of conservators. From being almost unintelligible due to the sheer amount of dust and grime on the items, the collection care team was able to get the documents to a condition they could be used by researchers in the reading room.

Three people sitting around a work bench cleaning archive items.
Georgia (middle), History MA student at Queen Mary University of London, cleaning Court of Arches collection items along with Lambeth Palace staff.

The tools a conservator uses is an area I felt I had some understanding of. As a history student a lot of my recommended online media is related to the subject and therefore I have watched quite a few painting restoration videos from large institutions. I assumed that any historical item being restored/conserved had specialist equipment developed to help ensure the best outcome. However, this is not the case. One of the primary tools I used to clean the documents, a smoke sponge, was initially developed to help remove fire soot from walls. The historian is acutely aware of the lack of investment in the humanities, but I had never considered how this would impact the archive. Material held in the archive is the centre piece of historical research and therefore the preservation of historical materials should be a topic in which the historian takes a keen interest.

Rectangular piece of parchment with middle section a dark brown from ingrained dirt.
Court of Arches [Bbb/818] after surface cleaning

Before my experience in the Collection Care studio at Lambeth Palace Library, I had never thought of documents of historical interest being outside the temperature controlled walls of accredited institutions. Perhaps this is because I am a modern political history student, or because I had rarely considered the life of the items I was analysing outside of their initial production, but whatever the case I had never thought documents could become so dirty. My day spent at Lambeth was incredibly enlightening. The next time I go to the archive I will definitely consider how the documents I have requested may have looked before they were left in the care of the archive and made accessible to researchers.