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.


With the support of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, a project to identify documents within the archive of the Court of Arches which were missing from the catalogue has been completed. The project focused on series E: libels, articles, allegations and interrogatories. In total 287 missing documents were identified and catalogued, comprising 95 parchments and 483 paper leaves. They range in date from 1662 to 1786 and reflect the variety of the Court’s jurisdiction in areas such as marriage, divorce, wills and probate, defamation, clergy morals and conduct, tithes and church buildings. The newly catalogued items enhance the documentation on hundreds of cases before the Court, providing vivid glimpses into forgotten lives. Interesting cases to which the project has added new documentation concerned the wills of Archbishops Juxon and Sheldon, the dilapidation of the bishops’ palaces at Lichfield and Peterborough after the destruction of the Commonwealth era, the clandestine marriage of Frances Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon, and the divorces of political figures such as Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford, John Vaughan, 2nd Viscount Lisburne, and Trevor Hill, 1st Viscount Hillsborough. A further divorce case concerned Sir John Reade who had the unusual distinction of being made a baronet by both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. The project also brought to light an unexpected item amongst the libels, an original rate book for the parish of St. Paul, Deptford, 1768.

A guide to the archive of the Court of Arches, with information on its jurisdiction and procedure and extensive bibliography, has also been added to the Library’s online catalogue of archives and manuscripts.

Example of a case in the Court of Arches (MQ808.G7S8TP)

The Will of Dick Whittington

The tale of Dick Whittington and his cat has become part of traditional folklore and is especially popular in pantomime form at this time of year. Although the real story of Richard Whittington may differ from the familiar classic in many ways it is no less inspiring. Details of his life and work can be gleaned from historic documents including his last will and testament which is recorded in the register of Archbishop Henry Chichele and held at Lambeth Palace Library.

Register of Archbishop Chichele containing Whittington’s will
Register of Archbishop Chichele containing Whittington’s will

Richard Whittington began his time in London apprenticed to a mercer. On completing his apprenticeship he became a freeman of the Mercers’ Company. He went on to become a leading merchant, accumulating a large fortune and playing an important part in London civic life including being elected Lord Mayor of London on four occasions. He died in 1423 and was buried with his wife at the church of St. Michael Paternoster, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Richard Whittington made his will in 1421 and it was proved after his death in March 1423. Before the establishment of a new Court of Probate based in London in 1858, a complicated network of more than 200 church courts across the country were responsible for proving wills. During the first half of the 15th century the Archbishop of Canterbury also had the unique authority to prove wills of his own accord.  As a result the Archbishop’s registers for this period contain a number of significant wills including those of royalty such as Edward III and Edward, Prince of Wales (more commonly known as the Black Prince) as well as notable citizens such as Whittington.

Wills can be illuminating historical sources, providing valuable insight into the lives of individuals and the time in which they lived. Concern for the welfare of the soul was paramount during the medieval period and charitable giving was a common feature in testaments of the time. Richard Whittington’s will is no exception citing some thirty separate bequests, most of which obliged the recipient to offer up prayers for Whittington and his wife.

Start of Whittington’s entry in the register
Start of Whittington’s entry in the register

Whittington gave to a plethora of causes including donations to monastic houses, towards the fabric of several London churches, legacies to poor prisoners in Newgate Gaol, and other London gaols, as well as inmates of assorted London hospitals. The rest of his estate was left to his executors to dispose of in works of charity for the good of his soul. They used it to set up a trust which contributed to various causes including the rebuilding of Newgate Gaol, the founding of a library at the Guildhall and improvements to the City’s water supplies. It was also used to establish a College of Priests and an Almshouse for poor men and women. The government of the College and Almshouse was assigned to the Mercers’ Company and although the College no longer exists the Almshouse (although essentially re-founded in the 19th century) continues to be administered by the Mercers’ Company under the name Whittington College.

The will of Richard Whittington can be viewed at Lambeth Palace Library on microfilm (ms film705, Register of Archbishop Chichele, folio 354). The register of Archbishop Chichele is also available published as part of the Canterbury and York Society series and also as an edition by Clarendon Press. More information on the Mercers’ Company and their history can be found on their website at: http://www.mercers.co.uk/.