Filling the holes in history

History sometimes gets a bit tatty around the edges. Most of the documents we look after were originally created as working items, things to be used, referred to, added to, amended, and carried around.

Wear and tear is inevitable, but fortunately modern conservation techniques can make once fragile documents much stronger again and allow us to make them accessible to researchers.

This map shows a plan of a late Victorian development in Leigh-on-Sea that will be on display at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017. It dates from 1893, and had several small splits in it and a rather large hole on one edge. To make it ready for display we took it to our expert conservator Diane Taylor. This short photo story will take you through the process of how the biggest hole in the map was repaired.

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Senior Conservator Diane Taylor working on a plan of the Victorian development of the Leigh Hall Estate, dating from 1893 (D/DS 365/2/1). The map shows part of an important stage in the development of the town, when open land was sold off in plots for new houses to be built.

The process begins with preparing a sheet of Japanese tissue paper, a very fine but strong tissue paper which will be used as a backing for the map to give it strength. The tissue is laid onto the glass surface of a large light box, and sprayed with a fine mist of distilled water, then covered with an even layer of wheat starch paste, which will act as an adhesive. The map itself is then also sprayed with distilled water and laid on top of the tissue (the idea of getting documents wet sounds alarming, but many kinds of older paper and ink can get wet without disintegrating). The map is then covered in a sheet of transparent polythene and smoothed down with a wide flat brush.

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Diane carefully shapes a piece of new, traditionally-made paper to fit the hole as precisely as possible, with just a small overlap. Wheat starch paste adhesive is used to adhere the infill to the map and the tissue backing.

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Using the light box, Diane closely examines the other smaller splits in the map and makes sure they are all closed up and securely adhered to the tissue backing.

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Once the infill is in place and the splits carefully realigned, the map is again covered with the polythene sheet and a wide brush is used to smooth everything down.

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The main repair will now need to be left to dry, and the edge of the piece of infill will then be trimmed to be flush with the edge of the map.

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The polythene is peeled back to reveal a repaired but wet map.

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The map is covered with thick felts to absorb the water and begin the drying process.

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Wooden boards are placed over the felts to press them and draw water out of the map.

After drying, the edges of the tissue backing and the infill repair will be trimmed, and the map will be clean and strong and ready for researchers to use.

Join us at Leigh-on-Sea on the Map on Saturday 18 February 2017 at The Forum in Southend to see this map alongside several others tracing the development of Leigh from a small fishing village to the town we see today. Find full details here.

Guest post: ‘an adventure beyond words’

This guest post is written by Ben, Grace, Evie, Akmal, Toby, Ben, Grace, Lucas and Bella who are all in year 5 at Broomfield Primary School. They were shown around the ERO by Neil Wiffen, Public Service Team Manager, and Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer. If you would like to arrange a visit for an educational group, please get in touch with us on heritage.education@essex.gov.uk

My teacher and a small group of pupils were invited to The Essex Record Office. Not the CD, track kind of record: the letter, diary, document kind of record. We were not just fascinated to find out some amazing facts, we were amazed to see some facts that gave us a link to things from hundreds of years ago. On our journey through time we filled our brains with lots of information and fun facts.

Why does the Essex Record Office (ERO) exist? Some people have interesting artefacts in their home but it’s no good having it all there! The ERO provide the capability of looking at all the information you need in one place.  You do not have to make appointments in different buildings, the ERO has everything you need, but they have certain rules. These include not taking any bags (at all!) into the Searchroom.  This is because some naughty people try and steal the information. The other rule was to use pencil only, as they don’t want to ruin any documents or information. The ERO is for people of all ages – there is no limit. You cannot only just have fun and find out information, you can understand and communicate with the past.

When the ERO was opened in 2000, there was a model made of a flower designed by pupils [ed.: the sculpture which runs alongside the public stairs up to the Searchroom]. The roots were to represent that History is in the past, the stem shows that were are the present.  The flower and the seeds (which were binary 1 and 0s) represented the information travelling out in the future.

When we walked into the Searchroom Mr Wiffen explained about the organization of the documents. We thought it sounded quite complicated but actually it turned out to be a lot easier than we thought. IMG_5792 They have this website called Seax (a Seax is an Anglo Saxon stabbing sword and on the Essex County Council logo, the swords are Seaxes).  The website called Seax helps you to find documents VERY quickly and efficiently.  We searched for ‘Maps of Broomfield’ and it came up with 113 results.  The earliest was made in 1591 and the latest was made in 2007. To search, you type in the key words, and then it shows you all the search results with the key words in date order.

Hannah then informed us about a pie chart that someone made from the information in a book called a Parish Register which had a list of Births, Deaths or Marriages.  Somebody looked at details telling us about deaths in the 1830s.  We were shocked to hear that over half the people died under the age of 10!!

We definitely realised that Seax was helpful, especially for people who live overseas and love historical documents, because anyone around the world can ask for things to be put on there.  It is much cheaper than travelling to the ERO, but it was more fun to go there for our visit.

After we observed the picture-perfect painting of James I [ed.: on display in the Searchroom], Hannah told us that when monarchs wanted portraits of themselves, they would have chosen props that represented them. For example, Elizabeth I chose a globe to show she has invaded different nations. We should look for clues in paintings, not just at the person who has been painted. IMG_5800 Next Mr Wiffen pulled a draw out full of envelopes and picked up a microfiche, which is miniscule pictures of wills and newspapers.  The reason why the newspapers are made smaller is because you can keep lots of information on a small sheet of film and the big news paper takes up a lot of room, is very thin and will disintegrate. You have to place the microfiche in a machine, so that when you look through, it will magnify and illuminate it big enough for people to read it. IMG_5807 Mr Wiffen showed us a couple of unique maps of Broomfield in the past. The first one we looked at was from 1846. It was an enormous map and Broomfield looked empty and lonely, with fewer houses and more greenery.  We found that our school and houses had not been built yet. We put our fingers on our invisible houses. Bromfield Hospital was not there yet either, but the area where it would be built was called Puddings Wood. IMG_5832 Then we looked at the earliest map of Broomfield which was made in 1591 by John Walker.We could see the beautiful colours to show the roads, houses and landmarks.  It was made for Widow Wealde and showed all of her land. D-DVk 1 watermarked The next map we looked at was created and drawn by hand in 1771 of Broomfield, it is 244 years old. It showed a field called Drakes Fut, which is near our school.  It is now called Dragon Foot Field. We talked about a legend from 1,00 years ago.  Every day workers would build a bit of Broomfield Church and use strange red bricks and tiles that they found in the field.  But in the night, when they were sleeping, a dragon would take all the bricks and bury them back in the field. Imagine how the builders felt when the dragon took their building materials! They must have felt frustrated and scared. Nowadays, we know the bricks and tiles were made by Romans and there was a villa in that field. Bricks and tiles from the villa can be seen in the walls of Broomfield Church.

Shortly after, we were showed a map from 1919 in Broomfield. There were 2 coffee shops and here is a photograph to prove that it really did exist.  We were surprised that people used to go out for a coffee, just like we do today.  Coffee shops were there to stop people from spending all of their money in the pubs. But even 100 years ago there were no roads, just mud. The road outside Broomfield Primary School was just mud too – and it looked VERY muddy.

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One of Broomfield’s two coffee shops (from the Fred Spalding Collection)

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Broomfield School and a very muddy unmade road (from the Fred Spalding Collection)

There is a pub called The Saracens Head on the High Street in Chelmsford.  We saw a photograph if it showing the American soldiers who used to go there to interact and relax. Back in the Second World War, Mr Wiffen’s dad (who lived in Broomfield) had heard planes fighting overhead when he was a boy.  Would you like it if bullet cases were falling on your shed?  That’s what he could hear, but he was probably in his Anderson Shelter.  Forty years later, he found a spent bullet case (probably from those fights) in his back garden.

Broomfield has lots of things in the ground from different periods of history.  How would you feel to be standing on history, or to never find artefacts that could be worth millions! We had an amazing time looking at the spectacular maps.

After that we carefully opened a box that was in another box with another padded cover.  Inside was a special bible that Charles I had before his gruesome and terrifying beheading happened. Somehow, Charles’s librarian Patrick Young, got his hands on it and gave it to his granddaughter Sarah who gave it to the Broomfield Church. IMG_5880 IMG_5883 When the Church was being renovated, apparently the builders dropped it by accident!  They decided to give the responsibility to the ERO to protect the Bible forever. The Bible has an amazing silver outline with a glorious red velvet cover, decorated with a lion, a unicorn, a crest of arms and initials. IT MUST’VE COST MILLIONS!!!!!  The lion was very detailed with tiny silver stitches – the mane swerving in different directions and the ribs and claws very clearly seen.  He has two beady bead eyes.

The ERO looks after Log Books from different schools, and here is a page from Broomfield Primary School in 1912.  The book sat on a special pillow to protect the spine and showed the beginning of the school summer holidays.  the school was closed so that the children could go and help with pea picking for the harvest.  Food was important – everyone needed to help collect enough food to get through the next winter.  That is why we have six weeks off in the summer.   Luckily we don’t actually have to pick peas any more!

Eventually, we reached the storage room after a long walk from the library. The storage room keeps all of the documents and old books safe. The humidity and temperature was cool enough to preserve them for even longer than usual. To access the room, Mr. Wiffen had to scan his staff card in a laser. We had to be quick going in because the door shut after 30 seconds!

As soon as we got in we felt a lot cooler and looked at huge rolls and lots of shelves and books. First of all, he showed us the stacks. These have codes on them to help staff find the right document quickly. They are moveable so they can fit more of them in. There are 8 miles of shelves altogether. He also told us that the red pipes let out a special gas during a fire to prevent the special files from burning.  Water would damage the documents, and so would foam, so gas is safer for the documents.  However, if the fire alarm goes off you have only 45 seconds to escape!

Next, Mr. Wiffen showed some precious packages, one of which was an Anglo Saxon document from 962 AD, written on parchment (Animal skin). They were deeds from Devon, part of Lord Petre’s collection. This is the oldest item in the collection.

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Looking at the ERO’s oldest document, an Anglo-Saxon charter from 962 (D/DP T209)

He then showed us a huge, hand drawn and hand coloured old map of Chelmsford from 1591, by John Walker. Even though it was old, the colours were bright and beautiful.  On the edge of Chelmsford, were two little lines to show the town gallows.  Who would have thought they would build grizzly gallows in such a beautiful town? And right behind the town centre was a field called the Back Sides, where John Lewis will be built!

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John Walker’s map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

Lastly, we scurried out past the timed doors and saw a strange thing.  It did look peculiar, but it was one of the camera’s dust covers: a chicken tea cosy! If you live in Australia and want a photograph of a document, they will use the really good camera to take an image and then send it to you.

Then we continued our journey to the Conservation Room. The Conservation Room is a room where they carefully fix and clean documents, maps and letters. A lady called Diane showed us all the things that she needed, and some things that she couldn’t fix. For instance a letter, which was folded up into a bundle and tied up, had been burnt by fire and had got very brown.  It felt harder than metal – however it would be very, very easy to break if anyone tried to unroll the document.  Nobody would ever know what was written on it.  On the other hand, some Americans have now invented a machine, which mysteriously x-rays the bundle and scans the letters by looking at the ink inside, and makes a reconstruction that shows you what it had on it before it went in the fire. Maybe one day somebody will be able to put this document in and see what it is all about.  Right now, all we know is a date of 1917, which we found when we examined it. IMG_5955 Next Diane showed us a paper document that had lots of mould on it. She said it would never come off, so if you at home have very special letter or something else, make sure it’s not in your loft where mould will develop. The only writing on this was ‘{Be is re……..day of……year of the reign of our……. of Great Britain, Franc…….and fo forth.’  The rest of the paper had disintegrated. As well as that, we were allowed to hold a real piece of parchment.  It is animal skin and is very strong.  It lasts much better than paper so we could touch it. There also was large a circular thing made of wax. It looked a giant coin because it had Queen Victoria on her throne. On the other side, it was a picture of her on a horse.  A quarter of it had been smashed on the floor. Most of words were in Latin, however most of it we could read. These big seals were attached to important documents to show that the King or Queen agreed with what was written inside it.

IMG_5966 Last of all, Diane showed us scientific equipment such as a measuring container that could make sure that when she fixed using different liquids, she had the right amount of it. For example if she needed a litre of water, she could make sure there’s not too much and not too little.  There were other scientific instruments to make sure the temperature and humidity were exactly right in the room all the time.  It was interesting to see how Science and History were used together in one job.

We had a mind-blowing time at the ERO, our brains were stretched. It was an experience of a life time and an adventure beyond words. We had no idea it would be so interesting and would like to say thank you to the ERO for giving us an amazing tour, we learnt lots! It’s a brilliant place to find out many things. The people who work there are very kind and friendly.  They were experts and shared all their knowledge and information with us from generations ago. We were mad at Mrs McIntyre (our teacher) for making us leave, and were desperate to stay to find out more about our own pasts and where we lived. We hope to be back soon…

By Ben, Grace, Evie, Akmal, Toby, Ben, Grace, Lucas and Bella, Broomfield Primary School

Tiny books

Hannah Salisbury, Access and Participation Officer

Recently I was looking for examples of early printed works in our collections, and came across D/DDc F10 – two boxes full of bibles and prayer books that belonged to the Du Cane family of Braxted Park. Most date from the eighteenth century, but some are earlier and many contain written inscriptions telling us who they were owned by.

IMG_5403I happen to like things in miniature, so my eyes were quickly drawn to this prayer book, which is one of the smallest in the collection, and contains correspondingly tiny type. It has now had a special folder made for it to give it some extra protection when stored back in its box.

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I had already enjoyed my first find, so imagine how much more excited I got on discovering this next book – even tinier at just 2.5 inches high.

IMG_5407It is a book of psalms written in a kind of shorthand developed by a man named Jeremiah Rich.

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Our Conservator has also made a special folder for this extra tiny book, again to give it some extra protection when it is stored with its larger neighbours.

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The book was originally stored in this scruffy envelope inside the box, so the new folder is a considerable improvement!

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Both books are now neatly and safely wrapped up in their new folders ready to go back into their box and back into store.

IMG_5429If you are a fan of books, why not join one of our bookbinding workshops to make your own book using traditional techniques? The next course begins on 2 March 2015 – details can be found on our events page.

Cleaning tracing paper

This tracing paper plan is being conserved at the Essex Record Office as part of the Chancellor Project. This is a project to clean, repair, repackage and catalogue the 10,000 or so plans we hold from the office of Fred Chancellor, a prolific Victorian architect.

The plans are beautifully produced, and many of them are highly coloured. Chancellor is credited with over 700 works, about 530 of which are in Essex. He worked on all types of buildings – from farm buildings and private houses to schools, hospitals and other large public buildings – and in several different styles.

The collection includes plans in several different formats on different types of material. Most of the plans are on paper, but a good proportion are also on tracing paper. A smaller number are on tracing cloth, and there are also a few blueprints.
Of these, the tracing paper plans are the most fragile and require the most repair. This video shows one of ERO’s professional conservators cleaning one of these tracing paper plans, which will then be repaired while still wet, and then dried.
The Chancellor Project is mainly staffed by volunteers, who are kindly giving up their time to painstakingly clean the paper plans. So far, about 1,500 plans have been cleaned, repaired and repackaged.

The project will take several years to complete, and more and more plans will become accessible over the next few years as progress is made. Plans that have already been cleaned and catalogued include Chelmsford Workhouse, later St John’s Hospital, Ingatestone Rectory, and several churches.

The project has been made possible by grants from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and Essex Heritage Trust, which have been used to purchase the materials needed.

Conservators galore

Essex Record Office recently hosted a meeting of the Archives and Records Association (ARA) Conservation Training Scheme with Trainees coming from other Offices as far away as Lancashire, Pembrokeshire and Derbyshire. The scheme aims to train Archive Conservators to be able to preserve and repair the extremely varied material found in a county record office, dealing with the theoretical knowledge of the history and science behind the materials and the practical skills required to preserve historic documents for the future.

Following a tour of the building and facilities at ERO, Trainees were instructed on the conservation of photographic negatives by Photographic Conservator, Rosalind Bos. During this session Rosalind described the types of materials used in the production of negatives and the conservation challenges caused by unstable plastic negatives. Methods for the conservation of damaged glass plates negatives were demonstrated including the sandwiching of a broken negative between two glass plates with a tight border of mount board to provide pressure on the pieces and keep them in place. A negative repaired like this can be safely stored, handled and digitised without causing further harm.

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Conservator Rosalind Bos talks to Trainee Conservators on techniques used in photographic conservation

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A broken photographic negative sandwiched between glass and held in place by a specially made border

ERO’s Conservation staff, Tony King and Diane Taylor, ran a session on the technique of leafcasting in the afternoon. Leafcasting is a method by which paper documents with weakened areas, tears and holes can be repaired using liquid paper pulp. The document is held underwater positioned on a fine mesh and the liquid pulp is added to the water. Once a vacuum is turned on the water rushes through the mesh depositing the pulp in the holes in the document, once pressed and dried the pulp forms new paper in the holes. You can see how this process works in our leafcasting video here.

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Gathered in the glow of the leafcaster

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A paper document repaired with fresh paper pulp in the leafcaster

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Looking at paper documents repaired by the leafcaster after they have had a chance to dry

The day gave the Trainees a chance to learn about several specialist conservation techniques as carried out by staff at ERO and was a great opportunity to share ideas and approaches with colleagues from all over the country.

Conservation: cleaning a 629 year old seal

To accompany The Fighting Essex Soldier: Recruitment, War and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century conference on 8 March 2014, Dr Jennifer Ward is preparing a display of documents for our Searchroom. We are in the process of preparing the documents for display, which has included cleaning a beautiful wax seal from 1384 which has survived remarkably intact.

This seal belongs to an indenture between Thomas Holland and Richard II concerning the governorship of Cherbourg, made in 1384 (D/DRg 1/62). Thomas Holland (1350-1397) was earl of Kent and Richard’s older half-brother, and the seal is his badge.

Thomas was the son of another Thomas Holland and Joan, ‘The Fair Maid of Kent’. After her first husband’s death in 1360, Joan married Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince, son of King Edward III.

Richard was the second son of this marriage, born in 1367, although when the elder boy, Edward, died Richard was thrown into the direct line of succession to the English throne. His father died in 1376, and his grandfather Edward III died in 1377, making Richard king at the age of just 10 years old. Richard was ultimately deposed in 1399 by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. Richard was imprisoned and it is believed he starved to death in captivity.

His elder half-brother Thomas Holland was one of Richard’s councillors, and acquired great influence over the young king. Thomas had spent his early career from 1366 in military service abroad, in Spain and France, under the Black Prince. He received gifts of money and valuable jobs from Richard once he was king. In his later career, his military experience was used to help suppress the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, and then as governor of English-held Cherbourg from 1384.

This indenture (more on which in this post) assigned Thomas £4,000 a year as governor of the castle and town of Cherbourg in consideration of his providing sufficient garrison and artillery.

Our Seax description for the seal takes a little unpicking: ‘Seal of the earl: a hind couchant regardant, wearing as a collar a crown from which is suspended by a chain a shield of the arms of England.’

The hind, or deer, is described as ‘couchant’, which means an animal which is lying down but with its head raised, and ‘regardant’, which means an animal with its head turned backwards to look over its shoulder.

The seal has been cleaned using a detergent applied with a small brush, which is then cleaned away with cotton wool dipped in water. The aim of this was to remove the worst of the surface dirt; the dirt from the front of the seal came away easily, although the dirt on the back was more ingrained.

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A special box is now being made to protect the seal, and it will be on display in the Searchroom from January to accompany the run up to The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century on Saturday 8 March 2014. More details here.

PS Essex Library card holders can access biographies of all of the people mentioned in this post on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

ERO @ 75: The Open Day

Well, colour me exhausted!

After a thoroughly enjoyable Heritage Open Day on Saturday, I am sure you will forgive us a brief hiatus in the social media sphere. We all had a great time and we hope you did too. It was great to see so many people, roughly more than 500 came through the door by our closest estimates and every tour was packed. In fact, in the the end we had to lay on a few additional tours to ensure as many people could enjoy a guided tour of our searchroom or a visit to our conservation studio (from which one of my friends returned green with envy, saying “Some of the kit in there…fantastic!” He may have had too much blue icing though.

Our thanks must also go out to all our lovely volunteers without whom the day would not have been possible.

I thought I should share with you a few of the photos from the day, there are many more to follow.

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Lord Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Councillor Kay Twitchen, Chairman of Essex County Council and Stephen Dixon, Archive Services Manager, cutting our 75th Anniversary cake.

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Favourite ERO documents: Cartulary of the estates of Sir William Capel, 1294-1511

As well as asking our users about their favourite documents from our collections, we have also been asking ourselves. Here, Senior Conservator Tony King shares his perspective on one of his favourite documents, a cartulary of the estates of Sir William Capel, 1294-1511 (A8173). Some of the nominated documents will feature in a display at our open day on Saturday 14th September.

As a Conservator at Essex Record Office I am lucky to have contact with some remarkable documents from the collection so it is difficult to pick a favourite but Acc. A8173, a cartulary of estates of Sir William Capel, c.1511 encapsulates many of my favourite aspects of interpreting our collection. Documents can reveal so much, not just from their written content but also as a physical object; the craftsmen who made the parchment, the scribe who filled the pages and the binder who bound them together have all left their mark on this volume.

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The parchment pages of the volume show numerous small repairs carried out through the ages. Some are healed scars sustained while the animal was still alive, other small patches were applied by the parchment maker while the processed skin dried and other tears happened hundreds of years later and have been patched by subsequent users of the book.

Book open cut out

The binding is a rare surviving example of a chemise binding where a soft allum tawed leather cover is stitched together and the bound book slipped into it, very much like a dust jacket on a modern hardback book. The edges of the chemise cover overhang the top and bottom edges of the book to form protective flaps over the edge of the pages. Although the chemise now appears grey, areas that have been turned onto the inside of the boards and have been protected are red in colour indicating that the whole cover may have been dyed red originally.

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This book seems to have had a long working life and shows signs of regular use. The metal clasps which keep the boards securely closed, maintaining pressure on the parchment pages to keep them flat, are later additions as shown by evidence of earlier fittings on the back board which would have held straps to do the same job. This indicates that the book was still relevant many years after its binding and was maintained as a working resource.

Not only is the volume a rare example of this style of bookbinding, it also bears the physical evidence which points towards hundreds of years of use. Further examination of the binding structure and condition would yield more information about the techniques and decisions made whilst making it and hint at how it was used and regarded in the past. Scientific techniques such as DNA analysis could tell us the species and breed of the animals used for the parchment shedding light on the medieval parchment trade. This cartulary demonstrates how as well as holding a wealth of information in the text, a document can also provide a window on the past by looking closely at it as an object.

If you would like to nominate your own favourite ERO document, we would love to hear from you. Simply download this form, and return it to the Searchroom desk or by e-mail to hannahjane.salisbury[at]essex.gov.uk. There are also paper copies available at the Searchroom desk. Nominated documents may be featured on this blog or in displays at our open day on Saturday 14 September 2013.

Could this be our smallest document?

D/DLu 17/6 is definately very small.

D/DLu 17/6 is definitely very small.

D/DLu 17/6 measures just 36 x 26 mm and is so small that we have had to construct a special folder to keep it safe and to make it harder to lose.

D/DLu 17/6 in its specially made folder.

D/DLu 17/6 in its specially made folder.

All wrapped up and ready to go back into storage. The larger folder certainly makes it easier to keep track of.

All wrapped up and ready to go back into storage. The larger folder certainly makes it easier to keep track of.

 D/DLu 17/6 is a tiny sketchbook created by Clarissa Sandford Bramston [née Trant] who was married to the Reverend John Bramston from 1832 (vicar of Great Baddow, 1830-40; vicar of Witham, 1840-72; Dean of Winchester, 1872-1883). It is impossible for us to know when the document itself was created other than to say it must have been created before 1844 when Clarissa died. Perhaps someone with a strong magnifying glass and an interest in Essex architecture may be able to suggest a date?

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Galleywood Chapel which pre-dated the church before it was a parish in its own right.

The sketches show several churches, chapels and houses of Essex and a rather attractive view of Danbury, all in a surprising amount of detail for its diminutive size.

A view of Danbury.

A view of Danbury.

Alongside this miniature sketchbook, Clarissa also left us several other documents of more reasonable size, including her journals and diaries running from 1800 right up until her death in 1844 and numerous other scrapbooks, recipes and items of correspondence, all of which are part of the Luard and Bramston deposit (catalogued as D/DLu).

Visit to Deepstore

Back in May, our Senior Conservator Tony King visited the Deepstore facility in Cheshire. Here he writes for us about what he found there…

During a recent visit to Flintshire Record Office I was lucky enough to accompany some of their staff on a visit to the Deepstore Records Management Facility which has found a radical solution to the problem of finding space to store ever expanding archives.

600 feet below the town of Winsford in Cheshire lies a 200 million cubic metre underground salt mine, one corner of which has been turned into a storage facility used by many organisations to house their archives. Opened in 1844, this working salt mine provides salt for treating icy roads but has made use of the practically unlimited space that results from the mining process to generate an income that is less weather dependant!

Boxes arriving at the storage unit

Boxes arriving at the storage unit

It may seem a bit drastic to store historically important and irreplaceable records in a working mine but many aspects of the way a salt mine is run and the conditions inside make it suitable for long-term archival storage. Temperature and humidity levels are very stable at around 14 degrees centigrade and a natural relative humidity of around 65% that can be brought down to 50% by dehumidifiers, achieving the conditions recommended for storage of archival material. The image of mines being wet places prone to drips and floods does not apply here; on leaving the access lift down which pallets full of boxed documents come daily the mine feels dry without a hint of damp. 

 

Boxes of documents going into the lift

Boxes of documents going into the lift

Newly arrived boxes awaiting processing

Newly arrived boxes awaiting processing

A little distance from the lift is a large document reception area where the boxes are entered into the database and then taken to one of the numerous units constructed further along the mine. On entering a unit it feels remarkably like any other repository or strong room with boxes neatly arranged on the shelves that fill the 7-8 metre high rooms. The air in each unit is carefully monitored to maintain correct temperature and humidity as well as to check for smoke particles that may indicate a fire starting. As a working mine (the working face is many miles away from the storage areas) strict rules on air quality, security and fire response all apply which is something that benefits the material stored there.

National institutions such as The National Archives as well as many County Record Offices and libraries keep a proportion of their holdings at the site and along with banks, legal firms, police authorities etc. contribute towards the 1.9 million boxes of items currently stored down this mine. Although Essex Record Office currently has no plans to use a facility like this, it was fascinating to visit the site and the fact that many organisations have already moved documents to the mine shows that these sort of arrangements are likely to become increasingly common.

Inside storage unit

Inside a storage unit