Although Calke Abbey had closed to visitors, there was plenty of behind the scenes conservation activity at the beginning of November. Caroline Bendix, the National Trust’s advisor on historic libraries, and her team of book conservators were back in Derbyshire for two weeks and yours truly was allowed to volunteer with them.
Because there were no visitors, it was possible to take over the Library completely and to have extra lights and heaters on while we were working. Both were very necessary, despite desk lights and multiple layers of clothing!
As usual, the process involved an assessment of the conservation needs of each book and a shelf inspection. The information is added to a database for future reference and in-situ repairs and stabilisation are carried out. The latter is particularly necessary where books have been marked for studio conservation and involves quick-fixes such as applying book tape to hold boards in place, as well as more elaborate procedures such as making book shoes.
On this occasion, my contributions focused on binding and paper repairs, including this very satisfying repair of a loose and rather scrunched up plate from an eighteenth-century book on botany (and to my shame I have to confess I didn’t actually look at the title of the work!).
The first step was to smooth out the creases with a water pen – a bit scary, but testament to the strength of laid rag paper that with the application of water it is possible to remove or certainly lessen creases without damaging the paper.
Although still looking a bit unhappy in this image, the creases will smooth further once the plate is inserted back into the book. After folding out the edges, I repaired and stabilised the tears with Japanese tissue paper.
With these repairs done, the plate could be carefully reinserted and fixed with wheat-starch paste.
I’m really grateful to Caroline, Kate, Ruth and Giorgia for letting me help them and for their immense patience with my amateur enthusiasm for book conservation. The opportunity to experience a different perspective on books has been extremely valuable for my understanding of the issues facing historic collections and the possible solutions.
Also, with the seasonal festivities out of the way, I’m back cataloguing more books at Calke Abbey this January. Beyond that, it’s time to concentrate on some other projects I have on the go: writing a chapter for A cultural history of death, published either late this year or early next year by Bloomsbury, finishing my article on Mary Assheton’s literary aspirations (which I wrote about in December 2013 and January 2014). and looking out for other job opportunities. This means that my posts may be a little bit more irregular in the next few months, for which apologies.