The week of the 20th May.
It was an exciting, if very stressful week, as we coordinated the final period of installation of objects and archives for the exhibition. The exhibition includes a range of objects and archives from the Derry Heritage and Museum Service collection and from national collections in London, Limerick and Dublin. It’s certainly not a traditional museum exhibition, with a variety of engaging activities and opportunities for all visitors alongside exhibition showcases. Ever wanted to dress up as Cahir O’Doherty… well now you can!
Staff from the London Metropolitan Archives and the National Archives Kew arrived in the city on Tuesday and installation began on Wednesday morning. Anyone who has experience of installation will know how nervous it is not only for those travelling with rare and valuable objects but also for the loaning institute staff who are put to the test to ensure the showcases, environmental readings and general exhibition requirements can be met. But all is well, despite some last minute hitches with stubborn archive drawers, additional mylar straps to ensure no movement of the archives, my colleagues from London worked patiently and diligently to ensure the archives were installed… and look fantastic.
After reading and reviewing the Irish Society collection in the LMA and feeling like I know every line in those familiar early seventeenth century maps of the city it feels we achieved something significant as visitors to the exhibition will see them on display in the city where their journey began.
Next we have objects arriving from the Hunt Museum Limerick and from the National Museum of Ireland collection… as well as a unique piece of textile art from artist Deborah Stockdale!
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Now that the conservation work is completed, we have begun the transcription and encoding of the folios. We are beginning with the six folios on the Goldsmiths’ proportion and will use these to plan out the website and the particulars of the encoding into XML using TEI. But first they have to be transcribed!
The text itself is formulaic, which means that it is usually possible to fill in the text missing from those areas that are illegible, burnt, shrunken, torn, or covered in dirt. This also means that the transcription involves much rereading of the folios to fill in the gaps, but it is very satisfying to have a complete transcription.
Whilst the text itself is in English, there are lots of varieties in the spelling (for example, the use of ‘howse’, ‘fower’, ‘cabbyns’) so we are going to include a modernised transcription on the website, with modernised spelling, punctuation, and names (as far as is possible). We also plan for the website to include a glossary of terms that may be unknown or not immediately obvious to the reader, such as ‘quicksett’ and ‘fireboot’. The place names present extra challenges as some of the names mentioned correspond to current Northern Irish place names, but some of them do not. In addition, there is no guarantee that the 1639 boundaries of places such as townlands and counties correspond to the modern ones. Fortunately, the script itself is a large, neat, clear, secretary hand, and this makes the transcription a little easier.
Next Tuesday 20th November we will have an open studio day. This is an opportunity to come and see the repaired and housed Great Parchment Book. Rachael will show you the techniques she has used to humidify, tension dry and repaired the parchment.
Just come to London Metropolitan Archives between 10 and 12 or 14 and 16. To find out more please click here.
See you soon!
Once all the sheets had been treated, they just needed rehousing. The sheets could not be put back into their original boxes because they were no longer suitable in terms of their size and shape. Also, it was felt that the boxes were housing too many sheets to a box.
For ease of handling, it was decided that the sheets should be stored in Clamshell style boxes with, on average, six to a box. The sheets would also need to be interleaved to stop them catching on each other. The interleaving material needed to be something thin and flexible that would mould to the shape of the sheets, so reducing the risk of extra bulk, but also smooth surfaced so the sheets won’t catch on it. It will also act as a support for each sheet when moving them in and out of the boxes.
Tyvek® was chosen for the job as it fits all these qualities and is chemically inert.
There are fragments from some of the sheets that have been found at the bottom of the boxes. Some of these have already been matched up to certain sheets and numbered; some still need to be matched up. Gelatine coated tissue is used to hold these loose fragments in place.
Attaching gelatine coated tissue splints
Magnet drying is proving to be the most effective method for holding out the creases whilst drying. Metal sheets are wrapped in thin blotter and covered with thin non-woven polyester (which reduces the risk of the parchment sticking). Magnets wrapped in felt or Tyvek® are used to hold open creases whilst the parchment dries. It was found fairly early on that the amount of shrinking present on some of the sheets was preventing the creases from being pulled out horizontally. This was remedied by inserting polyester wadding underneath the creased area and so pushing it out in a vertical direction, as well as pulling horizontally with the magnets.
The edges of the parchment are held down with magnets
Tears can also be secured with magnets
Testing of inks
Prior to humidification, the Inks were tested for solubility in water and also for the presence of any metals within the ink. The inks were found non-soluble in water and, for the most part, no presence of metals was detected.
The sheets of parchment are placed in a humidification ‘sandwich’, where they are layered up with Gore-Tex® and damp blotter (see diagram below) and left to gently humidify for approximately six hours.
Cross section of humidification set-up
Small ‘humidity packs’, made by wrapping Laponite® (a synthetic layered silicate) in thin non-woven polyester and then Tyvek® (a brand of flash spun high-density polyethylene fibres), can be placed in the sandwich over the shrunken areas to increase the humidity reaching these areas and therefore increase the softening.
Humidity packs placed over shrunken areas
With all the tests we have carried out we are now ready to start to work on the Great Parchment Book!
Prior to humidification surface cleaning is being carried out using vulcanised rubber sponges and soft goat hair brushes. The sponge works by picking up and drawing in the dirt when it is placed in contact with the surface of the object to be cleaned. With the Great Parchment Book, ideally, we would like to remove as much surface dirt as possible from the parchment to stop it being drawn into the substrate when it absorbs moisture during humidification. Also, it helps to improve the legibility of the text. However, where flaky media is present, surface cleaning has to be avoided as the sponge will pick this up too.
Area before cleaning
Area after cleaning
The ink on the sample above is very stable and so the area could be cleaned. The sponge was most effective on the area in the middle, where the dirt was sitting loosely on the surface. However, the dirt in the bottom right hand corner of this image was much more ingrained, and so surface cleaning did not improve it.
17th-century samples with original fire damage
An original sample of heat damaged parchment (not part of the LMA collection) was found, and the magnet drying system was tested again. This was a good sample to test the treatment on as it had similar planar distortions and fragile edges as seen on the Great Parchment Book, which would not withstand having clips attached. (The sample was fully humidified between blotter and Gore-Tex®.)
This method worked really well. Stronger, larger magnets were used around the shrunken areas to help hold the creases open, and then weaker, smaller ones were used to hold down the torn, fragile edges. However some tears, that were already present, did become wider and more obvious. This was a natural reaction to the overall plane of the parchment becoming flatter, but should be avoided when treating the Great Parchment Book.