HALS Archive Cleaning Project

Enlightening and therapeutic work for volunteers

By Evie M

The Volunteers
Equipment for cleaning the archives

The Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies Cleaning Project is carried out to preserve original documents from within Hertfordshire with the help from volunteers. The documents cleaned range from advertising posters to letters illustrating Hertfordshire’s fascinating past. The project is key to ensuring that these archives will not be ruined and so they will be around for future generations to enjoy.


The project runs weekly, every Monday all day at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, County Hall Hertford under the supervision of Jeff Cargill. A Team of volunteers play a key part in supporting the work of the Cleaning Project.

Cleaning takes place in the Archive Room where a large table is covered with paper in order to keep the table and the floor clean. The box of archives is put in the middle of the table and brass paperclips, parchment paper, chemical sponges, brushes, needles and string are also put there for all to use. For those who wish to stay sparkling clean, aprons and gloves are provided for protection!!

The Archives

The archives come in parcels, like how a present would be wrapped years ago with brown paper and string. After unwinding the string (to dispose off) but keeping the tag that relates to the parcel, the exciting reveal can begin. Books, posters, pamphlets, advertising cards and letters could be wrapped inside in need of some cleaning and care. As the ‘cleaner’ it is your responsibility to ensure that any dust or dirt is removed.


There are a couple of different ways of cleaning that relate to the specific archive. For example, to clean a book, a brush (that looks particularly like a paint brush) is required. Starting from the middle of the spine the brush is used round the sides, on the front and back, and finally on the front pages and the back pages inside the book. This gently removes any dust or dirt that has found its way in between the pages. For a poster or letter, a chemical sponge is swept across small areas at a time. It is important for the archives that are folded to be cleaned methodically in order that no areas are missed or done twice!

Staples in archives have to be removed before they cause lots of damage to the document. In it’s place, it is sewn together using the remaining staple holes. Some archives are pinned together and the same rules apply to these. However, after the pin has been removed, instead of sewing the document, a piece of parchment paper is used to cover the corner and then a brass paperclip holds it all in place. Parchment paper is used as it stops the rough, cut ends of the paperclip from ripping the archive and brass paperclips are used as they do not rust like other metals and so they will not cause the document further damage.

My Experience

I have taken part in this project for a morning and thoroughly enjoyed learning how these documents have to be carefully looked after in order for them to be preserved for the future. The project wasn’t just enlightening but therapeutic as I worked my way through several parcels of different documents where the obvious benefits could be clearly seen after giving them a good, (careful) dusting! Helping with the conservation of these archives has meant that now I understand how delicate some of them can be and what care they need to ensure that future generations can relive the past through the information preserved.

From what I have experienced, I believe that it is a great way for the public to volunteer and learn about the history of Hertfordshire through first hand experience handling primary documents. Whilst supporting the Local Archive projects, it ensures that this information will be around for years to come.

This page was added on 05/08/2013.

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