Training in Staffordshire

Intoductory module of the ARA(UK & Ireland) Training Scheme

By Katie Morley

As a Conservator it is essential to have sound knowledge of the physical material you are treating. Funded by the Radcliff Trust, I spent a week at Staffordshire Record Office studying the “Introduction” module of the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) Conservation Training Scheme. This placement was extremely informative and the material studied served to thoroughly underpin my practical studio experience.  

The topics covered during the week were as follows:

  • Health and safety
  • Testing and evaluating materials 
  • Documentation
  • Theory and science relating to interventive conservation
  • Materials and history of paper items, parchment items, and bound material
  • Protective enclosures and archival packaging
  • Handling and document formats
  • The provision of preservation surrogates
  • Environmental monitoring and control
  • Light
  • Microbiological infestation and pest management systems 
  •  Emergency planning  

The material relating to the composition of paper, its manufacture and history was directly relevant to the project. I found this very interesting, especially studying the development and formation of paper watermarks, as there is a wide range of different types of paper in the Police Archive.
Most of the documents we are dealing with in the Project are formed of low grade machine-made wood pulp paper, which becomes acidic over time due to high lignin content, although there are examples of higher quality paper used for more important documentation such as officer’s Charge Sheets presented to court. Unfortunately a large percentage of the paper is heavily stained throughout; this is caused by long-term exposure to damaging environmental conditions. A high percentage of the collection is challenging for us as Conservators; handling by untrained persons is, at the least, inadvisable; at the most, hazardous to both the document and the handler.
The need to combine Passive (preventative steps to reduce the risk of damage in the first instance) and Active (hands-on document stabilisation and repair) conservation methods to manage collections effectively was studied in depth in Stafford. This included the importance of monitoring storerooms for temperature and humidity, preventative and active pest control, and disaster management – i.e. what to do when it all goes wrong; it’s essential to have a plan of action. Archival storage packaging can be both a preventative and active conservation technique; at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies we purchase archival quality folders and storage boxes, however much of our housing is custom-made by hand for individual items.  

In Stafford we studied a published document by the British Standards Institute known as “PD5454:2012 Guide for the storage and exhibition of archival materials”. This document says that packaging should be:

  • Suitable for purpose.
  • Designed to fit the document(s) without them being folded or otherwise adapted to fit the container.
  • Strong enough to withstand handling and the weight of the document(s) they contain.
  • Designed to protect the contents
  • Constructed of materials that have no adverse effect on the document(s) enclosed.  

These guidelines are of paramount importance and must be strictly adhered to when allocating and/or handcrafting packaging for storing items. Also PD5454:2012 highlighted the importance of having no foreign bodies stored with the documents. The term “foreign bodies” includes ferrous items (things made of metal like staples and paperclips), string, non-archival plastics, and pressure-sensitive tape (e.g. Sellotape) in addition to dirt. These things degrade relatively quickly and cause extra problems such as rust staining and destabilisation of the documents.  

This project is important and the items are worth saving because they contain a wide range of information on subjects such as WW1, the Police Force, and local, national, and international events.  Economic and social details are interesting to note (for example, the price of a stolen leg of mutton, the value of a lost diamond ring, and the weekly income of a farm labourer). The Police Force meticulously recorded dates, times, names and addresses; also gems such as direct quotes from individuals during incidents.  The minutiae of lost/stolen property are described, as are wanted criminals.  Many of the “human” stories that emerge are delightfully compelling and range from the macabre to the endearing. Favourite stories I have discovered so far include ongoing quarrels between three women who are neighbours (“She threw a bucket of dirty water over my washing!”) and a very detailed account of an identity parade where the suspect is accused of “Highway Robbery with Violence”. A member of staff at Hertfordshire Archives has found newspaper articles relating to this robbery and these enlighten us with further details of the incident, the following investigation, and subsequent arrest of the perpetrator. The remarkable details provided in the Police Archives which make the events come to life so marvellously. A great many more significant news articles relating to recorded happenings in these Police Archives are certain to exist; these will provide a wider picture of the history of Bishop’s Stortford District. Without intervention all these documents would certainly have degraded to such a condition as to be beyond the reach of conservation methods and this valuable, fascinating history of our local area lost forever.

This page was added on 11/01/2013.

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