"Variety within the Collection"
(or "Examining Temp Acc 55 BSM 916/3/29")
By Katie Morley
In the Conservation Studio at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies the project to stabilise the Bishop’s Stortford Police Archives documents for digitisation is well under way!
Some items have only needed appraisal (to confirm their condition) and surface cleaning with a very soft dry brush to remove any surface dirt and loose materials. Volumes in a stable condition could be dealt with in as little as 6-7 hours.
Other items, with extensive damage, require a far greater intensity of interventive treatment and could take in excess of 100 hours to complete.
A volume in an advanced state of degradation (see Photo A as an example of the kind of thing we’re up against!) typically might need many pages separating, sewing removed, painstaking cleaning so as not to cause further degradation to the document, several coats of consolidant solution (0.5% w/v Hydroxypropylcellulose dissolved in Industrial Denatured Alcohol) brushed onto each side of the document and allowed to dry fully in between applications, and supportive tissue repairs introduced. They might also require detached fragments to be stabilised, matched to where they belong and reaffixed.
Speaking as a Conservator, the aspect of this collection that interests me most is the great variety of degradation levels we encounter. This not only differs from volume to volume, but also from page to page throughout each item.
A good example of this is the Police Journal I am currently working on. It documents the daily activities of two Police Constables from January 1915 to April 1917 (Temp Acc 55 BSM 916/3/29). As you can see from the illustrative photographs, the front few pages (Photo A) are in a state that is almost unsalvageable; extremely soiled, fragmented, friable and unstable. As we move towards the middle of the document the pages improve in integrity and are far more readable and complete (Photo B). There is still staining and friability, however pages in this condition will require far fewer “man-hours” to prepare for digitisation. The third photograph shows a page from the very back of the volume (Photo C); past insect activity is obviously evident as is some past loss of the document and contents.
The Bishops’ Stortford Police Archive documents contain a wealth of information which would have been permanently lost had conservation processes not been undertaken. Pre-treatment, the collection is far too unstable to be consulted by anyone and it is satisfying to know that I am helping to make this information available.