A new project recently appeared in the archive conservation lab: a brittle and damaged looking document that turned out to be an interesting new accession.
Letter Sent to Francis Yerbury, 14th May 1747 (1387/1697)
The document is a letter sent to local Clothier Francis Yerbury in 1747. It is thought that he may have run a cloth mill in Trowbridge although the letter is about a mill in Bradford-On-Avon. Hanne Dahl, Exhibitions and Collections Officer at Trowbridge Museum has transcribed the letter and below gives an overview of the its content:
The letter seems to consist of two messages. One is regarding a cloth order which John Howell has received and is ensuring Francis Yerbury he will pay for. The other is a new cloth order for the Empress of Russia of Clergy cloth in scarlets and greens. 5 cloth samples of Yerbury’s are attached to the letter as a colour reference. The Empress mentioned was probably Elizabeth of Russia who lived 1741-1762. According to popular history clothing was the chosen means in Elizabeth’s Court by which to display wealth and social standing and according to historian Mikhail Shcherbatov (1733-1790) her court was “arrayed in cloth of gold, her nobles satisfied with only the most luxurious garments, the most expensive foods, the rarest drinks, that largest number of servants and they applied this standard of lavishness to their dress as well.’ Hanne Dahl, Exhibitions and Collection Officer, Trowbridge Museum April 2019
The new accession was passed on to the archives here at WSHC by Hanne after being in the care of the Ponting family; the late Ken Ponting being former Managing Director of Samuel Salter Ltd. weaving mill in Trowbridge.
As is often the case with the documents I work on, there is much of historical interest and I could spend many hours researching them. However, as a conservator, once I have enough detail to inform my conservation decisions, I must tear myself away from the fascinating historical insight and prioritise stabilising and preserving the letter so that future researchers can access it safely.
It was originally folded to be posted and has the postal address visible on one of the folded sections. The letter is written in brown ink and has textile samples and a small part of a wax seal attached.
Several factors made this a conservation challenge; not only was the paper extremely thin and fragile but the additional attached textiles samples and seal remains also had to be considered at all times as they could easily become detached and lost.
The document needed to be packaged so that it could be safely stored in the archive but also handled without the risk of further damage. As the paper was so thin, it could easily tear again with further handling, even after conservation.
I decided that once repaired, the document would be safest inside a mount- this would allow for compensation of the thickness of the attached textile samples and seal remnants as the depth of the window mount would prevent them getting squashed or dislodged in storage. It would also enable easy viewing as and when required without direct handling of the letter. Text found on the back of the letter was all in one area so the mount could be adapted to have a viewing window on the reverse. This would also mean the document didn’t need to be taken out of the mount or handled to see this.
Areas of damage on the letter
The letter arrived with us inside a frame, attached to a backing board with tape partially holding it around some edges. The paper was so thin and weak that tears had started to appear along many of the original fold lines whilst large areas were breaking around the edges. It was important to remove the letter from the backing for several reasons; the backing board itself, made from poor quality board was likely to be causing damage to the paper. Unless they are archival quality, backing boards and framing materials are often made of very poor quality materials with high levels of acidity. As these materials break down they can transfer acidity to materials they are attached to, increasing their deterioration. I also needed to access the document to effectively repair the tears and remove the adhesive tape.
I was able to successfully remove the letter from the mount using a spatula to ease the tape away from the board surface.
When the board was removed it was possible to clearly see acid transfer which appeared to be coming from the document and transferring onto the backing board, suggesting the paper itself is acidic. This is likely to be due to the ingredients used when the paper was originally made, for example additives such as sizing and fillers or the materials the paper is made from such as wood pulp. The ingredients vary between paper mills and throughout the history of papermaking, for example Lignin from wood pulp is extremely acidic and is generally found in modern papers such as newsprint. This is what makes newsprint go yellow and brittle so quickly.
After removing the document from the backing a new area of writing was discovered where the letter had in fact continued overleaf. The archivist was then able to add this to the existing transcription.
Once the letter was separated from the backing board I could then remove the adhesive tape. This task of removing tape is always daunting for a conservator as different adhesives react completely differently to different types of removal. Sometimes it can take a long time to find a method that softens or releases the adhesive so that the tape can be removed.
On this occasion I found that applying moisture directly onto the tape was enough to release the adhesive. However, a thick piece of brown adhesive tape down the left side of the letter was so stubborn that after removing a small amount I decided it would be better to leave that particular piece of tape on rather than risking damage to the already fragile paper surface.
Once the tape had been removed I surface cleaned the document being careful to avoid any weak areas. I was then able to move on to repairing and stabilising.
Tears on paper documents are generally repaired by adhering small pieces of Japanese tissue to the reverse.
The tissue I used for the letter is only 5 gsm, so it is extremely thin and light- but strong enough to stabilise the tears and weak areas without distracting from the letter itself.
Two areas of the document had large gaps that although supported on the back with the Japanese tissue repairs, needed to be infilled with a paper of a similar thickness to the letter itself, to prepare the document for mounting. In the conservation of archival documents (as opposed to artworks) it is particularly important that repairs such as this are visible additions, clearly seen as modern repairs and not blended to make them invisible. This ensures that future historians and researchers are aware of the difference between the original document and any conservation work that has been done.
Creating an Inlay
In paper conservation an inlay is a piece of paper that is attached around the outside of the document to protect it and prevent further damage to fragile edges. This is achieved by tracing around the edge of the document using a needle and then removing the inner piece of inlay paper to create a paper frame. The inlay paper is attached to the document by thin strips of Japanese tissue adhered along the gap between the two. The inlay protects the original document whilst still retaining full visual access to it. It also means that the document can be attached inside the mount by putting hinges on the inlay paper rather than directly on the document itself and that the letter can be fully displayed in the aperture of the window mount without falling out through the middle.
Late last year Wiltshire Buildings Record was asked to look at Westbury Leigh Baptist Chapel. Now lying empty, this was the first of two Baptist chapels to be established in Westbury Leigh, an ancient village now within the town boundaries of Westbury. As there was no Anglican church until 1880, the Baptist church was the established church in the village, having a strong nonconformist tradition encouraged by the Baptist stronghold in Southwick.
Stephen Self, a clothier, allowed the use of a barn, called ‘Self’s Barn’ near his dwelling house in Leigh as a meeting place for Baptists after 1693. According to William Doel in his book, ‘Twenty Golden Candlesticks!' they continued to worship until 1714, when Mr Self converted the barn into a chapel, fitting it up with seats, galleries & c. This barn stood on part of the site of the present chapel, the freehold of which belonged to Granville Wheeler Esq.
By 1796 the congregation had so increased as to make it necessary to build a new Chapel. A meeting was held and a resolution passed to undertake the work, which was carried out at a total cost of £1,361. The new chapel was able to accommodate five hundred people, which gives an idea of the many devout souls in Westbury Leigh alone, not counting those in the main town of Westbury!
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the archive service we are putting together an online exhibition of 70 favourite documents from the archive chosen by staff and volunteers. One of the items chosen was only recently deposited and is a remarkably detailed record of its type; Thomas Pinniger's farming diary for Little Bedwyn and Beckhampton farm, Avebury 1828-1832 (ref 4381/1/5).
Entries of note include the purchase of Beckhampton farm and Beckhampton Inn from Anthony Guy of Chippenham, 27 Feb and 18 Jun 1828; a note about Guy's subsequent bankruptcy, Nov 1829-Jan 1830; Work on the new house began 25 Sep 1828, completed Oct 1830; difficulties in digging chalk for the roads led to an accident in the chalk pit, 29 Jan 1830; note about the 'Swing Riots', Nov 1830 (pictured above); efforts to clear snow from the main road (A4) , 21 Jan 1830; fruit trees planted in garden, 8 Mar 1830; fire at Mr Neat's farm at Monkton, 5 Jun 1831; trees planted in the yard, 10 Dec 1831; notes of the deaths of relatives and friends, including son Thomas (Large), 31 Jul 1828; verse by rev William Lisle Bowles on the death of Richard Sadler Smith at Bremhill, 31 Mar 1832; and references to thrashing machine, 6 Mar and 23 Jul 1832.
Unsurprisingly diaries can be one of the most engaging sources in the archives because they enable us to hear such a clear and individual voice from the past.
We have some interesting examples in our collections, including an almost complete series of diaries belonging to writer Edith Maud Olivier (ref 982/32-78). The entries are daily and written in detail covering 1894-1948 including this entry relating to a visit of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in February 1944.
The Wiltshire Record Society has also published volumes of transcripts of diaries and notebooks including:
‘Cherished memories and Associations,’ a manuscript memoir by William Small 1881 (Volume 64; original document reference 2713/2)
William Small, a painter and glazier of 1 New Street, Salisbury, of his life in Salisbury, with biographical details of his family and Salisbury people, tradesmen, apprentices and inhabitants of the Close. There are also details of the history of several houses, particularly in East Harnham where Small was born in 1820. The text is interspersed with poetry and items of local and national interest such as the funeral of Benjamin Disraeli in 1881, the Shrewton flood 1841 and an account of the history of Salisbury probably based on the work of Robert Benson and Henry Hatcher. There are also notes of various events in the Salisbury area 1737-1739 (probably taken from the Salisbury Journal).
These entries provide an insight into his trade, historic Salisbury, particular buildings, and into the detail of everyday life that would otherwise be lost to history. Plants and animals often feature as well as the agricultural area surrounding the city.
Through his description of The Close of 50 years previous, we gain an insight into how the area changed:
“The Close was quite different then from what it is now, Wild thorn and elder hedges in a wild state, a great many large trees about… the Grass was laid up for Hay and Farmer Drake of Netherhampton, used to bring his Waggons in, & cart it away. In 1836 or 1837 there was a very high wind in January I think, & blow down all the stately Elm trees on one side of the walk (called lovers walk) but one, prostrate across the field, then the same year the present young ones were planted” (volume one, page 161-2)
Quite often the most soundly constructed part of a church is its tower and when churches were restored in the 19th century it’s normally the nave, aisles and chancel that’s rebuilt, repaired or re-roofed. Sometimes the church was considered so dilapidated that it was demolished and a new one built on the same or even new site. In the case of Winsley in Wiltshire the 15th century church was recommended for demolition but the owner of Winsley House, Mr William Stone of Winsley House persuaded the architect, R.S. Pope of Bristol, and the diocese to keep the tower with its unusual saddleback roof.
The new church was built eight feet to the north of the old tower and was connected to it by a raised and covered passage way under which you can walk. Eroded memorial plaques on the tower had enjoyed the shelter of the nave until 1841 when the old nave and chancel were demolished. It seems possible that the old font that was contemporary with the tower was discarded at the same time as it was found in a garden in 1876 when it was restored to the church.
Archives can reveal details about how our ancestors lived and customs and practices they took for granted which can look very strange to modern eyes! Lost ways of life can be found in all kinds of sources, the most personal of which, diaries and letters, can give an intimate portrait of individual’s daily lives as well as shedding light on their wider community. They provide a window through which we can relate to those who have gone before.
With this in mind I thought I would explore how some Wiltshire residents of the past spent their Christmas and New Year.
Francis Kilvert and Edith Olivier both have well known published diaries but the Wiltshire Record Society have also published personal diaries of everyday folk held in our collections. There is much recognisable to us in their festive moments; celebrating new beginnings, giving gifts, spending time with family, the traditional seasonal illness, country walks etc.
William Henry Tucker was born in Trowbridge in 1814 and in later life became a successful clothier. The diary (WRS Vol.62) as a whole offers a candid insight into the life of Tucker and his community during the years 1825-50.
1827 25 Dec: Went to W. Plummer’s and had a Christmas supper. Exhibited my watch to the company, and made numerous enquiries respecting my anticipated settlement in the counting house.
1827 31 Dec: This day commences a most important era. At ten o’clock I made my first entry... into Mr John Stancombe’s counting house.
1829 31 Dec The weather was extremely severe about this time. Having an afternoon’s holiday, about three o’clock my brother and myself set off towards the canal by way of Islington: we ran upon the ice... on our way home we over Mr.- a fashionable shoemaker... who told us many lies of his wonderful feats in skating. On passing down the Courts I encountered a young lady who had for some time occupied no inconsiderable share of my thoughts.
1832 25 Dec supped at E.Hs (future wife, Emily Hendy, daughter of Grocer, William Hendy – married in Oct 1935 when both aged 21)
1834 26 Dec Took a walk amid the blackness of the night through the Hennicks,... and in allusion to future prospects I made a rather pointed enquiry touching a somewhat important subject, which was satisfactorily answered by the person to whom it was addressed.
1835 25 Dec An old fashioned frosty Christmas. At Dad’s all day.
1836 25 Dec – Xmas day comes on Sunday. In the evening a tremendous snowstorm came on, which lasted all night and covered the country to a depth unknown for many years past, playing the dickens with coaches, mails. etc. etc.
1838 25 Dec – mild Christmas Day. Took a walk in Studley fields by the inn.
1838 31 Dec Finished stocktaking. Mr Hall died. Had our Christmas party and watched the year out.
1 Jan 1839 Grand fete at factory. Was not present, being in Bath occupied in my final purchases of books. Spent most of the day with Matthew Newth.
1844 25 Dec Dined, tead and supped at W.H.’s Went to church twice.
1846 1 Jan This year begins in suspense on three very important points – How will the crisis in the railway market terminate? Is R. Peel coming forward as a Corn Law repealer? Is -.
1854 he wrote of ‘comforts of the Christmas fireside, surrounded by intelligent and well-conducted children’ (despite his previous depressions over the birth of numerous girls!).
1847 31 Dec. Bill of Health: E., Lucy, Alfred and Emma have had the influenza but are partially recovered. The rest of us are well.
Francis Kilvert was a clergyman, born in Hardenhuish Lane, near Chippenham and who worked as a rural curate helping his father (rector of Langley Burrell) and as curate in the Welsh Marches, Radnorshire, and Herefordshire. His diaries, reflecting on rural life, were published 50 years following his death.
Lacock is a village known to tens of thousands of people around the world, but how many people really know it? They visit the abbey and museum of photography, have lunch in one of the pubs, look at houses dating from medieval times to the 18th century, and have tea and cakes in one of the tea rooms. If they’d been one of the participants in our Lacock interpretation day course last week they’d now know a great deal more about the history and development of this village!