Tithe and Private Map Collections Conservation and Preservation Project

Conservators conducted a survey to assess the condition of the County’s map collections to ascertain what action needed to be undertaken to secure their preservation for the future. It was evident that poor storage methods and greatly increased public consultation was proving detrimental to their condition.  The majority of maps had been stored in rolled format, with the result that many small tears were becoming much worse with the frequency with which they were being rolled and unrolled and abrasion and staining were evident from hands and weights, that had been in contact with unprotected surfaces. 

A brown wall with a map attached to it. The map is yellowed and torn and in two pieces.               A brown wall with a map attached to it.

Map before and after treatment

To remedy the problem, conservators designed a map storage system, whereby the maps could hang individually and flat, following conservation or preservation treatment. The system, very simple in design and inexpensive to make, has proved very successful. A framework was constructed of metal tubing enclosed on three sides with hardboard and a blockboard ‘roof’ to which strips of curtain track were attached side by side to provide grooves for the completed maps to slot into.  This design, although slightly altered, has been incorporated into rolling stacks within the new archive strongrooms at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 

Maps hanging vertically inside a metal rack.      Hanging map system

The project began with work on the county’s collection of heavily used tithe maps. Treatment included surface cleaning on the majority of maps with more than forty requiring full re-backing with calico or holland cloth and hand-made paper. Once treated, the maps were then mounted onto a sheet of acid-free mountboard with a protective layer of inert polyester film stitched to the backing board, sandwiching the map securely in between.  Then, a strip of stiff holland cloth with plastic coated curtain wire enclosed was attached to the top edge of the mountboard. The mounted map was then slid into position on the new vertical storage system. Of the 290 tithe maps held within Wiltshire Archives, 207 are now stored this way. 

Those remaining maps which were too large to be hung have received remedial or full conservation treatment where necessary, and are now stored horizontally, rolled inside Irish linen bags. When consulted, these oversize maps are produced for the public by a trained member of staff and the surface protected with a sheet of polyester film.

A series of shelves with metal grilles on the front attached to a wall. There are long cream coloured bags stored horizontally on them.    Oversize map storage

On completion of the tithe maps work began on maps from other collections. Dating from the 16th-19th centuries, these presented more complex problems for conservators due to the diversity of materials on which the maps were drawn. Although mainly paper, they were also of parchment, vellum, fragile tissue paper and various fabrics, with quite a few in poor condition and requiring full conservation treatment.

Man  using a roller on a map attached to the wall       Archive conservator working on a map in the laboratory

To date, there are now well over one thousand maps and plans protected and stored on the map hanging system with additions being made as and when required. The vertical storage system appears to have answered the problems set with regard to the safe-keeping of maps. Those stored by this method are fully protected, both in respect of secure long-term storage and excessive handling by the public.