Monday 22 September 2014

Dishing the Dirt on the Atkinson Brierley Conservation Project

Drawing for Middlesborough War Memorial Gates at Albert Park from the Atkinson Brierley collection
Archivists might baulk at the old stereotype of the ‘dusty archive’, but it is an image that rings true
for some of the items in the Atkinson Brierley collection. When the collection was assessed in 2011/
2012 of the 6414 architectural plans there were only 99 that did not require cleaning. This is where
we volunteers come in. Thanks to generous funding from the Shepherd Charitable Trust, we meet
every Wednesday morning under the supervision of the Borthwick’s conservation technician, Tracy.
There are four regular members of our team – our longstanding volunteers, Catherine and Dave, and
more recent (August 2013) arrivals, Kate and myself. We also occasionally have additional students
or volunteers who want to find out more about conservation. At the start of the project we received
training in handling the plans and in careful cleaning with special brushes and smoke sponges, and
since then we have cleaned architectural plans of all shapes and sizes and in various degrees of
disrepair. We get through about 1.5 smoke sponges per two-hour session and, as of June 2014, have
now cleaned 25% of the plans identified for attention.

A dirty plan from the collection
It might seem like a fairly mundane task, but cleaning the plans is a really important part of ensuring the Atkinson Brierley collection remains accessible to the public. Even when the plans don’t look particularly dirty, they can carry ingrained dust and grime which then rubs off on archive user’s hands and can be transferred onto other documents. Over time, the dirt will cause the document to deteriorate, so it’s really important that we clean as many of the plans as possible. Doing so means that people can continue to visit the Borthwick and use this fascinating collection, which includes plans of many of the public buildings in and around York, providing a wonderful source for localand family historians as well as those interested in architectural history from the Georgian period onwards. The collection includes documents as well as plans, and covers schools, churches, war memorials and country houses, not only in Yorkshire but as far afield as Ypres in Belgium.

Our volunteers hard at work!

As for us, the volunteers, we’ve gained a vital insight into what goes on behind the scenes in an archive. Every week, we handle a number of interesting documents and learn more about howthey are cared for. We’ve also had talks on more intensive conservation procedures from the team, and learned about a digitisation project which used some of the plans we had cleaned to create an exhibition about the war memorials designed by the architectural firm. Last but not least, there is always good conversation during our sessions, and even occasionally cake and a coffee once the plans are safely back in storage! Our current list of plans to clean stands at 4618 documents, and we are hoping to secure funding to continue with the project after our current grant expires in October. The best thing about working on the project is the sense of helping to preserve a collection so that it can continue to be enjoyed for a long time to come, and possibly be digitised for even wider use.

We’d love to hear from others who’ve used the collection – what do you love about the plans and why?

Ruth Mather, Volunteer, Atkinson Brierley Conservation Project

1 comment:

  1. Better yet if they are scanned to high quality and become available online it will reduce the number of those handling them physically. Great work!


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