Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Festive Conservation Run-down of the Archbishops’ Registers Project

As the Archbishops’ Registers Revealed project is drawing to a close along with the year 2015, I wanted to offer a brief overview of my involvement in the project. It can be quite tricky for a conservator to accurately convey exactly what it is they do in the workshop. This blog certainly isn’t as catchy as the 12 Days of Christmas - but I hope that it provides some advent calendar-sized tasters of the work I have been doing.

12 Limp parchment volumes
12 limp parchment volumes required no work in preparation for digitisation.

There are some things that conservators can do to improve the digitisation process – cleaning, unfolding, repairing, etc – but there are also some things that we cannot improve. We can clean a surface, which will lighten the areas around the ink and make the ink stand out better, but we cannot replace abraded or faded ink. Consequently we do need to assess archives before a digitisation work plan is put in place, so that we know what we will need to tackle and how long it might take.

Abp Reg 11 is the volume that required the greatest number of treatments.
Abp Reg 11 with the highest number of treatments recorded
Within the 37 volumes that were treated but not disbound 610 treatments were documented in total. 127 of these treatments were undertaken within Abp Reg 11. Treatments ranged from dry cleaning the surface of folios or unfolding the corners of a folio, to removing a previous repair that was obscuring text or repairing the edge of a folio that had suffered loss and damage. We would only undertake treatment where either text had been obscured (by dirt or folds) or the area was vulnerable to further deterioration during handling. Without this guideline in place it would not have been possible to complete the treatments in time for the digitisation to take place!

10 volumes contained paper in need of treatment
such as this document

10 volumes required paper repairs.

The majority of the folios in the Archbishops’ Registers are parchment, but there are occasional paper inserts and modern paper endleaves in the volumes too. 33 of the 610 treatments mentioned above were on paper, but almost all of the others were on parchment.

9 (give or take) descriptive phrases for the metadata
 that gave me a headache!

9 descriptive phrases for the metadata that created plenty of
This is a very subjective number, which would certainly fluctuate depending on who you spoke to! I first became involved with the metadata when it became apparent that not all of the images could take their image number from a folio number. The Archbishops’ Registers are nothing if not inconsistent, and there were various hiccoughs to accommodate, as well as the structural features of each volume (and those thrown in from previous bindings). A lot of my time was spent deciding what information to include, what to leave out, and which terms best reflected what the end user would see in the image.

8 volumes requiring only minor treatments such as
 the dry cleaning shown here

8 volumes requiring minor work…

As opposed to 32 volumes requiring major work! In my initial assessments, ‘minor work’ refers to cleaning or small areas of flattening. ‘Major work’ includes larger areas to flatten and more invasive or time consuming treatments. A small local humidification with a non-aqueous solvent could be applied and dried within an hour or so, whereas the application of a repair would take a minimum of 3 days of treatment when drying time is taken into account. My workflow planning needed to take all of this information into account, so that I could ensure the photographer had a seamless flow of volumes to image and process.

7 spines over 10cm in width.

The Archbishops’ Registers vary in size, but the most
7 spines over 10cm in width
memorable volumes are the largest. 7 of the volumes have spines between 10 and 15cm wide. Several of these have also been bound with thick wooden boards, and consequently they are large, heavy and unwieldy to manoeuvre. This has made them challenging to handle safely during conservation and digitisation. In spite of this (or partly because of this?) these are some of my favourite Registers – most of the bindings still function well, and they have an undeniably weighty presence. I can’t help but think when I look at them that they must contain a formidable number of sheep!

6 hours of Conservation at the Summer Institute.

In the summer of 2015 we held a Summer Institute for 12 participants on the subject of the Archbishops’ Registers. Classes and workshops covered the history and context of the registers, reading and interpretation of the registers and the opportunity to develop a mini-research project. I was privileged to be asked to take the students for a whole day, and managed to pack in information and

6 hours of Conservation talks and activities with students
 at the Summer Institute
investigative tasks regarding the materials, tools and techniques with which the registers were created, as well as explaining and demonstrating the role that Conservation has played in this project and discussing some of the ethical implications and dilemmas we have been working with.

5 sheets of goldbeater’s skin

This is the material I have been using to support damaged and vulnerable areas of the parchment folios. Over the course of the project I have repaired over 100 parchment folios and each of these takes a minimum of 3 days to complete. When treating parchment it is important to keep moisture to a minimum; consequently the repairs are applied in stages so that they can dry in between applications of adhesive.

5 sheets of goldbeater’s skin used to repair damaged parchment such as the example above from Abp Reg 10 f.25 
             (left: before treatment; right: after treatment)

4.3 kg of magnetic restraint

4.3kg my favourite magnetic pull strength
I have been using magnets as a tool to restrain parchment when it is drying. I use a ferrosheet under the parchment folio, so that a magnet placed on top of the parchment will hold the parchment in place. I have experimented with various sizes and strengths of magnet, but my current favourite is a neodymium cylindrical magnet of 12mm diameter and 6mm height at a strength of N42 which gives a pull of 4.3kg!

3 volumes disbound

The decision to disbind any of the registers was not taken lightly. The process is very invasive and can risk damaging the register; loose leaves are more vulnerable to future deterioration than those in a binding; removing the binding alters the format of the register; and historical evidence can be lost during disbinding. On the other hand the bindings we were considering were not original bindings; they were very stiff, which obscured a significant proportion of text on the majority of folios; and the stiffness of the binding was also hindering the functionality of the volume. 3 registers have been disbound and digitised as loose leaves. A major concern for the New Year will be to discuss with the archivists whether these registers will be re-bound, and if so in what manner.

3 registers disbound
2 sheets of gelatine remaining, used for repairs
 and poultices such as the example above

2 sheets of gelatine remaining

I have been using gelatine as my main adhesive of choice for both paper and parchment repairs. I have also used gelatine to create poultices, which I have used for a number of treatments. Poultices allow a slow transfer of moisture. I have used them to soften the adhesive of previous repairs in order to remove them. I have also used poultices to remove paper guards from parchment inserts. Lastly, I have been using gelatine poultices to remove materials that have been adhered to the spines of the volumes I have disbound. Including the volumes that have been disbound, I have used poultices to treat 289 folios, and removed spine linings from 3 volumes. This has used 61 sheets of gelatine – with 2 sheets left over for the New Year.
1 happy conservator!

1 frazzled but very happy conservator
I have sincerely enjoyed working on this project. It has been a privilege to work on the Archbishop’s Registers, and a pleasure to work with such beautiful volumes. I look forward to seeing the images of all the registers available online in the not too distant future!

Catherine Dand, Project Conservator

Monday, 21 December 2015

Yule and Yule's Wife

Today is December 21st, Midwinter day and also the traditional date of the feast of St Thomas, which sees winter traditions continuing  all over Britain, Europe and further afield.

In York, the longest night and shortest day heralded the ancient custom of the Yule Riding and the beginning of Christmas festivities. During the reign of Elizabeth I, in around 1570, an anonymous balladeer wrote Yule in Yorke, a broadside ballad describing the Riding. [1] The custom included a disguised couple carrying a leg or shoulder of lamb and  a cake of ‘purest meale’, the playing of music and the throwing of nuts by the following crowds. The full text of this ballad and many others like it has been made available through the Bodleian Libraries Ballads Online project, which brings together a rich collection of often unique printed songs, satires, news and moral advice.

The ballad of Yule in Yorke, shared under Creative Commons licence.
This pious representation of the celebration links (sometimes rather tenuously) each part of the festivities to the birth of Jesus. A rather different view of St Thomas’ Day and ‘the very old, gray bearded Gentleman called Christmas’ is shown in a satirical passage printed in London in 1645, which describes a Bacchanalian Father Christmas enjoying, food, drink and gambling amongst other activities!

Printed by the festively named Simon Minc'd-Pye and Cissely Plum Porridge.
Thewhole document can be read at Early English Books Online
One can imagine that it was celebrations more like these that prompted the 1572 letter written to the Mayor and Aldermen of York decrying the city’s ‘verie rude and barbarouse’ Yule Riding. Recorded in the Act Book of the High Commission, the letter bemoans the profaning of the holy day and despairs at the crowds of people drawn from otherwise divine services to watch (and presumably participate in!) the spectacle.
HC.AB.7 f42v

HC.AB.7 f41r
HC.AB.7 f41r

Transcribed, the letter reads as follows:

13 November 1572
After our hartie commendacions, whereas there hath bene heretofore a verie rude and barbarouse custome mainteyned in this citie, and in no other citie or towne of this realme to our knowledge,
that yerelie upon St Thomas Daie before Christmas two disguised persons called Yule and Yules Wief should ryde thorow the citie verey undecentlie and uncomelie, drawinge great concurses of people after them to gaise, often times committinge other enormities, forasmuche as the said disguysed rydinge and concourse afforesaid besydes other enconvenientes tendeth also to the prophanynge of that daie appointed to holie uses and also withdrawethe great multitudes of people frome devyne service and sermons, we have thought good by thes presents to will and require yow & nevertheles in the Quenes Majesties name and by vertew of hir highnes commission for causeis ecclesiasticall within the Province of Yorke to us & others directed, straitlie to charge and commaunde yow that ye take order that no such ryding of Yule and Yules Wief be frome hencefurth attempted or used, and that yow cause this our preceipte and order to be registred of recorde and to be duelie observed not onelie for this yere but also for all other yeres ensueng, requiringe you hereof not to fale as our truste is you will not and as ye will answere for the contrarie.   Fare you hartelie well atYorke this XIIIth of November 1572
                                                   Your lovinge frendes

  Edm. Ebor

           Matth. Hutton[2]
John Rokbye

       Thomas Eymis
Will. Stryckland 

Chrisofer Asheburne
[To the]  
Maior and aldermen

of Yorke

The letter was signed by Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of York (previously Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury). Upon his appointment  two years earlier, he had already found that “many superstitious practices remained” amongst the people of York and he recommended that the boisterous Yule festival be banned ‘for all other yeres ensuing’. When read to the council, it was agreed that “no disguysed persons called Yule and Yule’s wif … shall ryde this yere nor any yere hensforth, on Saynt Thomas Day before Christmas”.

But do not despair! Although the Yule Riding was banned in 1572, to this day the York Waits process from Micklegate Bar around the city on Midwinter night, accompanied by traditional Tudor instruments and a crowd of followers. Maybe if you're out after dark, you'll be able to hear the sounds of Elizabethan York in the ancient streets once more.

R. Davies, Municipal Records of the City of York, 1843.
F. Drake, Eboracum, 1736
A. F. Johnston, Records of Early English Drama, Vol.1, No.1. 1976

[1] Broadside ballads were printed on large sheets of paper and sold from street-corners, or stuck up in pubs, by travelling ballad singers.
[2] Then Dean of the Minster and later Archbishop himself.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Revealing the Registers: some personal highlights

Gary Brannan, Access Archivist, takes a personal look at some of the highlights and questions from the York’s Archbishops’ Registers Revealed project

We’re now coming to the end of a project which started life in October last year to conserve, digitise and make available online the Registers of the Archbishops of York 1225-1646. The project - generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation - will also develop new tools and resources to allow us to add index data to the Register images, opening the content of many of the Registers for the very first time.

When I came back to the Borthwick in June 2014, I’ll admit that my direct experience lay more with old title deeds, Police records and local authority minute books than the day to day dealings of an Archiepiscopate.

The oft-quoted description of the Registers is that they are an ‘administrative record of the business of an Archbishop’, which - let’s face it - doesn’t immediately sound like the most exciting source on the planet. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t agree with that description - they’re a largely unexplored record of how we came to be who we are;  filtered through the eyes of the church. They’re the evidence of attitudes to morality and immorality, life and death, love and hate, war-making and peace-making.

I’ve spent some time over the last couple of days considering what some of the highlights of this project have been from my own (entirely selfish) point of view. In no order whatsoever, I’ve settled upon:

Register 1 unrolled
Register 1 (split into parts A + B) doesn’t take the form of a bound volume  - they’re both rolled examples and a crucial first step in the process of developing Episcopal Registration at York. They’re also very, very long - over 21 metres in length (or 70 feet), when taken together. Being able to stand at the top of the Reg 1A, seeing it unravelled into the distance and knowing that not many people will see (and will have seen) a sight such as this was one of those moments of ‘temporal vertigo’ that we’re lucky to experience on occasion when working on projects such as this.

Reg 1A and 1B unrolled

The story of Thomas de Whalley
As part of the preparation for the Summer Institute held in July, I spent some time searching out interesting - and challenging - content for our students to work on.  came across a visitation of Selby Abbey by Archbishop Wickwane, dated January 1279/80. I have honestly never had a more entertaining working afternoon than the one I spent translating the various misdeeds of Thomas de Whalley (the then-Abbot of Selby). He didn’t teach, didn’t preach, didn’t observe the rule of St. Benedict; was never out of bed to hear Matins (a service before dawn); as well as having a predilection for the gatehouse keeper’s daughter. The final straw was, it seems, the fact that a brother’s body was found in the river Ouse, and de Whalley tried to remedy this via the use of a ‘Wizard’. He was, as you may expect, excommunicated.

Visitation of Selby, 1279/80, Abp Reg 3, f. 27 r

Summer days (and nights)
The whole of the Summer Institute was a highlight for me. The Borthwick hadn't run anything like this for some time and I could fill a whole blog post with individual moments of brilliance. One that always springs to mind was seeing the students (who were all experienced researchers on their way to a PhD) really enjoying working with the texts, seeing how they could link them to their research interests, and seeing them really dive into the possibilities in the source. At the end of the course, one student outlined how he’d been encouraged not to apply at one point, but had done so anyway. Later in the Summer Institute we shared a moment of discovery when he happened upon an entry relating to the person he was researching - a special moment, illustrating the potential in the records we were working with and his own development of his skills in reading medieval handwriting which I'd been teaching him the week before!

Students working with the Registers at the Summer Institute

The unstitching debate
An afternoon spent with the Keeper of Archives, wrestling with a fundamental dilemma - to unstitch, or not to unstitch? In some of the earlier Registers, supplementary documents are either stitched or bound in, giving some folios the appearance of a flip-book of small parchment items. As part of the preparatory work, we had to consider strategies for dealing with these along with the Project Conservator and ask ourselves, carefully, if we had the justification to undertake this kind of invasive work. It took thought, careful consideration and time. Was it right to interfere, in this way, with a document? By doing this, did we change its meaning? How much did the fact an item was in a particular position mean, and if we moved it, would we change the interpretation? Did it need to be done, or was there another way? In the end, we made the decisions we needed to make, but the time we spent really considering the ethics of this kind of digitisation was a really valuable part of the process.

Parchment inserts, Abp Reg 4 f 18 v

Questions, answers and discoveries
This, I think, has been one of the ongoing highlights - challenging what we think we know about the Registers. Even something as simple as looking at the ordering of the original quires within a volume has raised so many questions about the order and creation of the volumes - were they always in that order? Did it change? We’ve worked with projects looking at the DNA and protein structures of the parchment in the Registers - does the nature of parchment give us an idea of where the folios were created and used? Working with the Canterbury Registers at Lambeth Palace raised a question - were they opened from the front, or the back? Who decided what content went into a Register, and why? Allied to that question - can we work out what was left out? To me, it has been a case of picking away at the threads of what we know, and divining useful, vital research questions for the future.

13th century hunting scene found in the margin of Abp Reg 4

The future
In some ways, I now need look less at what’s been done and more at what’s to come - seeing and hearing about people using the Registers, getting out on the road in 2016 to talk about them and advocate for their use by a whole range of researchers; and in developing the projects ahead to make use of the tools, techniques and experience we’ve developed. We already have two projects on the go that will provide index data for the Registers 1570-1650, and 1304-1306, with more projects under development.

The fantastic images we have created will be available online (and free of charge)  from the end of the year, with index data being added as 2016 progresses.This feels like a long first step. The combination of the tools we’ve developed and systems behind it have laid the ground for an exciting journey into our shared past - and we’d love you to join us along the way.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Brafferton Manor and the Indian School at the College of William and Mary, Virginia

In 1975 a portion of the archive of the Christian Faith Society (CFS) was transferred to the Borthwick Institute from Lambeth Palace.  The transferred records concerned the manor of Brafferton in Yorkshire, which had been purchased in 1694 as a landed endowment by the trustees of what would later become the CFS.  The Brafferton papers contain many of the items you might expect to find in such an archive; deeds, surveys, rentals and other papers detailing the business of the estate and the development of Brafferton village.  However included among them are three documents that highlight a surprising link between this small Yorkshire village and the history of America in the 17th and 18th centuries; one which gave a name to a colonial college building in Virginia and set a legal precedent in a groundbreaking court case following the American Revolution.

The CFS was created through the charitable bequest of Robert Boyle.  Born in Ireland in 1627, Boyle was the youngest son of the Earl of Cork and a celebrated natural philosopher, chemist, and physicist in his own right, with a keen interest in theology.  He financed the publication of an Irish language bible in the 1680s and donated money to various missionary societies working in the East where he himself had interests as a director of the East India Company.

The Shannon Portrait of the Hon. Robert Boyle, F.R.S. (1689).
Reproduced with permission of The Chemical Heritage Foundation
Boyle died in 1691 and in his will he directed that £4,000 from his estate be used for the advancement ‘or propagation of the Christian religion amongst infidels.’  His trustees, which included the Bishop of London, used the bequest to purchase Brafferton and in 1693 a large portion of the annual income of the estate was awarded to the newly founded College of William and Mary in Virginia, America.  

Copy of enrolment of bargain and sale of the manor and advowson of Brafferton,
in trust for the propagation of the Gospel in Virginia, 31 August 1695 (CFS 39)

The choice was not as strange as it might appear.  At this time Virginia was still a British colony under the spiritual authority of the Church of England, as vested in the Bishop of London.  It was his commissary in Virginia, Reverend Doctor James Blair, who travelled to England in 1691 to petition King William III and Queen Mary for the establishment of a college in the colony and there heard of the Boyle legacy.  Blair appealed to the Bishop of London and the money was duly granted to the new College – it was perhaps in deference to the Boyle bequest that the college pledged in its 1693 foundation charter to propagate the Christian faith ‘amongst the Western Indians, to the glory of Almighty God.’ 

In keeping with this pledge, and Boyle’s wishes, the College established an Indian School where, in return for annual payments from the Brafferton estate, they would keep ‘Indian children in Sicknesse and health, in Meat, drink, Washing, Lodgeing, Cloathes, Medicine, books and Education from the first beginning of Letters till they are ready to receive Orders and be thoughts Sufficient to be sent abroad to preach and Convert the Indians.’  

Excerpt from an appeal to the Lord Chancellor from Masters and Professors of the College of William and Mary, Virginia, against the Bishop of London and Mayor and corporation of the same concerning timber at Brafferton, 1773 (CFS 13)

The governor of the colony enlisted Indian traders to take the news to the local tribes, but they proved resistant to the offer of European education until 1711 when Governor Spotswood offered to remit the tributes they owed if they sent their male children to the school.  As a result of this policy, the Indian School had 20 native boys by the summer of 1722, including members of the local Pamunkey, Nansemond and Chickahominy nations.  The students were taught English reading and writing, arithmetic and catechism, as well as drawing, for which they were said to have a ‘natural’ and ‘excellent genius.’

Initially the boys were housed in the town and their classes were held in temporary quarters, but in 1723 the income from the Yorkshire estate was used to build The Brafferton, a two storey brick ‘House and Apartments for the Indian Master and his Scholars.’  

The Brafferton c.1907.
P1979.1051, University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center,
Swem Library, College of William and Mary

Classes were held downstairs, with the boys sleeping in dormitories on the first floor.   Despite this improved accommodation, student numbers soon dropped again and would remain low for the remainder of the life of the school.  Without coercion, native tribes remained unwilling to part with their children.  In 1744 an Iroquois speaker declined one such invitation to provide students, saying ‘we love our Children too well to send them so great a Way,’ while other children who were sent to the college simply ran away, or completed their education only to return to their own people and take up their previous way of life – to the great frustration of the colonists.   From the 1750s onward the school could only maintain an enrollment of between 3 and 5 students.

The outbreak of war between the American Colonies and the British Crown in the 1770s brought an end to the college’s Indian School and to the Boyle endowment they had enjoyed for some eighty years.  At first the war had merely disrupted payments from Brafferton, but after America declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776 the College attempted to reclaim its lost rents, with the accumulated arrears, prompting  Bielby Porteous, then Bishop of London,  to challenge their claim in the Court of Chancery.  It was a pioneering legal case.  As the bishop himself later wrote, ‘the question was, whether they, being now separated from this kingdom, and become a foreign, independent state, were entitled to the benefit of this charity.  It was the first question of the kind that had occurred in this country since the American revolution, and was therefore in the highest degree curious and important.’ 

Chancery eventually ruled against the College and the income from the Brafferton estate was instead diverted to the conversion and religious instruction of slaves in the British West Indies, a particular cause of Bishop Porteous.  

'The township of Brafferton...the Estate of the Society for the conversion and religious instruction
of the negro slaves in the British West Islands, by John Tuke, 1796' (PR/BRAF/44.1)

With its principle source of income severed, the Indian School had ceased to function by 1777 and in 1785 The Brafferton building was repurposed by the College.   While it is hard to see the Indian School as anything but a failure for its colonial founders, it was not always so for the native students who were sometimes able to use the language skills and the knowledge of British culture they acquired to serve as interpreters between their own people and the colonists.

The Brafferton estate was broken up in the 1950s.  Today the Christian Faith Society continues to direct its income to the training and religious instruction of clergy and laity in the West Indies.  Meanwhile the estate’s namesake, The Brafferton, is still standing.  Having had much of its wooden interiors torn out for firewood and fortifications in the American Civil War, it was extensively restored in the 1930s and is now the second oldest building to have survived at the College of William and Mary, housing the offices of the college president and provost.

The Brafferton today (courtesy of Wikimedia commons)


Helen C. Rountree, ‘Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries’ (Oklahoma, 1990).

Margaret Connell Szasz, ‘Indian Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783’ (Nebraska, 2007).

Irvin Lee Wright, ‘Piety, politics, and profit : American Indian missions in the colonial colleges. A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education Montana State University’ (Montana 1985).

‘The Indian School at William and Mary’ (