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.