A conservation challenge: the Aylsham Lancaster Court Roll, 1509-46 - September 2012 to March 2014

Summary

The aim of the project was to repair the Aylsham Lancaster Court Roll, which would also allow for the future digitisation of the document. The project was delivered through a partnership between Norfolk Record Office (NRO), the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and BioArCh, University of York, with funding from Norfolk Record Office, National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and the Aylsham local community.

The parchment roll, which consists of 131 parchment rotulets, is one of a series of records from the Court of the Manor of Aylsham which date from 1446-1846.  Due to its poor condition, this roll was the only record of the court which was unavailable to researchers.

Poor storage conditions prior to deposit at Norfolk Record Office had resulted in damage to the document with deterioration most marked on the main roll. Most rotulets had suffered severe dehydration becoming porous and delaminating, which had resulted in the loss of large parts of the text.

Challenges

Developing a conservation strategy which involved minimal conservation work but which would improve the stability of the document was essential. Safe handling of the document during any future digitisation work was given particular emphasis in the strategy.

Some of the most severely deteriorated sections of the roll had text on both sides of the parchment. Therefore understanding current thinking around repairing parchment (collagen), which is highly sensitive to water, was important.  This enabled NRO to source the most suitable adhesive in order to repair the damaged document.

Opportunities

Developing new ways of recording information about materials and their condition based on the 'improved damage assessment of parchment' (IDAP) ensured the detailed recording of information about individual rotulets. This information could be made available to local historians had already expressed interest regarding the format of the roll.

The team at BioArCh, University of York, analysed all 131 parchment rotulets for species mapping and parchment quality indexing, using a new non-invasive sampling method at no cost to the project. This scientific evidence compliments the physical and historical evidence and helps answer some of the research questions about the current format of the roll.

Responding to the challenges and opportunities

The project team responded to the challenges and opportunities of the project by:

  • designing a new system for material information and condition reporting, and for the management of referencing and retrieving large quantities of digital images
  • developing new methods for managing the handling and accessing of large quantities of fragile material during conservation treatments
  • researching and working with manufacturers and suppliers of new and existing materials
  • working with a supplier to bring new material for conservation to the UK
  • testing several different adhesives and producing a handout for conservators about Isinglass
  • manufacturing large quantities of re-moistenable repair material
  • collaborating with scientists to analyse parchment
  • developing a new methodology for the application of repairs for severely dehydrated and porous parchment

This response enabled the repair of each rotulet with minimal intervention and enables researchers to read all text on the roll without risk to the document. This is also the first step towards the future digitisation of the parchment roll.

Project outcomes

NRO acts as an Archives and Records Association (ARA) Training Centre for parchment conservation. Trainees in parchment conservation, as well as two visiting conservators from the University of Melbourne Australia, had the opportunity to undertake research/investigation into the conservation work carried out on the parchment roll.

The project conservator talked about the adhesive used for the work on the roll to a group of conservators at an ARA adhesive workshop held at NRO and is planning to repeat the talk at workshops in Wales at the next Archives and Records Association conference.
 
The analysis of the parchment by BioArCh revealed historical aspects of the original format and use of the roll, which is an area of particular research interest to local historians. This information is accessible to them now through the use of a shared Google Drive database.

Once the project is completed information about the conservation treatment and analysis of the parchment roll  will form an invaluable resource and will become an archive in its own right.

What went well? What didn't go quite as well?

  • exploring and understanding all aspects of the materials and adhesives has allowed staff at the archive service to develop new and innovative ways to cope with the complex challenges of conserving friable parchment
  • underestimating the complexity of the project due to the very poor condition of the parchment and the large number of individual rotulets 
  • producing enough of the custom designed repair tissue required a lot of time and continued effort on the part of the project conservator

Developing the work in the future

  • the archive service intends to repair other parchment rolls in their collections using new knowledge gained during the project
  • NRO and the University of East Anglia are supporting a PhD student as part of a Professional Internship for PhD students (PIPS) to work with the conservation team at the archive service for twelve weeks to research adhesives currently being used in the conservation of archives. This will benefit  the student by enabling him or her to focus on real needs in the workplace, and it will benefit conservation staff by expanding existing knowledge
  • BioArCh and NRO are looking at future partnership projects that potentially will reveal more about parchment, and the social history that emerges from it

For further information about the project contact:

antoinette.curtis@norfolk.gov.uk