In 2006, the London Metropolitan Archives, City of London (LMA), received a grant from the National Manuscript Conservation Trust for the conservation of the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers from Surrey and Kent, to make it accessible for researchers. The funding allowed for my employment to treat both textblock and binding structure, together with the provision of a bespoke clamshell box. The funding also enabled some research of other 16th– and 17th-century parchment-covered stationery bindings to assist the evaluation of a structure based on historical evidence, yet sympathetic to the requirements of the volume.
The findings have since been presented at the 11th Care and Conservation of Manuscripts seminar in Copenhagen[i] and the ‘Stationery Bindings: History, Development and Treatment’ event at Stafford, UK in 2013[ii]. Recent presentations about stationery bindings at two conferences are proof of a growing interest in the subject. Katherine Beaty (Weissman Preservation Center, Harvard University) presented ‘Tackets, Overbands and Buckle: Survey and stabilization of tacketed account books of the Medici family’ in October 2015 at the conference held by the International Association of Book and Paper Conservators (IADA) in Berlin. In April 2016 at the 16th Care and Conservation of Manuscripts seminar in Copenhagen, Frederick Bearman’s (University College London) research into ‘The laced overband: Its place in the history of stationery bindings’ showed the interrelations between history and the development of binding elements. At the same conference, Kelli Piotrowski (Harvard Library, Weissman Preservation Center, Harvard University) presented ‘Unfurled: The conservation of English manor rolls’. These talks highlight the growing interest in, and at the same time the continuous need for further research into, stationery bindings.
In this contribution, only the work on the binding structure of the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers will be discussed. For further information about the condition and treatment of the paper textblock and iron gall ink damage, please refer to the article about this project in the proceedings of the 11th Care and Conservation of Manuscripts seminar in Copenhagen [iii].
The first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent is kept at the LMA under the shelfmark SKCS 018. Prior to treatment, the minute book was “unfit for production”, which meant that it could not be studied except on special request and under the supervision of a conservator. The binding and textblock were heavily damaged, and regular use would have led to worsening of their condition. A historically important document was therefore not available for general research.
The Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent was the earliest of the London sewer commissions to be established on an organised basis, in 1554. The area of its jurisdiction remained the same throughout the three centuries during which it functioned, and stretched from the area around Hampton Court in Surrey to Bromley in Kent.
All of the commissions left large bodies of records. Those of the Surrey and Kent commission of sewers are of particular significance because the commissions in the area around London had wider terms of reference than elsewhere in the country, being responsible for small watercourses like streams and gutters in addition to the more usual canals and rivers.
The first minute book includes details of all the business conducted by the commissioners, including orders and presentments. These presentments involve the reporting of offences committed by residents or businessmen living and working along the banks of watercourses, and deal, for example, with such matters as failing to repair wharves and jetties or cutting channels in the bank to divert the water for their own purposes. The minutes give a vivid snapshot of the conditions and problems experienced by both residents of Tudor England and those attempting to control and maintain the watercourses and drainage facilities that formed such a vital part of daily life.
The Current Binding Structure
The first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent (Fig.1) is a large volume: it measures 430 x 295 x 115 mm and contains 518 pages. From documenting the binding it was established that at least twice in the history of this manuscript interventions had been undertaken. Probably in the middle or at the end of the 19th century[iv] the textblock had been re-sewn on cords, creating five new stations instead of reusing sewing holes of the original stations. It was then bound in a full, dark red leather binding in heavy laminated boards with chamfered edges and clasps. This new binding must again have been badly damaged, as it had to undergo a second extensive repair: the board attachment needed repair, new spine linings were applied, new cloth made endpapers with leather joints were added, made endbands were adhered to the head and tail, the board edges were repaired with new leather and the spine of the volume was covered in new red leather with a gold tooled title on the spine.
The heavy weight of the boards posed a structural problem. It put a lot of stress on the joints, which over time had become weak and eventually broke. At the beginning of this conservation project the boards and the spine cover were mostly detached. The leather used for the edge repairs and spine was badly deteriorated. The clasps were lost.
The textblock consists of 34 sections, most of them made up of 8 bifolios. There is a single parchment leaf at both the front and the back of the textblock. The minutes are written in iron gall ink on handmade laid paper. Different hands and layouts (Figs. 2 and 13) distinguish the individual clerks, who used different inks, some mixtures causing greater damage to the paper than others. The evidence presented through examination of the minute book was inconclusive as to whether the single sections were written on by clerks to be bound later or a ready-bound, blank book was used for the work.
The current binding structure presented significant defects: the paper guards around the textblock sections caused damage to the paper edges when the book was in use (Fig. 3). The weight of the boards put constant stress on the joints. The repair leather used for the cover repairs and the spine cover was deteriorated and did not offer any protection or strength. For the removal of the guards, the sewing would have to be taken down. This offered the opportunity for a more sympathetic and sound binding structure based on both traces of the original and the study of other stationery bindings of the second half of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century in the London area.
After documenting the condition of the binding, the first step was to clean the spine of all lining material. This revealed the location of the original sewing holes. These were situated at three support stations, each with two holes about 25 mm apart.
16th– and 17th-Century Stationery Bindings in Parchment Covers
The only traces of the original binding structure were the original sewing holes and parchment endleaves. From the distance between sewing holes it could be assumed that the textblock originally had been sewn over strips of leather, parchment or alum-tawed skin. The heavily damaged edges of the textblock suggest that at one point in the book’s history the textblock had not been protected by heavy boards, but was only covered with a parchment cover.
A search for similar stationery bindings in the stacks of the LMA brought to light several groups of manuscripts similar in size, with the same sewing station layout, covered in parchment both with and without boards. These bindings exhibited similar textblock-edge damage where the parchment cover had not offered much protection against upright storage, handling and pollution. A group of Diocese of London court records[v] represented what the earlier binding structure of the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent could have looked like, and also demonstrated identical features of deterioration (Figs. 4-7).
The investigation into literature on stationery and parchment bindings did not reveal significant information about structures relevant to the minute book of the Commission of Sewers. However, in 2003 at a one-day conference on stationery bindings at The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), London (TNA), useful handouts and notes were made available that prompted a visit to the archive [vi]. This resulted in the examination of stationery bindings at TNA in comparison with the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent. The research was narrowed down to late 16th– and early 17th-century stationery bindings that had at least 200 pages and a minimum height of 300 mm. The material at TNA illustrated the many variations and combinations of binding elements on stationery bindings covered in parchment both with and without boards. None of these bindings resembled the minute book exactly, but a list of common structural and decorative binding elements emerged, including the use of:
- two or three stations and kettle stitches
- first and last sections sewn with securing stitches (securing by piercing through the middle of the sewing support) (Fig. 8)
- sewing guards made of parchment to prevent tackets from cutting into sections (Fig. 9)
- sewing supports made of several layers of parchment, leather or alum-tawed skin
- spine glued up with animal glue on some of the bindings
- no spine liners
- sewing supports cut flush with the textblock or strips of extensions laced through the cover and/or pasted under pastedowns
- parchment covers with blocks[vii] (Figs. 4 and 6) or overbands
- parchment bindings without boards (Fig. 5) or with boards (Fig. 7)
- tackets (primary and secondary) to hold the cover to the textblock and made from twisted parchment, leather or cord
- foredge flap, yapp edges or no extension on foredge, with and without foredge ties
- many variations on corner and edge tackets made of parchment, cord or alum-tawed skin
- no endbands
The New Binding
The original binding of the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent was lost, and the current binding presented significant structural problems and did not match the textblock historically. It was decided to rebind the textblock using more sympathetic materials, with a structure that reflected the original while creating a sound and protective structure.
For some time now, parchment bindings have been known to be suitable for rebinding early printed materials[viii] and manuscripts. They offer good opening qualities to enable regular study and, if necessary, are reversible, i.e. the cover can be removed without damaging the original textblock.
The design of the new binding was based on the research into stationery bindings covered in parchment of the late 16th and early 17th century, incorporating all original elements found on the minute book: the original three sewing stations were used as well as the two kettle stitches. For sewing supports, three tapes made of three layers of parchment and one layer of alum-tawed skin with extensions were prepared. This feature was based on findings from the Diocese of London bindings. The sections were sewn all along with two-ply flax seaming twine from Barbour and with a securing stitch in the first and last sections. The sewing supports are very rigid and should make any spine linings unnecessary. However, due to the enormous size of this volume, the spine was pasted up with wheat starch paste and lined with Japanese paper [ix]. No endbands were sewn. Pasteboards made of a laminate of eight sheets of 80 gsm handmade paper and paste were prepared, copying the pasteboards in one of the Diocese of London bindings (Fig. 7). The alum-tawed skin extensions of the supports were laced into the pasteboards (Fig. 10). To ensure a good opening, the boards required back cornering. The laced-in boards and back cornering were structural elements added to historical findings for a stronger structure and to ensure good opening of the cover. The parchment for the cover[x] was cut to size and turned in at head and tail. Four twisted parchment tackets for each sewing station were threaded through the following: the parchment sewing guards, the centre of a section, the spine card, the cover and, finally, a block. The blocks were made of alum-tawed skin toned with Sellaset leather dyes[xi] and lined with vellum. After the cover was secured in the correct position, the foredges were turned in and the cover was fixed with alum-tawed skin tackets close to the joints and with foredge ties made of alum-tawed skin.
A box was made according to instructions devised by the Library of Congress in Washington, DC [xii]. It is a rare book box with a compartment for a portfolio larger than the book. The portfolio houses the heavy boards of the removed binding in a four-flap folder[xiii], the spine linings, sewing supports, threads and made endbands, together with samples of what was found in the gutter. These fragments and finds were mounted onto card and put into Melinex® sleeves. The binding in its new storage box will be stored horizontally.
The historically based structure and cover will protect the conserved textblock well. The natural drape of the textblock upon opening was particularly noticeable and will assist the preservation of the manuscript (Fig. 13). Horizontal storage will ensure that there will not be too much stress put on the parchment cover or on the spine structure.
The presentation of this project at the 11th International Seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts was intended as a reminder of the value of tacketed or laced-on parchment and also paper bindings as a historical sympathetic rebinding option for 16th– and 17th-century manuscripts and printed books that have lost their original cover. It also highlighted the many research opportunities the subject of English stationery bindings in parchment covers still offer.
I would like to thank my colleagues at the London Metropolitan Archives, as well as other friends and colleagues who always had time to listen, and who supplied me with valuable guidance, especially Fred Bearman, Jane Eagan, Christopher Harvey, Heather Edwards-Hedley, Maria Kalligerou, Christine McNair, Elizabeth Neville, Georgia Southworth, Lara Speroni, Karen Vidler, Liz Yamada and Teresa Zammit Lupi. Stefania Signorello and Paul Thorogood have offered great support for posting this blog contribution.
Sonja Schwoll ACR is an independent book conservator accredited by the UK’s Institute of Conservation (Icon). She trained at Camberwell College of Arts, achieving an MA in Conservation. She has worked in both the private and public sector in the UK and the US. Currently she runs her own studio in London and teaches book conservation at West Dean College and Camberwell College of Arts.
[i] I was able to present my talk thanks to the organisers of the 11th International Seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts, who invited me to speak, and the Anna Plowden Trust, which granted financial support enabling me to travel to Copenhagen. My talk has been published in the conference proceedings:
Schwoll, S., The conservation of the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent, 1557-1606, Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 11, Proceedings of the Eleventh International Seminar Held at the University of Copenhagen 24th-25th April 2008, pp. 63-79.
This blog contribution is an edited version of the published text in the conference proceedings.
[ii] On 4 February 2013, coordinated by Victoria Stevens (Oxford Conservation Consortium) and Mark Furness (University of Manchester), Icon’s Book and Paper Group Conservation Training Register (CTR) and the Archives and Records Association (ARA) Preservation and Conservation Section organized a joint training day on stationery bindings at the Staffordshire Record Office.
[iii] Schwoll, S., The conservation of the first minute book of the Commission of Sewers of Surrey and Kent, 1557-1606, Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 11, Proceedings of the Eleventh International Seminar Held at the University of Copenhagen 24th-25th April 2008, pp. 63-79.
[iv] Ida Darlington (see endnote 1) mentions rebinding and repair of records around 1840 and then again 1890. However, the dating of the interventions was not researched in detail and has to remain speculation.
[v] These records can be found under shelfmarks starting with DL/C. The two examples showed in this article are DL/C/22 and DL/C/222.
[vi] Conference notes from “An Introduction to the History of Stationery Bindings” held at the Public Record Office, Kew, London, organised by IPC in 2002:
Bearman, Fred. The History and Structural Development of Archive Bookbinding in the Medieval Period.
Craft, Angela. Conservation of Limp Parchment Stationery Books in the PRO.
Maver Ian and Karen Vidler. A Demonstration of Medieval Stationery Bookbinding Styles.
Whitehead, Pete. Stationery Bindings from 15th Century Limp Bindings to the 19th Century Springback.
[vii] The term ‘blocks’ describes here the spine tacket reinforcements, which are cut flush with the shoulder of the binding, as opposed to overbands, which extend onto the sides.
[viii] Clarkson, Christopher. Limp Vellum Binding and its Potential as a Conservation Type Structure for the Rebinding of Early Printed Books. Red Gull Press 1982.
[ix] A 30 gsm Kozo paper was chosen. The Japanese paper together with paste offered a similar support, which ‘glueing up’ with animal glue would have provided to the spine of 16th-century structures.
[x] A goat skin parchment was chosen for its strength, size and availability from William Cowley’s Parchment Works.
[xi] As provided by the Leather Conservation Centre.
[xii] Design and Construction of Boxes for the Protection of Rare Books. Compiled and illustrated by Margaret Brown. Assisted by Donald Etherington and Linda McWilliams. Washington, DC.
[xiii] The four flap folder was made using Heritage Woodfree, bookwhite, 315 gsm.
2 thoughts on “A mid-16th-century tacketed parchment binding: The first minute book of the Commission of Sewers 1557-1606, London Metropolitan Archives, City of London”
Wonderful job of research, treatment, and conservation of a very interesting book. The description and photos of this project were very well done.