I thought I would start this blog post talking about insects. Most insects are of course not pests but there are a few which see books and documents as a source of food! Recently I placed a new set of ten insect traps throughout the main archive store. Some of our documents and books show signs of insect damage - holes and nibbled page edges – but here the damage is historic and the insects no longer present and active. However it is important to be vigilant to prevent future problems. The best way to ensure this is to keep the environment clean, dry and at a moderate temperature – that can be relatively easily done by using a dehumidifier when necessary. Any organic materials could be a potential food source so last year we replaced all the wooden shelving in the main archive store with steel shelving. We also now have a monitoring programme in place to keep an eye on species particularly attracted to paper books and documents such as silverfish and booklice which will thrive in warm damp conditions. We use sticky traps containing a pheromone tablet which lures the insect inside as you can see in the accompanying image. These traps we refresh every six months and have the contents analysed by a conservator. Unfortunately the traps also often snare friendly insects such as spiders which are useful in catching pests themselves.
Continuing with conservation and preservation we now have individual boxes for the Cathedral’s baptism, marriage and burial registers. These registers date back to 1564 and (particularly in the case of the baptism registers) give a fascinating insight into the social background of people living in The Close. Not just the great and the good were baptised in the Cathedral but also the children of servants and tradesmen living and working in the Close.
We have also had individual boxes made for a number of early bibles and prayer books partly to protect them from dust but another layer of protection from sunlight. I’m very pleased the problem of direct sunlight fading and drying out the book bindings in the Library has now essentially been solved by the application of UV film to each individual diagonal plane of glass, started in January and finished in March. Unless you looked really closely you would never know the film was there but it will make a tremendous difference to the books’ preservation. An added bonus was that the glass had to be cleaned before the film could be applied so the windows are particularly sparkly at present!
I have a great team of volunteer researchers who have been finding all sorts of interesting information in the archives about the history of the Spire over the last 70 years and what was happening in the Cathedral and Close during the two World Wars. We are holding an exhibition of what we’ve found out about the Spire in the Cathedral from Wednesday 2 August to Sunday 3 September. Alongside this will be a special ‘Archive Discovery Day’ during which the researchers will talk about the project and what they’ve discovered – this is on Saturday 5 August, do keep an eye on the Cathedral’s website and events leaflets for more information nearer the time.
Another exciting project which has kept me very busy over the last six months is ‘Animating the Archives’ led by Salisbury International Arts Festival and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Festival has joined up with the Cathedral to develop an unusual and exciting opportunity for a range of community groups, each working with a different artist to explore and be inspired by our library and archive collections. This fits perfectly with the Cathedral’s theme of memory and identity for outreach work in 2017 – of course the archive is the memory of any organisation. It has been very rewarding seeing school children, young carers, art students and people with dementia discovering some of the fascinating documents and books we have and seeing the art, music and animation that they have been inspired to create. One group taking part were art and design students from Wiltshire College – their inspired artwork was exhibited in the Cathedral Library during the Arts Festival. There is a developing project website animatingthearchives.co.uk – do have a look at it.
"They had the drink, and tapped it themselves"
Finally but by no means least progress continues on the archive cataloguing. I have recently updated some of the catalogues already available on the website but have also added some new catalogues including that of documents relating to the Choir and the maintenance of the Cathedral’s fabric. One rather touching document comes from a series of invoices and bills submitted by supplier and tradesmen to the Cathedral’s Clerk of Works for materials supplied. Nearly every invoice has a hole through the middle so they must have been originally kept on a spike. There is one invoice submitted by a brewer who supplied food and drink to Salisbury’s residents who help to put out a fire in the Cathedral in 1672. The total bill comes to £1 6s 4/12d but the brewer takes pains to write at the bottom of his bill: They had the drink, and tapped it themselves, and drew it out, I look not for a penny profit.