Last year Special Collections received a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust for the conservation of the Phillips of Hitchin archive. For over a century the company of Phillips of Hitchin was a prominent antiques dealer. Its archive contains a wealth of information about the company, its clients and the antiques it dealt in dating from 1882-2005.
Before the archive arrived in Special Collections it was stored in a garage where the damp conditions caused mould to grow on some papers. Many of the staples, paper clips and pins had rusted.
The conservation team estimate that 36,000 loose sheets of paper and around 200 bound manuscripts need to be cleaned and repackaged before the archive can be catalogued and made available to researchers. We have recruited an enthusiastic group of volunteers to help with this huge conservation task and are making steady progress.
Many of the loose papers arrived wrapped in bundles of brown parcel paper held together with sticky tape. Poor quality paper can turn acidic as a result of its manufacturing process or environmental pollutants. If left the wrapping paper would damage the archive. We remove the packaging carefully before starting to clean the papers and take care to ensure the sticky tape does not stick to the archives.
High tech equipment is not always necessary for cleaning paper. The majority of the cleaning is carried out employing fairly simple tools. The conservation team remove small amounts of mould and surface dirt with a chemical sponge and a natural fibre brush. For very fragile items we grate eraser into a fine powder and use it to gently clean the surface of paper.
Items which are very mouldy are treated with a special museum vacuum. Stubborn areas of mould that cannot be removed are treated with industrial denatured alcohol to kill off any remaining spores. While cleaning away mould is a painstaking task it is rewarding to see the difference before and after!
As well as potentially damaging the archive, mould can be harmful to people so we wear face masks, gloves and aprons. The team decontaminate brushes and equipment after use.
Rusty staples, pins and paper clips are a challenge. Using sheets of polyester to protect the documents, the conservation team remove the rusty fastenings carefully with tweezers. Stainless steel paper clips are used to hold the sheets together afterwards.
The Phillips of Hitchin archive presents a lot of conservation challenges. However it is a very interesting collection to work on as it contains records of the purchase and sale of beautiful historic objects by an important and influential company.
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On Tuesday 6 March, 30 eager visitors gathered in the Sheppard Room to hear Amanda Reed, a member of the Gypsy community and founder of the Gypsyville group on Facebook in conversation with Dr Jodie Matthews from the University of Huddersfield. Amanda and Jodie used a PowerPoint presentation of digitised images from the exhibition to give context to the items on display. Amanda explained how members of Leeds GATE (Leeds Gypsy And Traveller Exchange) were invited to choose a selection of artworks and photographs. Their insightful comments about the often harsh living conditions and cultural importance of horses, fairs, caravans, christenings and funerals form the captions on the left-hand side of the exhibition space.
Amanda could relate to some of the events captured in the photographs. It was fascinating to hear her recollections about her upbringing. She spoke passionately about the lack of positive representation in society, particularly the media, regarding Gypsies and Travellers. Growing up, she felt that every culture was being given a voice except hers. Members of the audience shared and empathised with Amanda’s view. We discussed some of the racism that still exists today yet were filled with hope when Amanda said she was hoping to bring her grandchildren to see their heritage in a museum setting – something she thought would never have been possible.
Dr Matthews was keen to stress that she had been approached to offer her academic expertise “second to Leeds GATE”. She said it was vital that the community were given the opportunity to be represented how they chose to be represented before she provided context. Jodie summarised how Gypsies and Travellers arrived in Britain before highlighting some of the struggles they have faced in trying to preserve their way of life. You can explore Jodie’s thought-provoking captions in more depth via the digital labels in our exhibition.
We have a packed events programme for ‘Rights and Romance: Representing Gypsy Lives’. There will be an after-hours exhibition celebration on 5th April with free refreshments provided. On 19th April, we have Special Collections Archivist Caroline Bolton revealing the stories behind the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections at the University of Leeds in a free lunchtime talk.
More events are planned for later in the year so keep an eye on the Galleries’ website for all the latest news.
Walter Garstang (1868-1949) was Professor of Zoology at the University of Leeds from 1907 to 1933. A pioneer in marine biology and fisheries research, the University’s Garstang building is named after him. In February we acquired an interesting collection of Garstang’s literary works and lectures.
These include ‘The Student’s Opera: A Burlesque Adaptation of the Song-Cycle of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera to themes of Modern University Life’ by Garstang. The programme announces that the play was performed to celebrate the ‘Jubilee of the Yorkshire College of Science and the Coming of Age of the University 1924’. Garstang’s humour is evident in the names of the dramatis personae which include ‘Susie Socket – a realist’ and ‘Professor Flickem – a Dean of Faculty’.
Garstang was passionate about the University of Leeds. His poem ‘The Red Sphinx’ is about the university’s icon the gryphon. Another praises ‘The White Rose’ on the institution’s arms. Garstang wrote many poems about nature and biology. His poetry collection ‘Larval Forms and Other Zoological’ verses was published posthumously in 1951.
We’ve also received a fascinating series of letters written by Private Arthur Barker from Birstall, West Yorkshire, to his wife Alice. Arthur (1881-1918) was conscripted in 1917. He sent over 100 letters to Alice from 1917-18 while training and on active service. Other items in his collection include an embroidered card sent by Alice to ‘My dear husband’, a pocket diary, two poems and a New Testament.
Arthur joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was sent to Hedon near Hull. In his letters he discusses his training and the possibility of getting leave. A talented singer, Arthur mentions being commended by an officer for singing in a concert. Alice and also friends sent Arthur parcels containing items such as cream crackers, gingerbread and cigarettes and he writes warmly thanking them.
Some of Arthur’s letters from Hedon were written on YMCA letter headed paper. Within the first two weeks of war being declared in 1914 the YMCA had set up 250 social centres or ‘huts’ for troops. Some were in England and Wales, others at the front line in France. The organisation provided troops with writing materials to help them keep in contact with family and entertainment so they could temporarily forget the hardships of war.
Arthur was transferred to 1st Northumberland Fusiliers on arrival in France in March 1918. Within a few days of arriving he was wounded. Arthur describes to Alice being sent to a convalescent hospital and later starting work in the camp shoemaker’s shop at Bayeux which he hoped would become a permanent job. However by 17 June Arthur was with his battalion on front line duties such as ration fatigues and wire carrying. He died from wounds on 23 August.
Arthur Barker’s collection is of particular interest because of the number of letters it contains and their continuity. His strong religious faith as a Methodist is evident throughout the correspondence. The archives are in Special Collections’ Liddle Collection.
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