Hiya! I’m Sejal and I’m a trainee conservator doing my placement with the Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service. I’m excited to start my professional work here and I am looking forward to some amazing projects.
My placement is part of my master’s degree in object conservation at Durham University. My background is primarily based in archaeology and I’ve been on several excavations, but I’ve always gravitated more towards lab work than field work. For my undergraduate dissertation, I spent a month in Portugal, helping sort through discarded ceramics from a seventeenth century kiln. It was like trying to put 100 jigsaw puzzles together at once, but you only have about 75% of the pieces.
I’m originally from the United States and have spent the last four years up north for my studies, so I haven’t spent much time in the southwest of the UK. So, I’m very excited to explore the region and the rich prehistory and history it holds. I also hope to visit a lot of local museums and work with a variety of institutions whilst I’m here.
Redevelopment of a former tannery site into a mix of housing and business use prompted research into the business that had previously existed there. In the centre of the village of Holt is a local business that provided employment from the 1770s until the latter part of the 20th century. The business was based on tanning and the use of leather as a material. The earliest use of leather can be dated to the Palaeolithic period and is depicted in cave paintings in Spain, showing its use as a material for clothing. The strength of the material also meant that it had other uses, including for buckets and bags, horse tack, fastenings and jewellery to name a few.
The business of J. & T. Beaven Ltd. was at one time a major employer in the village of Holt and generations of local families provided their workforce and passed down their skills. Their story begins with Christopher Beaven who bought the property in 1758, which later became the administration offices for the business. His nephew, Thomas Beaven, moved from Semington to Holt to work in the business, which was then described as a ‘Woolstapler, Fellmonger and Leather Dresser’ Business. Through his marriage he also had a stake in a Fellmongering yard at Westbury, a separate branch of the Holt business. Thomas’ sons, James and Thomas, took over the business after their father’s untimely death in 1810 by drowning in the Semington Brook near Whaddon. Sadly, James discovered his father’s body after he failed to return home. The ‘J’ and ‘T’ in the business name refers to these two sons and they continued the business by purchasing fleece wools from farms in Wiltshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire. They were later joined by the sons of Thomas junior; Albert, who was a sailor and worked in the business after twenty years at sea, Frederick Thomas who worked in the business from a young age and Edwin Charles who really wanted to become a lawyer but returned to Holt to work in the family business. It was very much a family concern and in 1935 could proudly boast that 14 male employees plus the chairman had all served the business for 50 years or more. The local Usher family had over 100 years of uninterrupted loyal service to the firm. This gives an indication of the importance of Beaven’s as a local employer during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Quite often I come across interesting things as I go about my business in the strong rooms at the WSHC. Today was no exception when I discovered this rather odd-looking book. On first glance it appears that someone has rather hurriedly wedged a large book into a small bag but on closer inspection I discovered I was looking at a medieval chemise binding.
The binding contains an Act and Memoranda Book for the Tailors’ Guild of Salisbury including byelaws, admissions of freemen and apprenticeship indentures, dating from 1444-1838 and gives us a wealth of information regarding their organisation and activities.
It is big and extremely heavy and has a particularly large piece of leather skirting along the tail edge (lower edge). It has visible sewing stitches along the edges and two metal clasps on the foredge (front edge) that attach to corresponding slits in the cover. The book dates from 1444 so is most likely an original medieval binding, although more recent sewing repairs are visible around the edges. The text block pages are made from parchment and contain varying manuscripts, some with illuminations.
If you are anything like me you may be giving quite a few books as gifts this Christmas, and you might have spent a long time considering their content and choosing the right book for the right person. But have you ever looked at the structure of the book and thought about how it has been made? Although the process is mechanised today, the traditional skill of bookbinding is still practised and over the last few months some of the staff here at the History Centre have been giving it a go after work, guided by our Archives Conservator, Sophie. It’s been a lot of fun and certainly makes you appreciate the work, skill and time that it takes to create books by hand.
Much more interest and scholarship has been directed towards the decoration of books rather than their components or the processes used to create them. However, it is often the ‘forwarding’ of the binding (making it fit for the finishing or more decorative elements) that makes a book really pleasing to use.
Books can be bound in many different styles and vary according to age, value and the use to which the book will be put. Bookbinding first begins in the 4th century AD with a change from rolls to flat sheets, which, although easier to transport and store, required some kind of protection. The first bindings were simple folded sheets sewn together and wrapped in leather.
The development of the printing press created a surge in binding activity and prosperity for the bookbinder. In contrast to previous manuscript versions which were often richly ornamented with costly materials such as enamels and carved ivory, the printed book was often covered with plain leather, calf or deerskin, or occasionally parchment. Covers could also be wooden boards, sometimes backed with leather, which was drawn partly of wholly over the wooden covers, the latter usually fitted with clasps.
The above example is an early 14th cent. -16th cent. wooden covered Liber Evidentiarum B (the 'B' indicates that it belongs to the bishop, as opposed to a similar volume, 'C', belonging to the chapter). It contains copies of royal and other charters (including Magna Carta  and the Forest charter, compositions, ordinances, etc., and was mostly written in the early 14th century, but with 15th and 16th century additions. We think the wooden cover is original but it has been rebound many times (you can see holes for previous binding, and where there used to be a clasp).
A faster form of decoration - blind stamping (creating an image, design or lettering formed by creating a depression) - became prevalent as the numbers of books increased in the sixteenth century. This was superseded by the more visually appealing gold tooling technique (decorating the cover and spine with gold leaf, impressed into the cover with a heated finishing tool). Around 1750 the construction process also changed, when many books began to be sewn on cords let into the backs of sections. This, in contrast to the usual practice of sewing on raised cords, gave a smooth back. The spines were often lined with many layers of paper, which gave a good surface for tooling work but could mean that they were difficult to open.
The demand for books and bindings increased following the industrial revolution, although the quality of hand-binding was poorer; the construction of the binding deteriorated and attempt was often made to conceal the poor quality with lavish gold ornament on covers and spines. With the industrial revolution also came mass production, and machinery for cutting, blocking, case-making and pressing. Later in the 19th century, techniques for machine decoration were also developed.
The arts and crafts movement countered this industrialisation and inspired individuals such as lawyer, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson to study the craft, and to experiment with binding construction and decoration. His designs continued the methods of gold and blind tooling, and often incorporated flowers, leaves or branches in a geometric design. The scope for originality and creativity also prospered following World War One, and artists, designers, and amateurs all made worthy contributions to the craft.
Our local studies and archive collections includes examples of different binding constructions. However, the tools and equipment of the trade can also be explored through looking at wills and inventories...
This leather sedan chair was on display at the Assembly Rooms, Bath. Staff from the Roman Baths Museum and Pump House contacted CMAS conservators with concerns about the condition of the item following an active pest infestation in objects displayed close to the chair.
The chair was removed from display and treated to remove the pest infestation using a non-destructive heat treatment.
On closer examination following the pest removal treatment it was determined that the chair was too fragile to return to display, and in need of a little TLC.
The leather exterior had been damaged and repaired a number of times during the life of the object. Notably, blue chalk script on a back panel identifies HF Keevil as the repairer of the chair in April 1942 following an air raid!
Many of the old repairs were failing and risked more significant damage if the loose areas were caught. Some small areas of fresh damage and loss had been noted, possibly due to areas being caught and knocked whilst the item was on open display; a common occurrence, for example by the bags of unsuspecting visitors.
In addition the textile interior was extremely fragile with large splits and tears and unravelling braiding.
Due to the size of the item, its fragility and the combination of materials from which it is composed this project has proved challenging. The complexity of the textile repairs necessitated the expert assistance of specialist textile conservators from the studio Textile Conservation Limited. The large size and the fragility of the sedan chair’s surface meant that transportation was not recommended, requiring the work to be carried out on site.
on Wednesday, 02 September 2015.
Posted in Archives
The five year Creative Wiltshire & Swindon Heritage Lottery Funded project has now been running for just over 6 months, and we’ve been thoroughly enjoying researching (with the help of volunteers) creative people who have been, and who still are, working in and being inspired by the county of Wiltshire.
We have now identified over 400 individuals, many of whom can be included in the project, and are busy actively acquiring items on behalf of the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, and some of Wiltshire’s museums (a full list can be found under About on our Creative Wiltshire site).
Some highlights so far have been…
A set of 1930s ceramics by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie. Katharine, of Coleshill House near Swindon and Kilmington, Warminster, was one of the founder members of the Craftsman Potters Association. She was also instrumental in setting up the Crafts Study Centre at Holbourne Museum, Bath. Her glazes are very well documented and have been a source of inspiration and study for many potters ever since.
An etching by Robin Tanner of Kington Langley, 1930. Robin was not only a unique etcher; he was also influential in bringing art and creativity to the school curriculum and environment with his pioneering work at Ivy Lane School, Chippenham, in the 1930s and later as HM Inspector of schools.