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.
Just behind the Lydiard house in Swindon, you will find the small parish church of St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze, which dates back to the 12th century. In the 1840s a model of the church was commissioned perfectly depicting the architecture, interior and grounds.
In the 1970s a large amount of restoration was carried out on the model, predominately on the graveyard area, removing a lot of original details.
Having been in storage for a long time, the model came to the Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS) to have conservation treatment undertaken before going back on display. Large cracks had appeared in the base of the model and some of the 1970s additions had deteriorated badly. Some of the architectural details were also missing with a general layer of dust on the surface.
The main challenges carrying out treatment on this object were:
Mix of different materials used: This included the plaster base, wood structure of the building, painted interior features and paper and card railings and details.
Ethical considerations: The client was keen to remove the 1970s trees that had badly deteriorated in the graveyard area and replace missing wood features on the building. Generally in conservation, we try to preserve as much historical information on an object as we can. We justified the removal of the trees as these were not original to the 1840s model and were so badly deteriorated they were unsalvageable. The addition of the wooden components was to improve the aesthetic appearance of the model and detailed records will help distinguish between what is old and new.
Condition: The model was very delicate so extreme patience and dexterity would be needed.
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...
The VCH fieldwork has discovered so many very good houses in Kingston Deverill in particular. These represent hitherto largely hidden evidence of the Deverill Valley’s past wealth. At the same time further evidence of early 16th century buildings in Warminster has been discovered, which suggests that the discoveries from the Deverills are just part of the bigger picture.
I was given the opportunity to look at one of a row of probable merchants’ housing in the High Street; the flat of no.16 High Street, Warminster. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but I found some fantastic evidence of a nearly complete 3-bay early 16th century timber-framed house. Recent dendrochronology results gave a precise felling date of 1513. It has a very similar roof structure and ceiling height to Manor Farmhouse, Kingston Deverill. It also has see-saw marks, convincing evidence of an early date. To digress; timber conversion methods may not instantly grip your interest, but they are a useful dating feature. See-saw marks are the result of leaning a baulk of timber on a single trestle, standing on it and sawing down from the top to where it touches the trestle. The sawn end is brought down and the same process is repeated at the other end. The result is two different patterns of saw-marks at 45 degrees that meet in the middle. Duncan James, a Herefordshire archaeologist maintains that you won’t find this feature after about 1530.
Unfortunately the marks were too faint to photograph, so I show a much more striking example from the King’s Arms in Downton, a former medieval pub.