Conservation Work 2

Elsewhere we’ve shared information about the Archive’s Work In Lockdown including the work of Conservator Helen. We were also lucky to have Helen work on the original Pier Engineering drawings sent for Board of Trade Approval in 1864 – getting them ready for digitisation. You can read more about the digitisation on this link.

The drawings had been stored folded for over a hundred years and needed very special care and attention. Helen has offered to share a summary of that work …… see below.

Clevedon Pier Engineers Drawings

Conservation flattening report

Before commencing treatment, each drawing was examined to look for weak points, which were mainly the folds, but also one item had a particularly vulnerable area around a wax seal.

The two smaller items were dealt with first: there were gently but very gradually opened onto flat blotter sheets. As each fold was opened (often only partly at first) light weights would be used to hold the document in place (avoiding pressure on the folds themselves) and it would be left like this to relax for some time, often overnight. Then the next fold would be opened in a similar way, and so on until slowly the entire document was unfolded. As the drawings relaxed into their new shape, more weight would be added and gradually some weight moved onto the folds themselves. If necessary controlled amounts of moisture could be applied to the folds using a water brush to help them relax.

The larger items were unfolded using a humidity chamber. To create this, the drawing was supported on a layer of Sympatex over lightly dampened blotter. The Sympatex layer controls the moisture, allowing humidity to reach the document without it getting wet. This 3-layer bundle was sandwiched between two sheets of clear polythene, the upper layer gently laid on top and weighted around the edge to keep the humidity in. Because the polythene is clear, the document could be carefully watched during the humidification process. As the item relaxed, the top polythene layer was peeled back, the drawing carefully unfolded a little, and then re-covered. Eventually, the plan was allowed to slowly dry in its new gently flattened state.

One of the large drawings actually comprised three layers of tracing paper which had been attached together at the upper corner by a red wax seal and ribbon. Unfortunately, where the item had been stored folded, the layers in contact with the top of the wax seal had become adhered to it. Therefore, before flattening could commence the folded layers had to be separated from the upper surface of the wax seal, using carefully applied and controlled heat coupled with small tools.

Once each plan was gently flattened, they were laid onto a sheet of archival polyester and rolled around a tube, held in place with cotton tying tapes, for transport and storage.

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