Bradfer-Lawrence - a rather different kind of collection

The Conservation and Future Preservation of the 15th Century Fountains Abbey Livestock book

The Conservation and Future Preservation
of the 15th Century Fountains Abbey Livestock Book

 The original medieval binding
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The original medieval binding

This is just one of the items collected by Ripon antiquarian Harry Lawrence Bradfer-Lawrence. Born in 1887, he was from an early age he was fascinated by the past and became a keen collector of old books and manuscripts. He died in 1965, bequeathing his collection of Yorkshire manuscripts to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. The bequest was subsequently gifted to the Society by his children.

As part of the Heritage Lottery-funded project, the Fountains Abbey Stock Book underwent extensive conservation treatment in West Yorkshire Archive Service's Conservation Studio in Wakefield. This was not only to make this exciting document available for public perusal and to allow it to be digitized without further deterioration, but also so that the volume would last a further 534 years plus - which could only be achieved with correct conservation treatments, storage and environment.
Physical Description Before Conservation
pointing finger detail from stockbook
Pointing finger on page 42
The Fountains Abbey Stock Book was written on paper in iron gall ink and has a parchment tacketed cover. At the top of the original cover was written an old title: 'Fountains, Temp E4, R [3] & H.7. Livestock &c. No = 36'. This indicates the Kings who reigned during the time the livestock book had been in use: Edward IV (1461 - 83), Richard III (1483 - 85) and Henry VII (1485 - 1509), and possibly the former catalogue or press number, 36.
The original cover was made of two pieces of parchment (sheep) Neither piece was big enough to cover the volume, giving an impression that the volume was bound together using only materials readily available.
The cover left the page corners exposed, allowing the corners to curl away from the volume and become frayed. To handle the volume in this state would have been highly likely to cause further damage.
The original cover had extensive damage carried out by insects, evident from the many small holes. It was very dirty and discoloured from age and use. It would have originally have been cream in colour.

The paper used in the Fountains Abbey Stock Book is handmade, laid (the chain lines running across the page) of a medium weight. The sheets give the impression of being full size with a deckle edge all the way round. The deckle edge is formed when the new hand-made paper is couched from the paper mould once the frame is removed; the deckle edge is formed where the paper pulp has run under the frame; the paper is then couched onto felts to dry.
There are several different watermarks throughout the volume with several embellished capital letters and decorative headings.
The sections, or rather gatherings as the sections are so thick, consist of 16 folios making a total of 64 pages.

dog watermark
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Watermark of a dog
Embellished capital
Embellished capital on page 407

The sheets of paper where there was no mechanical or environmental damage were in excellent condition.
The first and last sections were in a poorer state of repair, being dirty and with losses to text. The edges of the text block were dirty and worn, the deckle edges exaggerating this effect.
There was ingrained dirt on the outside of each gathering, indicating a separate existence prior to collating into a single volume.

Each gathering was sewn separately using thread. When the gatherings were eventually bound together, strips of parchment were twisted and sewn through the gathering fold and out through the parchment cover. The parchment strips were then wetted and twisted together binding the cover to the volume

strips of parchment
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Strips of parchment, twisted and sewn through
supporting parchment tacks
Paper and parchment were both used to
the gathering fold and out through the parchment to support the parchment tacks inside the
cover. gatherings where they protruded.

There were signs of water damage, shown by staining and faded ink. This could well have led to mould developing, hence a previous treatment: when the volume arrived at the Conservation Studio it had an aroma about it, suggesting that it had previously been treated using thymol. Thymol is used as a preservative commercially and was formerly in widespread use by conservators of books and manuscripts. It is a natural chemical found among many species of herbs, most notably among species of thyme.

water damage
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Water damage, staining and faded ink

Conservation Treatment
The volume was photographed, to record the original medieval binding.
No tapes, thongs or adhesive were used in the original binding make-up. Paper and parchment were both used to support the parchment tacks inside the gatherings where they protruded.

Before any work could commence, the medieval binding required collating, during which operation notes were made to serve as permanent record. When the Conservation Studio received the volume, it had already been numbered at some point in the past, however when checking the binding the numbering required some correction. Watermarks and different decorative embellishments were all noted during collation.
The sewing was carefully cut and removed from the binding, freeing the gatherings from the volume to allow the cleaning and repair to begin. The gatherings were opened wide and interleaved with acid free tissue paper. Each page was painstakingly cleaned during treatment to remove loose soot, dust, dirt and further ingrained dirt, which had resulted from moisture in the air helping to in-bed the stubborn dirt over the centuries.

cleaning with sponge

Cleaning using a mechanical sponge, eraser & soft brush

A traditional repair method was employed using a transparent tissue which helps to support the repair to the damaged area. A Japanese (eastern) paper was used to infil any missing areas - eastern paper is generally better than western paper for this because of the longer fibres found in these papers; they are also handmade so there is no grain direction. Wheat starch paste was used as an adhesive.
The iron gall ink was in good condition: to maintain its good condition a few techniques were carried out during the treatment.
Iron gall ink is a complex ink made using water or wine as a carrier and gum arabic as the adhesive, and to colour the ink iron fillings and oak galls were used. The iron reacts with the tannin from the oak galls, which oxidises in the air to form a dark coloured ink.
Iron gall ink has been found to fade during certain treatments or even bleed. It is recommended that distilled water is avoided, as it can make the ink bleed in certain cases. It is advisable to use an aqueous solution that already contains a salt such as calcium hydrogen carbonate with 50% alcohol added to the solution, which will decrease the water content and therefore limit the dissolving of the water-soluble compounds.

Once all the repairs had been carried out on each folio and the pages were dried, each page was trimmed of its excess repair paper. Each folio was then carefully collated back into the page number order.

At this stage the Fountains Abbey Livestock Book left the Studio to be digitally scanned at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. Images of the whole volume are accessible on this website and the catalogue to the whole Bradfer-Lawrence collection is available on the A2A (Access to Archives) website at

sewing with sewing frame
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Sewing using a sewing frame

sewing headband detail
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Sewing the headband, at the head and tail of the spine

When the Studio received the book back it was decided to bind the volume in a similar style as the original had been bound. It was, however, decided that a style of sewing incorporating tapes or thongs would be used to join the gatherings together.
A limp vellum binding method was chosen. This is a medieval method of binding which has no boards in the cover and uses no or minimal adhesive in the binding structure.
The volume was sewn on a sewing frame using strips of alum tawed goat skin as thongs. Tawing is a tanning process which turns the skin a cream colour and makes it feel softer. The thongs were sewn around and thus the binding was made flexible. Headbands were incorporated to support the limp vellum cover at the head and tail, with the other thongs adding support down the length of the spine.
The new vellum cover was marked out and cut. It was tacketed into position along the spine using the alum tawed goat skin, to form the completed limp vellum binding.

A box was made to house the volume using archival materials including archival mill board, archival mounting board and the archival adhesive PVA.
A folder was made to house the original cover and examples of the original binding and sewing materials.

completed binding
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The completed medieval binding ...
completed binding in specially made box
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housed in an archival custom made box

The work was undertaken by Richard Aitken, Archive Conservator.