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Conservation of the Middlesex Sessions Rolls (MJ/SR/*)

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) has recently been awarded a grant by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to conserve and repackage the most badly damaged Middlesex Sessions Rolls which are currently inaccessible for public consultation owing to their poor condition.

Background

The Middlesex sessions rolls contain the official documentation of the proceedings of the Middlesex Sessions of the Peace from 1549 to 1889. The series, unrivalled in its date range, completeness and size, relates to Middlesex before 1889 which stretched along the north bank of the Thames from the river Colne in the west to the river Lea in the east and including the City of Westminster (although not the City of London.) The sessions took place eight times a year and all the documentation produced, like jury lists, bills of indictment recording the process of cases, calendars of prisoners, licences and highway orders, were filed together in a bundle and kept by the Clerk of the Peace.

The rolls – format and condition

These documents have a very complex format and present handling issues. They consist of an outer wrapper of parchment, containing about 400 parchment records the dimensions of which can vary greatly. Most of these parchment records are tied up together with a single thong or red tape struck through one corner including the cover which is then usually used to tie around the bundle when rolled.

The handling of these documents is possible only with the help of weights placed appropriately along the document; the record sheets are very vulnerable along the thong and risk tearing apart from the rest of the bundle when turned over. The risk is exacerbated when the records are tied up very tightly; many bundles present this problem. All the bundles have a thick layer of thin soot on the parchment, especially on the outer wrapper and on the edges of the records it contains.

The project

Almost 500 bundles are unavailable for access because they are so damaged that further handling would compromise the integrity of the content. For instance, some bundles have been badly damaged by mould attacks which caused the parchment to soften leading to tears and extensive losses. Other bundles present damages due to extensive and probably inappropriate handling which has caused the parchment records to detach from the thong and tear in areas that compromise the functionality of the structure. With many bundles the thong is broken and this makes handling even more difficult.

The rolls are in high demand and it was decided to undertake conservation work in order to consolidate the structure of the rolls and do minimal repairs to stabilise the condition of the parchment thus allowing a safe handling. It was thought necessary to carry out cleaning treatment as well as the amount of dirt present on them could potentially be a health hazard for readers, as well as being transferred to other parts of the rolls when they are handling.

This project is a big challenge for conservators because they have to achieve a good result by doing minimal repairs and at the same time repair as many bundles as possible.

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Published:
03 May 2012
Last Modified:
29 September 2017

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