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Southwark Dispensary register of patients admitted, January 1787 - May 1789, before treatment

​Register before treatment.

Conservation in action: Southwark Dispensary register made fit for consultation

Caroline De Stefani, Conservation Studio Manager

In 2012-13, the London Record Societykindly funded the conservation treatment of the Southwark Dispensary register of patients admitted, January 1787 - May 1789 from the collections held by London Metropolitan Archives (reference A/SD/039). The volume was unavailable for public consultation owing to its condition, but the support of the LRS has enabled the volume to be made accessible for research for the first time.

The Surrey Dispensary was opened in 1777. It was originally situated on Union Street, Southwark (then in Surrey), although it subsequently moved to various addresses. The Dispensary aimed to provide medical care for the local poor. The conserved register is one of a series for the period 1782-1845 giving details of patient, condition and treatment.

The records of the Dispensary are an important resource for the history of medicine and social history in particular, and have been used in academic research. They are also of interest to family and local historians and anyone interested in finding out more about London and Londoners.

Before treatment:

The Southwark dispensary volume was originally bound in a stiff green vellum binding. The text block was made up of 186 pages folded in sections of three 3 bifolia and then sewn on three linen tapes. On both ends of the spine handmade end bands were sewn using leather as a core and coloured threads. Handmade paper was used as writing support and iron gall inks were used as the writing media.

The condition of the document was very poor, both the binding and the text block presented extensive damages. The spine was completely missing, the sewing was broken in many places and the sewing supports were missing. Only the end band sewn on the head of the spine was still attached while the other on the tail was completely loose. The boards, distorted and damaged by mould attack, were detached from the text block. The cover was covered in soot and the vellum was discoloured.

The condition of the text block was even worse: the pages had dirt on the surface, but also ingrained between the paper fibres. They also presented stains, distortions and extreme fragility due to mould attack. These problems were found especially along the spine fold and on the edges of the pages. On the head edge of the text block the mould growth had turned the paper into pulp. All the external bifolia of the sections were torn. Tears and missing areas were also found along the edges of the entire text block. In some areas the mould infection had also caused the ink to fade.

Before the treatment the book was unavailable for consultation due to its condition; handling would have led to further irreversible damage. 

Southwark Dispensary register of patients admitted, January 1787 - May 1789, after treatment

​Register after treatment.

During treatment:

74 hours of extensive treatments by an experienced conservator had to be carried out to allow access to the volume again. Treatments focused on both the binding and the text block. All the treatments used were recorded including photographic documentation.

In order to do the necessary repairs on the pages, the binding was pulled down using a scalpel and a pair of scissors. The removal of the surface dirt was done by means of a vulcanisex latex sponge. This treatment could not be carried out in the areas where the paper was heavily damaged by mould. The fragile areas were resized with a solution of Klucel G in ethanol solution; this was done also to reduce the risk of mould germination. These areas were then consolidated with thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. The papers that had losses and tears were consolidated with thin Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.

Once the text block was repaired, the bifolia were reassembled and resewn on three linen tapes following the original sewing stations. New end papers were made as the original ones were so damaged that they could not be used to support the binding structure. It was decided to not reuse the cover as it was so fragile and damaged that even conservation treatment could not have given it the necessary strength to protect the text block. It was decided to cover the text block using a green cloth case.

Finally, a bespoke box was made to protect both the old cover and the volume. All materials used to repair the volume are archival and should not harm the original. The techniques used allow the repair to be removed without damaging the original item should this be necessary in the future.

Further information

You can find out much more about the variety of work carried out by the conservation team at LMA on our conservation pages. You can also discover more about similar LMA holdings in our care of the sick, dispossessed and destitute page.

03 April 2013
Last Modified:
03 October 2018