My name is Lucy Cokes and I am the book and paper conservation intern at Canterbury Cathedral. I have now been working in the book and paper conservation studio for two months and I already feel as though I have learnt a lot. I hope this blog post will give you an insight into just some of the things I’ve been working on!
I first discovered my love of books (beyond reading them) while completing an undergraduate degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. I taught myself how to bind books with tools I found around the house, and in my third year I wrote my dissertation about a historic library in Bath. Two years later I moved to West Dean College to train as a book conservator. I developed a real passion for conservation: it is the perfect blend of theoretical work and hand skills, and although it can be challenging it is quite rewarding. I graduated from West Dean with a Post-Graduate Diploma in July 2016.
My first two months at the Cathedral have zoomed by, and I already feel I have learnt a lot more about conservation, especially in the context of a bigger, frequently accessed collection. Leaving West Dean, I knew I wanted to work on two things in particular to expand my skillset: old things and old things made of parchment. Luckily, the Cathedral is full of such objects and the first two items to cross my bench were a manuscript record book of parchment and paper from around 1545 and single-sheet manuscript pages from 1250! Although the objects looked intimidating, their treatment turned out to be simpler, and I learnt a bit more about parchment humidification, paper infills and different adhesive materials.
Among other small conservation projects, I have also learnt a new book binding style. Library style bindings emerged in the late 19th century as an alternative to the often deteriorating standard of bindings that had been populating libraries: it borrowed a few features of account book binding, including the characteristic groove found near the spine, which allows the book to be opened more easily and is more hard-wearing for use in reading rooms. I have also learnt a few new techniques about binding along the way, and I have been able to practise covering a book in leather. I am largely happy with the binding and I feel I can use the new techniques in my conservation of similar historic volumes.
I am currently working on two books for conservation. One is a manuscript from the 1200s, bound in the 19th century in parchment: the parchment cover has torn and the spine has come apart, making the book too vulnerable to handle. I hope to repair the spine area so the book may be handled safely again with as little conservation intervention as possible – it is important to retain, in this case, the evidence of the 19th century binding as it is part of a whole collection of re-bound volumes.
My other project is a donation book, uncatalogued, from 1665. Due to severe water damage in the past, the book has a number of problems that mean that it is currently too vulnerable for readers to handle: water damage has made the boards soft and friable, and there is a large amount of mould throughout the text block which is a concern for readers. I am currently in the process of mould cleaning the book – watch this space for more updates about it!
I am looking forward to working with many more treasures in the Archives and Library and I am very grateful and excited about this opportunity.