Putting a finger on it: evidence of unusual historical repair materials and methods in two special collections

Victoria Stevens ACR

Victoria Stevens Library and Archive Preservation and Conservation Ltd.


When it comes to the repair of bound items, there is a long tradition of the reuse and repurposing of materials. The recycling of waste is predominant in the history of book construction and repair methods throughout the medieval and early modern period, with manuscript fragments and printers’ waste being reused from the earliest point of codex production. Manuscripts, discarded in favour of printed editions or rendered redundant by the Reformation, quickly found their way into new bindings in the form of covers and constructional elements such as spine linings, pastedowns or endpaper reinforcements.

Highly visible manuscript waste, repurposed to create new bindings: Campion Hall collections (top) and New College; both colleges of the University of Oxford

Rarely hidden, the aesthetic for visibly reused components did not diminish until the beginning of the C17th when the fashion for all new materials, as a signifier of wealth and the ability to afford expensive tastes, became more prevalent and the use of highly visible waste slowly dropped away.

Waste materials continued to be used, however, but usually secretly: most Victorian cloth cases use printers’ waste for spine stiffeners or linings, and in some instances, these add to the provenance and story of the bindings by providing social or geographical markers.

Hidden printers’ waste: From Round the World from London Bridge to Charing Cross, via Yokohama and Chicago: An album of pictures from photographs of the chief places of interest in all parts of the world, published by George Newnes in 1895; from the collection of Magdalen College School; adverts for brandy creating the spine lining of a book in the Wordsworth Trust collections.

A good example is the spine lining in the Examiner’s Copy of TE Lawrence’s undergraduate thesis, held in the collections of Jesus College, Oxford. Here we see that the spine lining is a clear geographical signifier, indicating its origin and confirming the likelihood of it being a local creation. On the spine lining are adverts for a robe maker in St Aldates (opposite ‘Christ Church’) and businesses on Banbury Road, one of the main thoroughfares to the north of the city centre.

The spine lining of the Examiner’s copy of TE Lawrence’s undergraduate thesis; Jesus College Oxford

It was not only binding waste that was repurposed in library and archive collections: recycled clothing and textiles often feature in binding construction, with linen and printed cotton waste being used for seal protection, spine linings, endbands and in some cases early textile book covers. I have subsequently – and excitingly – discovered that ecclesiastical robes were used for repairs to the St Catherine’s Monastery collections in Sinai (1).

The remnants of a textile seal protector; Worcester Cathedral library and archives
Dress fabric used to cover a binding: Murray, Lindley. 1829. Sequel to the English Reader. Philadelphia: McCarty & Davis; featured on the https://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/File:Zigzag_sewing.jpg#filelinks

A recent discovery that covers – literally- the space between the recycling of traditional binding materials and items of clothing are the glove repairs in two collections with Jesuit links, recently assessed during separate conservation audits. My interest was first drawn to several items in the special collections held at the Bar Convent, York. These remarkable repairs using soft ladies’ kid gloves are beautifully executed, with a precision and neatness that shows some significant technical and three-dimensional craft skill. The glove seams are clearly visible, and carefully positioned to hug the book; there is purpose here in how they have been cut, stitched and adhered to the original covers to repair what was likely to be gaping spines and detached boards. This was clearly a case of make do and mend, and thrift in conservation and collections care, C19th style.

Imagine my surprise when assessing the Heythrop material (2) at Campion Hall a few months later to discover examples of similar repairs, again in a Jesuit collection. Here there was less evidence, with only one item being found to have a glove repair. This had a somewhat less decorous and less charming thin textile spine covering it; that too had become damaged, and, peeping out, was the tell-tale seam of a glove. The cloth was ridged at the tail of the spine: clearly there were further glove seams lurking there too, giving rise to the fact that they were possibly spine linings rather than the full reback-style repairs to the books at the Bar Convent.

These discoveries have led to a bit of an obsession, and to the potential for their inclusion in a conference paper on binding repairs. The effective ‘upcycling’ of materials is both so archaic in a throw-away world, but also so current with the drive to reduce, reuse and recycle. It would be great to know if this is a common feature in Catholic collections, possibly specifically Jesuit collections, and whether this is something that was taught to the communities that cared for these collections, perhaps by an itinerant binding teacher or through word of mouth.

I would really welcome any information from CAS members on comparable items they may have discovered. Please do get in touch using the email below; I look forward to making links and connections between the collections you now care for.

(1) Email correspondence with Dr Nikolas Sarris

(2) The Heythorp material is a recent addition to the Campion Hall collection and is currently unavailable for research use.

Re-Opening Details

Below you will find the dates of re-opening of Catholic Archives and Institutions. Please check with the organisation directly if pre-booking or restrictions apply.

If you would like your details added to the list, please email us at Catholicarchivesociety@gmail.com

Downside Abbey Church – Monday 17th May; Details can be found here

Downside Abbey Archives – Friday 21st June; Details can be found here

Ushaw Historic House, Chapel and Gardens – Thursday 20th May; Details can be found here

The Bar Convent – Monday 17th May; Details can be found here

Westminster Diocesan Archives – Open ; Details can be found here

Harvington Hall – Grounds Open, Tours from Friday 21st May; Details can be found here

The Archives of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge

St Edmund’s 1906

St Edmund’s College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Founded as St Edmund’s House in 1896 as a lodging house for students, it became a graduate college in 1965, received its Royal Charter in 1998 and is the only Cambridge college with a Roman Catholic Chapel. The Von Hügel Institute, a research institute for critical Catholic enquiry, although separate, has strong links and is based on the same site.

St Edmund’s House was co-founded by Henry Fitzalan Howard, the 15th Duke of Norfolk and Baron Anatole von Hügel, an ethnographer and explorer who became the first Catholic to take a degree in Cambridge since 1688. Von Hugel was also instrumental in the revocation of the papal ban on Catholics attending Oxford and Cambridge. St Edmund’s College, Ware provided three of the first four students, all of whom were studying for the priesthood. Within a few years most of St Edmund’s House students had already been ordained to the priesthood before coming into residence as members of the University. They read a range of degrees to equip them for work in grammar schools and universities.

The decade of the 1960’s, especially during the Mastership of Canon Garrett Sweeney (1964-76), was a period of steady progress, and laid the foundation for the present College. The increased number of postgraduates in the University resulted in four graduate Colleges being established in 1965 (the other three were Darwin College, Wolfson College and Clare Hall). 1965 also saw the election of the first four Fellows and an increase in the number of lay people working at St Edmund’s.

1896 Matriculation (Ref: EDPH 2/1/2)

The college gradually increased in student numbers throughout the 20th century and this is reflected in the plethora of new college buildings (many of which we hold plans, accounts and committee minutes for). There were less than 50 students in 1970 and this had more than doubled by 1990, doubling again to 200 in 2000, 400 in 2010 and over 450 by 2014. Although originally only postgraduates were admitted, this was extended to mature undergraduates in the later 20th century.

The College achieved the status of an Approved Foundation on 8 March 1975. The old Association was dissolved on 30 June 1984 and replaced by a new governing body of Fellows and St Edmund’s became a fully autonomous and self-regulating society. It attained full collegiate status in 1996, exactly 100 years after its foundation. All of these changes were well documented, and the records are in the archive.

The college archive has been in its current room since 2006. Underneath the library, it has a separate strong room and office, although efficient records management means that the office is slowly becoming a second strong room! Like many Cambridge archives, there has been a Fellow in overall charge of the archives since at least 1994. In the early 2000’s, the Archivist Dr Philip Gardener employed a professional consultant archivist (Joan Bullock-Anderson) and adopted the title Fellow Archivist in 2007.

Above and Below: The archive room

The archive has had a professionally qualified archivist since 2012, originally for only half day a week, but latterly for one day a week. The post now includes both archives and records management, as a Records Management Schedule was created in 2018. This has had a massive impact on accrual rates, and also raised the profile of the archive hugely within college; most enquiries are now internal. It also means that we have very recent records which are a bit of a challenge to catalogue!

A letter from Mother Teresa (Ref:EDAR 1/10/1)

As you would expect, the archive stores, preserves, and provides access to the records that document the history of the College. It includes records from the first 13 Masters of the college, taking us up to 2014. The Archive also contains minutes of the governing bodies, records of clubs and societies, College publications, photographs, and some personal papers. There are also plans and minutes from the numerous building projects, records from May Balls and the Norfolk Feast, the college’s pre-eminent social event, which is still held annually. Some records acquired from external sources predate the date of the foundation of St Edmund’s, although the majority of the collection is from the 20th century.

In common with other college archives in Cambridge, there are relatively few papers of prominent fellows, many of which are kept in the main University Library. The majority of the collection has been catalogued and is on the Cambridge University Archives Search at https://archivesearch.lib.cam.ac.uk/

As the archivist is only one day a week, it can take a little while for us to answer enquiries, and our search-room capabilities are limited. We do, however, offer an excellent remote service (with no research charges) and would be delighted to show any archivists or interested parties around if you are ever in Cambridge. Our email address is archives@st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk

Genny Silvanus, Cover Archivist.

The Leonard Cheshire Historic Sound Archive 

By Stephanie Nield​ – Archivist

Leonard Cheshire logo

The Leonard Cheshire Archive Centre in Netherseal, South Derbyshire collects, cares for and shares the history of disability charity Leonard Cheshire and its founder, Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire VC OM.

Whilst the charity is non-denominational, its founder and his wife and fellow charity worker Lady Sue Ryder CMG OBE were well known Roman Catholics in their lifetime, and the archive contains much evidence of their faith.

In 2019, we were awarded grants by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Foyle Foundation to save our historic sound collection, which was at grave risk due to technical and physical obsolescence. This project, called ‘Resonate’ saw 256 reel to reel and cassette tapes digitised and then transcribed by a team of digital volunteers. As well as this vital conservation and access work, we produced a podcast and a series of blogs, and made some sound recordings available on our website.

The digitisation was done by an external company, Sirensound who we selected after a tender process. Once this was complete, we did a lot of work to improve the accessibility of the digitised sound files for disabled people. This started with transcription – a transcript is available for each recording and podcast. It also affected the way we chose to present the information online. For the digitised sound tapes, each tape is presented on our website as a fully captioned film, hosted on YouTube, so that people with sensory disabilities can access the recordings. The films were created for us by the company Nutmeg, again selected through a tendering process. For the podcast, we hosted the podcast in the Anchor app, which distributes the podcast to other apps such as iTunes and Spotify and provided a YouTube version as a fully captioned film too. We plan to continue this podcast now the project has ended.

Because of our location in South Derbyshire, and the limits on the size of our premises, the volunteering part of this project was always going to be ‘virtual’. However, our call for volunteers coincided with the first pandemic lockdown, so we were quite overwhelmed with expressions of interest. This soon settled down, and we had 27 volunteers, who contributed over 1,177 hours to the project.

There are a selection of the digitised sound tapes now available online. They include interviews with Group Captain Cheshire and Lady Ryder, and soundtracks of films on both of their charity work by Ryder-Cheshire films. Also included are oral history interviews with past members of staff, volunteers and residents as well as a selection of Group Captain Cheshire’s sermons. They can be viewed online, along with the accompanying blogs and podcast episodes at https://rewind.leonardcheshire.org/?type=tag&s=resonate.

The Story of the Bridgettines of Syon Abbey

A Catholic Family History Society Lecture; presented by Carmen Mangion PhD Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London.

Date: 20 November 2021

Time: 14:00 GMT

Place: Online

The great Abbey at Syon was the only Bridgettine house in England. The foundation stone was laid by Henry V in 1415, and in a little more than a century of existence it reached a position of unique influence and importance, with especially close links to the Tudor dynasty.

The story of the Bridgettines of Syon Abbey has been remembered as one of triumph over adversity. They were one of two religious orders that were not dispersed after the Reformation, and the only one of the two to have survived thus retaining an unbroken line of succession from the original community founded in south-west London in 1415. After much ‘wanderings’ on the Continent and a short return to England in 1557 during the reign of Mary I, the community settled in Lisbon in 1599. Their permanent return to England in 1861 was celebrated in the Catholic press. This paper is about a lesser-known facet of their history, and examines Syon’s first return in 1809, when, threatened by the approach of Napoleon’s revolutionary forces, ten members of the Syon community in Lisbon returned to England. The paper begins by outlining the story of the 1809 departure from Lisbon. It then moves to what we know of the events that unfolded in England, identifying the individual Bridgettines, t he places they resided and their benefactors. It examines in depth the individual stories of two sisters who are dispersed, examining the fidelity to their identity as Bridgettines. Then it considers the memory of the 1809 return interrogating how the history of the first return has been remembered and documented arguing the preconceptions of the twentieth century have shaped how the story of Syon’s first return has been told.

Please register your interest in attendance by emailing cfhsrecords@gmail.com

New Patron’s of the Catholic Archive Society

I am delighted to announce the appointment of two new patrons to the Catholic Archives Society:

Our new episcopal patron is Bishop Robert Byrne CO, current bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. Bishop Robert has an impressive track record in promoting Catholic heritage, both during his time as Auxiliary Bishop in Birmingham as a trustee in charge of both the Oscott Heritage Subcommittee and the Diocesan Patrimony and Archive Committee, as well as more recently with the interest he has taken in both the long-term future of the Hexham and Newcastle Diocesan Archive and movements towards the formation of a Hexham and Newcastle Diocesan Patrimony Committee.

Our new lay patron is Dr Carmen Mangion, currently senior lecturer in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck University. Dr Mangion has a respected reputation within Catholic history research networks, is a regular user of Catholic archives, and has developed an excellent working relationship with a number of religious communities.

Both are appointed with immediate effect and, in line with our constitution, will serve a maximum term of ten years. We are very grateful to both Bishop Robert and Dr Mangion for agreeing to take on these roles and their willingness to advocate for the importance of Catholic archives in their respective spheres.

Jonathan Bush (Chair of the CAS)

Artefacts in Archives Series : Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart War Memorials

Barbara Vesey

England and Wales Provincial Archivist, Society of the Sacred Heart

On the campus of Digby Stuart College at the University of Roehampton there is a War Memorial that is distinctive in having been erected several months before the war ended, in May of 1918. The Memorial is also unusual in that some of those whose sacrifice is honoured are women and others who had non-combatant roles, including six Catholic chaplains.

The Memorial is comprised of over 300 individual plaques. Most commemorate those who died in the First World War, but there are also later plaques honouring those killed in the Second World War and the war in Korea. Each person was – or was related to – a student or teacher at a school run by the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and/or was a friend or relation of one of the nuns. The Society of the Sacred Heart is a teaching Order of Women Religious, who in 1874 had founded what was to become Digby Stuart College.

The Sisters began raising funds for the Memorial in August of 1917, when there were already over 180 lost sons, brothers and fathers – and in one case, a daughter – whose families donated between £1 and £5 (the equivalent of £55 -£275 in 2019) for a commemorative plaque. The plaques are made of marble and attached to a Portland stone background. The names, dates and dedications are etched in lead. The wording on each plaque, written by the families and friends of those commemorated, is more evocative and detailed than is usually found on Memorials of this period. Examples include ‘killed in action in Belgium whilst leading his men, aged 19 and 11 months’, and ‘worn out by work in her hospital and heartbroken by the loss of her sons Hugh and Henry’.

Between 2014 and 2018, students and staff of the University of Roehampton began researching in the Society Archives, based in Barat House on the University campus, to learn more about the stories behind some of the names on the Memorial. The resulting exhibition at the University Library opened on 9th November 2018, marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. Display panels told the stories of those commemorated, from medical personnel and the first pilots of the Royal Flying Corps to the Irish nationalist politician Willie Redmond and the diplomat Hugh O’Beirne, who died alongside Lord Kitchener when the ship HMS Hampshire, taking them both on a diplomatic mission to Russia, sank after hitting a mine 3 kilometres off the northwest coast of Orkney in June, 1916.

In 2000 the Memorial was registered with the Imperial War Museum’s National Inventory of War Memorials, whose representative described it as ‘a magnificent war memorial, absolutely unique’. In 2017 the Memorial was given Grade II listed status. In its report, Historic England described the Memorial as ‘especially poignant for the individual tales of loss and their honest unmediated expression’.

The Memorial is open to the public. If you are interested in learning more about it, or about any of the collections held by the Society of the Sacred Heart, please contact the Provincial Archivist at rscjenwarchives@gmail.com

Artefacts in Archives Series: Unlocking a door to the past – The Key to St Peter’s Church, Birmingham

By Naomi Johnson : Naomi is the curator archivist for the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham, maintaining the historic collections and buildings of the diocesan seminary, St Mary’s College Oscott and the archives of the Archdiocese, housed at St Chad’s Cathedral.

I often joke to visitor’s at St Mary’s College, Oscott, that the Pugin designed ceremonial keys in the cabinet are those which once graced the hands of St Peter; they are, after all, a spitting image of the keys that adorn every statue of St Peter and are incorporated into the papal crest. However, I can now claim to truly hold the key to St Peter’s! St Peter’s Church in Birmingham that is.

Whilst packing up the reading room at the Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives recently, in order to allow the decorators to give it a much needed facelift, I came upon a key that had fallen down the back of a cabinet. It was labelled, the key of St Peter’s; an unassuming brass key that could easily have been discarded, it represents a story of struggle, hope and ultimately destruction. It literally is the key to Birmingham’s catholic past.

The Key to St Peter’s Church, Birmingham

In the late 17th century, Birmingham Catholics (as elsewhere) suffered much from prejudice. Persecuted like all their brethren since Henry VIII had broken with Rome over 150 years before, they believed, however, that a period of tolerance would follow the accession to the throne of James II in 1685.  Emboldened, and under the guidance of Brother Leo (also known as Fr Randolph) of the Franciscan order, they built the first Catholic church in Birmingham since the Reformation.

A large group of Catholics and Protestants turned up to watch the laying of the first stone on March 23, 1687. Sadly, just 18 months later, the church of St Mary Magdalene was razed to the ground, its materials were taken for other buildings until nothing remained. The event is recorded at the time by Brother Leo: The church was first defaced and most of it burned within, to near the value of £400 by ye Lord Dellamere’s order, upon ye 2nd November 1688 and ye day sevenight following, ye rabble of Birmingham began to pull ye church down and seased not until they had pulled up the foundations

 All that now recalls the existence of the church is the name of Masshouse Lane.

Almost 100 years later, the local Catholic families tried once more to build a place of public worship. Led by another Franciscan, Father J Nutt, and by Dr Johnson and Mr Lewin, they raised £312 to buy land on the emerging area of Broad Street, an area that was still very much on the outskirts of the emerging city.  Upon this plot, the new chapel of St Peter’s was constructed. Yet Catholics had to remain wary of narrow minds, knowing that if the building looked too much like a church it might draw unwanted attention and so it was built to look like a factory.

Image from Postcard Series – BAA:PC/P2

Slowly the congregation grew and with financial support of more open minded Protestants, as well as Catholics, the chapel was extended. When Fr Nutt died in 1799, he must have been immensely proud all that had been achieved.

Twenty-five years later, the Franciscan’s gave up their care of St Peter’s and, according to the clear wishes of the congregation, Bishop John Milner (Vicar Apostolic 1803-1826) appointed Fr Thomas McDonnell as the first secular priest. McDonnell was a remarkable man who spent his life battling religious and class bigotry and was widely held in high esteem by all the people of Birmingham, regardless of their denomination (or none). He was the first Irish priest in Birmingham and a powerful speaker who challenged Protestant preachers on several occasions, who sought to stir up trouble.

A staunch supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the campaign for Catholic emancipation, McDonnell also fought to help the poor whatever their background and campaigned and backed the call for Parliamentary reform. He was so popular that in 1831, he became the only Roman Catholic on the council of the Birmingham Political Union – which a year later played a crucial role in achieving an extension of the vote nationally.

However, McDonnell’s forceful approach was not always appreciated by his superiors and in 1841 he was transferred to the south-west of England. Within three days of his departure, over 7000 people – many of whom were Protestants – had signed a petition asking for his return. It was not to happen. Nevertheless, his active and praiseworthy involvement in public life made things much easier for Catholic’s in general and paved the way for those who followed him; and his care and devotion to the Irish poor ensured that St Peter’s would always be seen as their church.

Under one of his successors, Canon Bernard Ivers, the chapel underwent much needed renovation work; originally planned as a total rebuild, the work finally was reduced to a reordering, expansion and redecoration project, including the addition of two gothic windows, a lady chapel and embellishment to the sanctuary. It was reopened on Saturday 8th July 1871 and Saint John Henry Newman preached the sermon from the text ‘Whatever you do, do for the glory of God’. Canon Ivers remained at St Peter’s from 1849 until his death in 1880; he built on the work Fr McDonnell and the church continued to draw in Irish immigrants and those who had come to the city to find work. It became fondly known as the Mother Church of Birmingham.

Images from Postcard Series – BAA:PC/P2

The next eighty years of the church’s history tell tales of mixed fortune, changing congregation sizes, fewer Irish Catholics -as they set up a community in Digbeth- and more Italian immigrants trying to start a new life. The construction of a catholic school and a burial ground all reflected the changing needs and diversity of the city. On 13th July 1933 the church was finally consecrated, having rid itself of debt and after installing a fixed altar, a gift of the Hardman family. Having fought religious bigotry, waning congregation numbers and financial ruin for one hundred and fifty years, it was a glorious day in the church’s history. A three-hour long mass and celebration recognising the past whilst looking to a future which seemed full of hope. Unfortunately, thirty six years later, the church was to close its doors for the last time as structural damage and local redevelopment left it to be a victim of chance and change once more.