Conserving South Pennines Maps

The South Pennines History Group (Hebden Bridge, Marsden and Saddleworth Local History societies) secured funding for a 3 year project funded by LEADER (Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Economie Rurale).  LEADER is a community-led rural development programme which aims to improve the quality of life and prosperity in rural communities through locally driven rural development initiatives and projects. 

Project managed by Nigel Smith, the group arranged for conservation and scanning of fifteen 18th and 19th century archive maps of the South Pennines area from West Yorkshire Archive Service’s (WYAS) collection at its Calderdale Archives. This mutually beneficial initiative has resulted in both WYAS and the South Pennines History group now having digital copies of the conserved and enhanced maps.  

WYAS’s Conservation studio undertook conservation on eight of the maps. Five parchment and three paper maps all required cleaning to enhance the images – some of the maps had become very faint and were rather difficult to read.

Two parchment maps required gentle humidification and flattening as they had been stored folded.  Parchment being an animal skin can be extremely difficult to handle once folded. Humidification can be used in order to make the parchment responsive to flattening.  Once the skin is relaxed it is pressed between woollen felts, under weight and allowed to dry for at least 48 hours.  Once flatter a clearer digital image can be obtained without the possibility of distortion from cockling.

All part of document conservation!

Two of the other parchment maps required repair.  One had suffered extensive losses along the bottom edge of the roll, which had at some point in the past become damp and had suffered mould damage.  The extreme weakening of the fibre structure was supported using alum-tawed goldbeaters’ skin and a gelatine adhesive.  The other parchment map required repair along the lifting joins of the sheets using a gelatine adhesive.

One of the paper maps required quite extensive conservation work.  The map had been previously repaired and lined on very heavy paper and cloth.  The lining was so stiff it was difficult to unroll.  There was also a crack running completely across the width causing the map to ‘tent’ and not lie flat for imaging.  This was difficult to remedy without removing the pervious lining materials and relining on a strong yet flexible Japanese paper lining. 

Another paper map needed to be detached from its wooden roller to prevent strain whilst being handled and stored.  Its edges were damaged and vulnerable at the open end, these were supported from the back with Japanese tissue adhered with a wheat starch paste. 

Each map was provided with archival packaging.  The two parchment maps that had been flattened were packaged flat; other larger maps had to be stored rolled.  Archival polyester sheeting  enables users to view the document without directly handling it (parchment is not always stored in this material due to the static nature of the polyester).

Giving it a good clean…

 Each maps is supported in the centre with a hard cardboard tube protected with an archival paper cover and placed in a white breathable polyester bag.

The conserved and packaged maps (plus the other seven maps which required no conservation) were taken to Northlight Studios in Elland.  Northlight photographic studio deal in a wide range of services including photography for advertisement, fashion and heritage.  The majority of the maps were photographed in sections due to their size and then merged together using Photoshop in order to get a high quality digital image.  These images are now held by both the Hebden bridge archive and the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

This collaboration has aided in the long term preservation of these unique maps both by conserving the originals and also providing surrogates.  It has also aided in Project Manager Nigel Smith’s phD research into historic development of the area.

The provision of surrogates in the searchrooms at the West Yorkshire Archives Service is not to prevent people from using original archives but to promote the long term preservation of our collections.  The images provided are of such a high quality that it in fact makes it easier to view some of the maps that are so large and faded and preventing any risk of further damage due to their unwieldy size.

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