There are over 8500 books and maps in the libraries at Calke Abbey. The collection dates from the sixteenth century right through to the 20th century.
Led by Caroline Bendix, the National Trust’s Library Conservation Advisor, a small team of dedicated book conservators worked on some of the collection at Calke. The project started in 2004 and the conservation work to stabilise the condition of the books took 10 years.
Why would a book sitting on a shelf need conservation?
Following Calke’s philosophy of ‘repair not restore’ the team have worked on the books displayed in the house library.
As Caroline Bendix explained ‘Standing vertically for many years on the bookshelves means gravity takes its toll on the books. The pages tend to sag and can become misshapen and out of alignment with the cover. This exposes them to damage and eventual detachment from the cover.’
How are the books conserved?
To tackle this problem the team have supported the books with bookshoes. These are tailor-made slipcases to support each book on the shelf. In a row of books the bookshoes are hardly visible to the untrained eye. See if you can spot them next time you visit the library at Calke.
Many book pages suffer from tears and creasing as well as general wear and tear. Some pages become detached from their bookbinding. Detached pages are carefully stuck back in using a cooked wheat starch paste as an adhesive. This glue is close to the original type of adhesive that would have been used and importantly it won't impede future conservation work on the books. We have confidence that this paste will last for another 500 years! Torn pages are repaired using Japanese tissue which is a thin but very strong paper made from vegetable fibres.
Lots of repairs need to be done to the book covers, from re-laminating corners to major spine repairs. The aim is to retain as much of the original book cover as possible because the cover is a rich resource to help identify where the book was originally produced. Books in National Trust libraries come from all over Europe.
The personal touch
Many of the books at Calke have personal touches from the family. There are book plates on the inside covers of some books or hastily scribbled notes next to passages of interest which really bring the collection to life. The libraries at Calke and the wide range of books they contain are a fitting tribute to the diverse range of interests of the Harpur-Crewe family.