Bound to Last

books ickworth

Vonnie Slaven, Conservation Assistant, talks about preparing for the latest Conservation in Action display at Ickworth: Bound to Last. Situated in the Library the exhibition delves into the history behind book binding at Ickworth and Theodora, the 4th Marchioness of Bristol's initiative of re-binding the entire Ickworth book collection to protect and conserve the collection for years to come.

How do we care for the books?

We try to handle the books as little as possible so on a day to day basis we try to keep the environment they are in as stable as possible. This includes monitoring and controlling the amount of light they are subjected to as well as the relative humidity and the temperature. It might surprise people to know that we don’t wear gloves to handle the books, this is because they reduce sensitivity and so could result in accidental damage, so instead we just ensure that our hands are clean and dry.

To clean the books, first we have to very carefully remove each one from the shelf being extra careful not to put undue pressure on the spine in particular and making a note of its position on the shelf. We then carefully brush the any dust from the fore edges of the text block and the cover using a pony hair brush. Then, opening the book no more than 90 degrees, we make a visual inspection of the first few pages making a note of any signs of deterioration like insect damage or the presence of mould. These first pages are then cleaned with a soft brush and the book is ready to be returned to its position on the shelf.

With the help of our volunteer book team, every book on every shelf receives this same treatment until they are all done and once we have finished we start all over again.

What have you learnt whilst you have been preparing the display on book binding?

I have learnt how many different degrees of intervention were involved in Theodora’s book rebind. Far from being a simple case of taking all of the books in the collection and having them all rebound in smart new bindings, some simply had a small area of damage repaired or a new spine added some even had their original spines or covers removed and stuck on top of new leather bindings to strengthen the book but retain its original look. Visitors who come and see the exhibition will be able to find out all about the re-binding process and how the collection was conserved for the next generation.

Do you have a favourite book?

I personally love the book collection in general, I think you can learn so much about the original owners of Ickworth by looking at the books they collected and kept, you can get a sense of their interests and hobbies and what was important to them. I also love the fact that every page you turn is an opportunity to be surprised or to discover something unexpected like a beautiful engraving or a  hand written note from a previous owner.

If I had to choose favourites it would be Thomas Clarkson’s ‘The history of the rise, progress, and accomplishment of the abolition of the African slave-trade by the British Parliament’ 1808,  because it was a book that I studied at university and it gives me a real thrill to hold an original copy signed by the author. My second favourite is a book that I only recently discovered, it is a collection of poetry and songs by Sir John Suckling called ‘Fragmenta Aurea’, not only are the poems inside lovely but the binding is beautiful too.