One of our six medieval manuscript copies of the Prose Brut has recently returned from conservation, following a complicated project to repair and rebind it. The work was undertaken by the internationally renowned conservator Chris Clarkson at his studio in Oxford, and was made possible by a generous grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT).
This important manuscript is one of eight 15th century copies of the Brut text that we hold in Special Collections (six in manuscript, and two printed). A popular history of England, this is a fascinating and complex text that survives in many different versions. As well as having become generally dilapidated over centuries of use, the problem with our MS Hunter 83 copy was that many of its pages had become loose and were protruding from the text block, making it very fragile and impossible to handle without inflicting further damage.
A composite text, with different parts added at different times in a mix of vellum and paper, the manuscript was taken apart and its pages surface cleaned, humidified and repaired where necessary. While in its unbound state, it was completely photographed and the quiring structure of the book was analysed and recorded.
The book had been bound in an early 17th century binding, stamped with the Royal arms of Henry, Prince of Wales (1594-1612). Although obviously not the original binding, we had hoped to retain these beautiful boards. However, despite Chris’s best efforts, this proved to be impossible; re-using the boards would have resulted in a book that could not be easily handled and therefore made accessible to students and researchers – our main priority for the project. We therefore decided to have the book rebound.
The manuscript was sewn back together and bound in a quarter style of whittawed goatskin with oakboards. The 17th century boards have been retained and are now kept with the manuscript in a custom made drop-spine book box. This box will protect the book from light, physical wear and environmental fluctuation.
We are delighted that we now have a book that has been so skilfully repaired and which opens so well. Chris Clarkson’s full report is being kept with the book, and it is worth a read if you want to find out more about the conservation process. The manuscript is now available again for consultation in our reading room and for use in teaching seminars, but one word of advice from Chris (who obviously does not wish to see his painstaking work undone): “This manuscript is still vulnerable to careless handling, it’s future very much depends upon careful readers with clean but un-gloved hands”. You have been told!
Categories: Special Collections