The following story, from the perspective of a piece of archival material, was written as part of a nationwide ‘Explore your Archives’ project which launched this week.
Take a look at the ‘Archive Explorer’ pages to find out how you can
Explore your past,
Share your story and
Use Westminster Archives for your work.
A Conservation Tale
The light of the storage room was suddenly on and before I had time to recover, I heard a voice and a pair of hands was carrying me away. Where was I going? To the conservation studio to be cleaned and treated, someone said.
“Farewell!” I shouted to my dear friends and neighbours, “See you soon!”
My trip was rather short, in a small book lift which moved upwards, and finally here I was, at the conservation studio with people’s voices around me. They were conservation volunteers, someone said.
I was still held, when a female voice who was in charge, called ‘The Conservator’, enthusiastically said to all these volunteers around her, “We are going to be starting on a new project today; here is a significant part of Westminster theatre history which is in a rather desperate need of attention. Please come and have a look at this box of Gaiety theatre programmes from 1895 and I will train you on what to do”.
“Goodness gracious, they are talking about me and my friends”, I thought, “in my presence and in such indelicate tones – I am almost shocked!”
I was placed down and several hands touched me, went through my pages, and made the most improper comments and uncouth criticism about my present condition. Well, in all fairness they did also observe and express laudatory remarks on my text, and extremely beautiful images and advertisements.
Then, if I can remember everything well (my memory is not what it used to be), every single one of my pages was meticulously brushed and cleaned, my old rusty staples were removed and some rather unfortunate holes on my pages were tenderly repaired with handmade Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. My old staples were replaced with bookbinding thread, and I was put back in an acid free box. I had to stay a bit longer in the studio so the rest of my friends in the same box could be looked after as well. The conservator on the other corner of the room was carrying out complicated treatments to some WW1 posters, apparently.
The day after, another surprise! A group of students from the Central School of Speech and Drama visited the studio, and the conservator displayed me proudly and explained my treatments. I can still hear her saying that “Being a paper conservator, no two days are the same, as you need to assess and treat objects individually and treatments can vary”. She also mentioned that some of my pals will be mounted and framed to go out to a theatre exhibition. What a joy – getting out to see the world!
A few days later, I was thrilled to bits when a primary school class visited the studio and I was able to show off my new repairs to the pupils as part of an education project called ALL ABOUT PAPER. The Conservator, who aims to showcase the paper collections of the Archives to different community groups, spoke to the children about the long history of paper, its diverse use, and taught them how to protect their own books by handling them correctly. The pupils were excited as they also had fun carrying out an art workshop using paper.
“How was it?” My friends asked a few weeks later when I returned back to my shelf. “Well, it was like having a rejuvenating cure in the spa town of Bath at the peak of the social season”, I replied coyly but happily, thinking back to my preservation treatment with gratitude and nostalgia. “I have so many stories to narrate to you during the long cold nights of winter!”
[Gaiety theatre programme, 1895 – AKA Georgina]