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Penrhyn Archive Jamaican Estate Slave Accounts

The decontamination, conservation and digitisation of 18th papers from Bangor University Archives

The items treated in this project come from the Penrhyn Estate archive, deposited at the Bangor University Archives in North Wales. The project included a series of 32 paper account pamphlets from Jamaican estates. The accounts include names, roles and other details of slaves working on the estates and as such are of considerable significance historically and for their descendants researching their family histories. They are striking and disturbing documents, with slaves 'accounted' for as resources; for example death is referred to as a 'decrease in slaves' and birth as an 'increase in slaves'.

The items have suffered from extensive water damage and damp, causing excessive mould growth, fading, weakness and discolouration. The project aim was to decontaminate and stabilise the collection and to digitise the account papers. The programme of digitisation was carried out after cleaning but prior to conservation treatments. This enabled capture of the documents in their found state and so that any repairs did not interfere with legibility of the text. Digitisation would also minimise unnecessary handling of items in the future, which while strengthened would remain vulnerable.

The main issues within this project were the presence of fugitive iron gall inks and mould damage. Iron gall ink is prone to fading and deterioration due to instability inherent in the ink composition and the varying recipes it has been historically made with. Since 2004 Mould has been classed as a Category 1 risk to health as assessed under the Health and Safety Hazards Rating System (HHSRS) - the same class as asbestos for example. The HHSRS risk assessment has been legislation in England & Wales since 2006, under the Health & Safety Act. The material in this collection had considerable mould infection and presented a definable risk to staff and users. For this reason it was vitally important to remove mould growth and endeavour to denature the spores remaining in the paper. Mould damage and bacteria cause heavy darkening and discolouration which renders documents illegible over time, in some cases causing a problem with digitisation.

The items comprised single section pamphlets of handmade paper, stab-sewn through a plain or marble-paper cover. The paper had become very fibrous and fragile and easily prone to further damage from handling. Many had large areas of loss and some pages had become stuck together. The sewing structures had disintegrated and in some cases no longer held folios into signatures.

Cleaning was carried out with soft brushes and a museum vacuum where applicable, on a Bassaire extraction unit with an ultra fine ULPA filter. Due to the weakened state of so many of the paper documents and their covers, strengthening and stabilisation was achieved by consolidation of fibres and support and repair to areas of loss and damage. Consolidation using 1% hydroxpropycellulose ('Klucel G') in isopropanol had the added advantage of safely denaturing the mould spores in the fibres in the treated areas. Klucel G 3% in isopropanol was also used as an adhesive for lens and Japanese tissue repairs to tears and areas of loss.

The old paper covers were in severely degraded condition and while some could be repaired, nonetheless they would continue to be weak and not provide suitable protection. On this occasion it was decided to commission new hand-made marble papers for new covers. The marble-papers were lined with an archival quality paper to make them slightly stiffer and the cleaned, digitised and repaired pamphlets were re-sewn into them. Archival sleeves were also made for each account to be housed in.  A selection of images can be seen in the Gallery to the right.