Preserving Suffragette history: The Bedford College Register

I have spent several days over the summer working at the Sussex Conservation Consortium on some lovely projects, one of which was the attendance register of Bedford College, now part of Royal Holloway, University of London and one of the first higher education colleges available to women, established in 1849.

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Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway

This fascinating book has recorded the names of the female students attending as well as what classes they had taken, including languages and sciences.

When it arrived in the studio, the sewing had broken and the spine leather was very worn and weak, completely coming away from the pages and exposing the folds of the pages to the elements. It was quite a large and heavy book, which over time would have put immense stress on its structure.

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Before treatment. Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway

As part of the treatment, I cleaned all the pages using a special chemical sponge and museum vacuum. Then I cleaned off the old adhesive and leather remnants on the spine and carefully removed the old broken sewing threads.

In order to have a strong structure to support the size and weight of the book, we decided that new sewing and spine leather would be necessary.

The book was re-sewn and new spine linings made from archival materials were used to help support the opening of the book. Additionally a secondary sewing which went from inside the pages through the spine linings helped to strengthen the structure further.

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Sewing. Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway

A new piece of archival calfskin was dyed to match the original, I decided to match it to the blue/green colour of the original leather, not the red/brown from where the top layer had come off.

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Leather dyeing. Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway
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New leather going on. Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway

 

Now the book opens smoothly!

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After treatment. Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway

I also created a bespoke archival box for it to be housed in, with a white, foam piece to help hold the wedge-shaped book in place so it’s protected when not being used.

holly smith book conservation sussex brighton
Housing, after treatment. Image of the conservation of Bedford College Register owned by Royal Holloway

If you want to see more images of this book before and after treatment, you can find them on the Bedford College Register’s conservation page.

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