News from the Conservation Studio - Early Port of London Plans

29/04/2016 14:38:08

During the initial phase of research for our current exhibition, 'London's Gateway', our senior curator came across two modest looking bound volumes in our archives. There was nothing about the plain, undecorated covers and bindings to hint at their important contents…

News from the Conservation Studio - Early Port of London Plans


The title sounded promising: “Report From The Select Committee On The 'Best Mode Of Providing Sufficient Accommodation For The Increased Trade And Shipping Of The Port Of London” but to fully appreciate the story we have to rewind to London in the 18th Century.

The capital was then the largest in Europe and handled 70% of Britain’s foreign imports. The Thames was so congested that a ship might wait 2 to 3 months to unload its cargo.  In the 1790s no fewer than 4 select committees were charged with finding a solution and here in these volumes were the grand and ambitious schemes that could have changed the course of the Thames forever.


On first inspection we could see that the second volume, which had no hard cover and was fairly fragile to handle, included some large tightly folded printed maps. To reveal the contents further it was brought to the conservation studio, where our conservator assisted with the continued safe unfolding of the maps.

This revealed a total of 26 folded maps and illustrated schemes.  

After further inspection and condition assessment, it was soon apparent that better access to these unique maps and illustrated schemes would be required. 





It was decided the maps and illustrated schemes should be removed from the already weakened binding, surface cleaned and flattened out; to be digitised and then stored flat in individual polyester pockets in a folder.

So a conservation treatment proposal and plan was drawn up and the work began…

Step 1

The maps and illustrated schemes were successfully removed from the partially broken spine, one by one, by cutting the remaining threads and splitting the paper guards.




Step 2

They were then surface cleaned with soft brush, chemical sponges and eraser. The thick layer of surface dirt was removed and the ingrained dirt reduced.



Step 3

The removal of the paper guards from the edge of the maps was initially carried out mechanically with scalpel, followed by introducing light moisture through a thin methylcellulose poultice gel to soften the glue. The old paper tape repairs were also removed with this method.


Step 4

Tears and weakened areas were repaired and supported with thin Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.




Step 5

The maps and illustrated schemes were then gently humidified with a fine mist of water and placed under light weights between dry blotters, so the folds and creases could be flattened out.



Step 6

The maps and illustrated schemes were all fairly discoloured and stained from acidic off-set from direct contact to each other and would have benefitted from washing.  However, full-scale aqueous treatment was limited due to workspace and size of maps. Only three small maps could therefore be blotter-washed to reduce some the heavy acidc staining. This was partially successful, as a only a moderate reduction of the staining could be achieved with this gentle method. The overall appearance of the maps was however improved.




After conservation:



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