It’s often said that you can achieve so much more by working together, and we very much value the close partnership we have with Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives. The cathedral has a wonderful collection of archives dating back to the 10th century, and we are very pleased to be able to help with conservation work and advice to support their ongoing care.
One of the most iconic items in the Cathedral Archives is Exon Domesday (Liber Exoniensis), a remarkable surviving part of the great Domesday survey carried out over 900 years ago. There is a lot to consider in terms of its long-term protection and how it may be displayed in the future. We have been privileged to be involved in advising on the ongoing preservation of the manuscript, and in 2017 played a key role in ensuring its condition was adequate for part of it to be displayed in a special spotlight exhibition at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
Conservation Work and Training
The Conservation Studio at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter has the capability to deal with archive and library material of all shapes, sizes and ages and means that we are able to offer services to other local archives. The cathedral has significant numbers of fragile historic volumes and documents, which are best stored in specially made boxes. Conservation Assistant, Ian Ponsford, has been carefully cleaning these items and making bespoke boxes out of high-quality conservation materials. So far Ian has made over a hundred boxes for larger volumes, as well as working on small fragments of ancient manuscripts and completing packaging most of the largest flat documents.
The work is also supported by a dedicated group of volunteers, who are currently working on a large series of early deeds relating to the cathedral. Our Conservation Studio is often a hive of activity with volunteers re-packaging deeds in new archive-quality envelopes and boxes. Seals are carefully packed in calico covers and notes are made about the individual condition of the items, so that more extensive conservation work can be carried out in future if necessary.
We regularly supply the cathedral with specialist conservation materials to use in everyday cleaning and repackaging jobs, such as cotton tape, manila covers for books, and cleaning sponges which are used for removing centuries of dirt from documents. Our conservation staff have also carried out a number of training sessions for the Cathedral Archives’ own volunteers and staff.
Looking to the Future
There are regular meetings between the two services, and we are always looking for further ways in which we can work together. We care for some remarkable archives relating to Exeter and the wider county of Devon, and by working together we can do more to look after them and make them available for people to learn from and enjoy.
With the challenges which all in the heritage and wider cultural sectors face as we adjust to life after the Covid-19 pandemic, we hope that this fruitful association will continue long into the future.