Diaries, Drawings and Dried Plants

Caring for a diverse collection

Rachel Arnold – Project Officer

 

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A snapshot of the variety of the Warner collection

The first time that I opened the box containing Stephen Warner’s First World War diaries I was amazed at the variety of material housed within.

This collection was compiled by Warner between 1914 and 1918, and added to by subsequent generations. It contains hand-written diaries with pressed flowers and plants, newspaper cuttings, photographs and medals. The contents are very well preserved, wrapped in layers of tissue paper inside an archival box but their storage could be vastly improved to stop conservation issues developing in the future.

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery we now have money needed to achieve these improvements.

Why do we want to keep them?

The varied war collection once belonged to Stephen Warner, whose relatives lived in Hoddesdon, and it documents his unique war experience.

A first glance at the diaries and their physical properties already tells us several things about Stephen’s experience. For example: pencil was used more often than ink, implying that ink was more difficult to come by. Flowers were pressed within the pages; showing us that, despite the ongoing war, men in service continued with their hobbies and interests. Especially in these centenary years of the commemoration of the First World War it is important to ensure that this collection survives well into the future for generations to learn from and enjoy.

What are the problems?

Historical objects react in different ways with their environment and with other materials that they come in contact with. This often makes it difficult to choose the correct environmental conditions to preserve collections in storage.

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One page of pressed plants in volume 2 of Stephen Warner’s diaries. Note the yellowing of the adjacent page.

The diaries, which also act as herbaria (pressed plant collection), consist of paper and organic materials and prefer a relatively high humidity level. This prevents drying out, shrinkage and cracking.

 

The plants in the diaries have caused yellowing of several neighbouring pages which is likely to have been caused by acid degradation on the paper from seepage of residual organic material from the flowers.

 

 

 

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An example of the negative corrosive affects that a poor environment can have on the surface of coins. This is the damage that could be done if Stephen’s war medals are mistreated.

Medals benefit from low humidity levels to prevent damp and subsequent corrosion or chemical reactions. The metal of medals can also react to their environment and even the oxygen in air can cause the surface of the medal to change and corrode.

 

 

 

 

Photographs also prefer lower humidity levels and can react with their environment – resulting in spotting, loss of colour or fading (depending on the production quality of the photograph).

 

Already, you can see that we have conflicting environmental needs in this small collection of objects. Although it is normal practise at museums to separate materials in storage we would like to keep all of this material together at least for the duration of the project and the exhibition. This will avoid disassociation of any items and make them easily accessible.

The solution

Each diary’s pages will be interspersed with the finest grade Japanese paper (very thin and chemically stable) beside each pressed plant to prevent further acid degradation on neighbouring pages and subsequent yellowing. They will be placed in specially made conservation grade archival boxes that open to allow easy access to the diaries.

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Upgraded storage of some of the photographs in the Warner collection. They are now inside their own plastic sleeve allowing easy visual access, increased structural stability and protection from fingerprints.

Photographs will be placed in specially made chemically inert plastic sleeves that prevent them from touching other objects and make sure they are still visible. This has the added benefit of making them structurally stronger with a robust casing.

Medals will be put in conservation grade plastic boxes which are airtight. This keeps their environment chemically stable from the other pollutants in the box that might come from the organic material. We can also put silica gel packets in the boxes which absorb moisture and help to reduce the humidity.

 

The above is a simplified description of the environmental and conservation problems encountered. For more information on the topic, please consult the following online resources:

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The British Library

The British Museum

Preservation Equipment Ltd.

 

 

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Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume I, August 1915

  Monday August 2, 1915

“hurry up old chappie, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up old chappie, hurry up, HURRY UP – this is chanted in a kind of  a sing-song by the Canadians when they are waiting for something and are getting impatient”

Tuesday August 3 , 1915

“this evening Lovett and I walked along the Calais Road about 2 1/2 minutes to the village of Francq, the extreme limit of where we may go without a pass. We entered the first little sorta minuet we saw and I introduced him to to a glass of vin du pays which he was anxious to taste. He chose red and I white and as a result I think he is less enthusiastic than I was!”

Wednesday August 3, 1915

“a year ago today England declared war and the mention of this fact is sufficient to bring to mind a thought of all the suffering and misery that has been caused during this time”

Sunday August 8, 1915

“the graves were about 8ft deep, two bodies being put in each grave with 2 wooden crosses on the head each bearing a strip of thin lead punched with the man’s number, rank, name, regiment and date of death – above in each case is another little strip of lead bearing the letters RIP. There are not many graves there yet but it is filing up only too rapidly”

Tuesday August 10, 1915

“no loitering is allowed in Etaples – the place stinks in the nostrils not only of the casual visitor but more unfortunately still in those of the military authorities. Reports have it that the Canadians got on the rampage there and what with one thing and another the place is now banned  and banned by those in command”

Thursday August 12, 1915

“today about 5 of the nurses arrived including the matron (Miss Todd) and assistant matron – among the other three was Miss Macmahon who was matron at Beachborough when I wrist went there. She remembered me and was very pleasant, so that maybe it will stand me in good stead later on!”

Saturday August 14, 1915 

“5.30am reveille (revally as it is usually called), 6.00am parade for early fatigue duty – whether it may be there are various parties made up for various duties, 7.15am breakfast, tidy up beds and kit, 8.30am parade for fatigue duty, 12.15pm dinner and leisure until 2.00pm parade for afternoon fatigue, 5.15pm tea, 6.00pm parade for next day’s orders, 9.00pm roll call in dormitories, 9.30pm last post and 9.45pm lights out”

Monday August 16, 1915

“8.45pm finished a kind of plum tipsy caked secreted with in my billy can as the result of the kind of officers – an excellent little meal for which we are very grateful and he had just brought in part a bottle of lemon squash so that he is a true friend to us”

Tuesday August 17, 1915

“I don’t mind washing my own body but I dislike doing the same for my own shirts, pants and handkerchiefs – but it has to be done, so I arm myself with sunlight soap and wrestle in the wash house with the said garments in a basin much to small for the job”