When you next visit Attingham you may notice that changes have been afoot in the Inner Library. A new display of books has been created in the beautiful red tortoiseshell Boulle cabinet that was bought by William, 3rd Lord Berwick, in 1833.
The display in the Boulle cabinet needs altering periodically as if books are always kept open in one place then the leather spines and the animal skin glue holding the pages to the binding is at risk of cracking. Harvey James, a book conservation specialist, advised that we rested the books that we’d displayed previously in the cabinet as they had been out for a while. Helped by a volunteer, I replaced the books that had previously been displayed on the bookcase shelves for a well earned rest and created a new display.
As well as including books essential to tell Attingham’s story, like the 1827 sale catalogue and memoirs of Harriett Wilson, the courtesan who was sister to the 2nd Lady Berwick, I tried to link with topical historical themes. This year Attingham is celebrating Humphry Repton, employed by the 2nd Lord Berwick to landscape the grounds. His Red Book for Attingham is on display in the West Ante Room. Books about English Deer Parks and by Gilpin, a key player in the Picturesque landscaping movement and influence on Repton, can be seen in the Boulle cabinet.
Also topical for 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One and I included some of the 8th Lord Berwick’s military books in the display. He spent some time in the Shropshire Yeomanry at Morpeth and the battered, water stained appearance of some of the covers shows he was carrying the books with him in service. You can read more about Attingham’s World War I stories here.
The display was also a lovely chance to showcase the beautiful illustrations and marbled patterns in some books. I am particularly fond of the humorous illustration in a book of Chinese Costumes that shows a tea gatherer and some monkeys. According to the book ‘A very singular expedient has been resorted to for gathering the tea in places so difficult of access… Monkeys are trained to climb these heights, and to strip the leaves from the bushes.’ The author explains that ‘these kinds of assistants are not the most easy to be procured; for the monkeys, in this employment, cannot be guided wholly by artificial instinct’ and need lots of food rewards to train them to climb up to the tea bushes by means of cords.
When handling books clean, dry hands or latex gloves are best because white cotton gloves can reduce sensitivity and abrade the books. Before they were placed in the cabinet or put into storage, the books were placed on foam book blocks to be condition checked and cleaned. Two soft pony hair brushes were used to clean the books as the outside needs to be cleaned separately from the pages because the covers contain tannin, which could stain the pages if the same brush was used to clean them.
We kept an eye out for problems like mould growth or an infestation of insects, like silverfish or booklice. A lot of these problems are prevented as Attingham’s environmental monitoring system means that conditions in the Inner Library are ideal for the preservation of books. We need to ensure that books don’t become damp, as this would encourage pests and mould, or too dry as this might cause cracking and damage as the pages and covers are made of different materials and so expand and contract at different rates. Luckily the books were fine, although some show signs of previous damage. One of the schoolbook belonging to Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick, had a lovely example of old bookworm holes at the edges!