College of St George Archives Blog

College of St George Archives

Conservator’s eye view: illumination

May 22nd, 2015

As we have seen in my previous blogs most manuscripts were written before they were decorated. Scribes often doubled as page designers, planning the hierarchy of decoration in line with the articulation of the text. They left room for the illumination and prompted artists by inserting faint letters in the spaces where historiated initials were to be painted. The artist almost always painted the initials suggested by the scribe and also made use of the lines ruled across the space intended for the miniature when transferring compositions throughout the volume, as can faintly be seen in some of the illuminated miniatures in our precious holding, Liber Niger, the ‘Black Book’ [SGC G.1].

Illuminated miniature and historiated initial at the start of Henry VI's entry in the Black Book of the Garter

The artist would sketch out the design of his miniature with a plummet and then firm it up into an ink drawing. By following this under-drawing the illustration would be developed to a remarkable level of coloured detail, showing the confidence and fluidity of a truly accomplished artist.

Before leading on to the application of gold it is worth considering who these artists were. Manuscript artists in Europe were predominantly monks working in monasteries and we know many of them as masters of their art, eg Master Hugo, Virgil Master, Master of the London Pliny, Master of Ippolita Sforza, etc, etc. There were also some known women artists, nuns working in nunneries including Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and Sussanah Hornebolt (1503-1545). I believe that the reason why we are not aware of many more female artists is because it was considered unseemly and against their religious vows to claim ownership of their work.

The next stage in the decoration of the manuscript is the application of gold. Sometimes liquid gold would be painted onto the vellum page to gain maximum impact under candlelight, this in the most precious and expensive commissions. But the less expensive option was to use gold leaf. Beaten into sheets thinner than tissue, loose gold leaf crinkles at the faintest current of air, dissolves into dust if handled roughly, and, most importantly, clings to painted surfaces. It was carefully laid over areas brushed with gum arabic, fish glue, or beaten and strained egg-white, known as glair. Flat gold leaf was often left unfurnished, as can be seen in the Black Book. For a raised effect, gold leaf was laid over gesso, a compound of plaster, white lead and glue, which was often coloured with salmon-pink to enhance the glowing warmth of the gold. The gesso formed a ‘cushion’ making the thinnest gold leaf look solid.

The Schorn Book of Hours (1430-1450) [SGC LIB MS.6] has wonderful examples of gold and coloured historiated initials and border decoration. The gold has been burnished with a ‘dog’s tooth’, a smooth hard stone such as agate to give it a lustre as bright today as it was five hundred and sixty five years ago.

Illuminations incorporating painted gold in the Schorn Book of Hours

Gold glows and shimmers with the light, revealing the dazzling beauty and true essence of an illuminated manuscript, and just as all the colours illuminated the pages of these sensational books so long ago, they continue to do so as well as illuminate the past for us today, and for others, well into the future.

Because the pages of illuminated manuscripts are kept closed most of the time, and indeed for hundreds of years, they are kept clean and safe from handling and light, and other than repairs to torn pages and minimal dusting, conservators are wise to maintain a ‘minimal intervention’ approach to these precious works of art.

Peter Eley, Library and Archives Volunteer

Wanted: Garter robes

May 13th, 2015

In the 1860s Gerald Wellesley, Dean of Windsor, aided by the Chapter Clerk, Mr Thomas Batcheldor, embarked on a campaign to have the blue velvet mantles of former Garter Knights sent to St George’s Chapel.

The earliest known statutes of the Order of the Garter, compiled in 1415, stipulated that Knights of the Garter ought to keep one mantle at Windsor permanently, in case they needed to attend a ceremony at short notice.[1] After a Knight’s death, this mantle was to become the property of the Dean and Canons. There is evidence that these “hand-me-down” mantles were recycled and used to repair vestments and furnishings in the Chapel. Throughout the history of the Order, the Dean and Canons had difficulty persuading Garter Knights to comply with this requirement and it had to be reinforced regularly by decrees and statutes.[2] In 1834 William IV had passed a new statute declaring that the mantles of deceased Garter Knights should be given to the Dean and Canons,[3] but less than thirty years later they were clearly experiencing problems in acquiring them. A number of letters on this subject remain in the St George’s Chapel Archives [SGC I.E.4/171-183].

On receipt of the request from the Dean, most of the families were obliging and agreed to return their relatives’ robes. Henry 4th Marquess of Lansdowne, indeed, was anxious to make it clear in his letter of December 1864 that he would have sent the mantle of the late 3rd Marquess, who had died in January 1863, sooner if he had only known he was supposed to.

A number of the letters speak of the arrangements that were then being put in place to have the mantles and tassels delivered to Windsor. Enquiries were made about the preferred way to package such items, as well as requests for the sender to be notified when the parcel had been safely received by the Dean. In one case, a letter was written to the Chapter Clerk to say that if he would be so good as to “call at the Duke of Bedford’s house, No 6 Belgrave Square when you are next in London, Mr Stratton, his Grace’s valet, will hand to you the blue velvet mantle of the Garter for the Dean of Windsor.”

Not everyone that Wellesley and Batcheldor contacted in the first instance was able to help in the quest to locate the Garter robes. A rather curt note from a son of the late 4th Earl of Aberdeen states that the Dean’s message will be forwarded “to my brother the present Earl, who is the sole Executor to his father.” Likewise, the Marquess of Normanby was not in possession of any of his father’s Garter regalia – in fact he had never seen them and knew nothing about them or where they were. Accordingly, he promised to forward the request to the Dowager Marchioness, although he felt the need to warn Batcheldor that there would be some delay before a reply was received because at that time the Dowager Marchioness was in Italy.

Of all the letters relating to this matter that are now preserved in the St George’s Chapel Archives, only those of the Duke of Sutherland express outright an intention of not returning the requested Garter robes. In a letter dated 7 May 1861 Henry Wright writes on the 3rd Duke’s behalf “to inform you that his Grace declines to send the Mantle and Tassel worn by the late Duke to the Hon. and Very Reverend the Dean of Windsor.” His argument was that the late 2nd Duke had retained the robes that had been worn by his own father “and his Grace considers himself entitled to the same privilege.” This rather high-handed letter is followed a few months later by one written by the Duke himself in which he reasons that he would not have insisted on keeping the robe for himself, but that he knew his mother was very anxious to keep it. However, in this letter he does acknowledge that the right to the robe “has been so clearly established in your favour”. We can only imagine the correspondence that passed between the Dean and the Duke to convince him of this. George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland, did eventually go on to be appointed a Garter Knight in his own right and so to be entitled to his own robes and regalia, but not until 1864.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist


[1] Begent & Chesshyre, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, p. 275

[2] Ibid., p. 275

[3] Ibid., p. 172

Conservator’s eye view: scripts

April 23rd, 2015

My last blog ended thus…’with the parchment, ink and quill ready, the scribe could start work on the text.’

Anyone who has seen early manuscripts will perhaps understand the bewildering number and diversity of different styles of script there are, but all derive ultimately from the handwriting of the late Roman world. In the Medieval and early Renaissance periods the vast majority of scribes were men; they were monks working in monastery scriptoria. These rooms for writing and illustrating manuscripts were often near the library, if the monastery had one, but there is a scholarly body of thought that there were not actually that many scriptoria and that many scribes worked on their own in their own cells.  The scripts they would use (and there might be two, three or four different scribes working on the same book) would be in the style determined at the outset, either by the Abbot or the patron of the work, or both.

The earliest formal codex scripts were majuscule scripts, in which few of the letter-forms contain strokes that project beneath the ruled line or above the headline. Majuscule in time developed into the familiar Gothic script and was used in northern Europe from the 12th through to the 17th century and was in use in Germany until the 20th century.  There are many variations of the Gothic script just as there are variations in all other styles. As Gothic script fell out of style in France, the Low Countries and Britain (in Italy, Spain and Greece Gothic was never in vogue; they considered it too barbaric and archaic), there were new styles of handwriting being developed in different regions, mostly based on the uncial and half-uncial style, and of these the most successful was the Caroline Minuscule. Whilst this had elements of the Gothic it was revived by the Italian humanists in a form known as Humanistic Minuscule.

The main text is a very neat Caroline minuscule but notes have been added in the margin in a less formal hand

Caroline Minuscule is also known as Carolingian script. Two of our own manuscripts held in the Chapter Library at St George’s, SGC LIB MS.4 and SGC LIB MS.5, have good examples of Carolingian script.  Once the scribes had completed their writing per vellum leaf to the style and plan agreed at the outset, the spaces remaining were there for the artist to paint directly onto the page his or her miniatures (women artists were making their mark elsewhere away from the monastery). This might be a full-page painting, half-page, foliated borders with flora and fauna, historiated capital letters at the start of chapters, et al.

Colourful inks have been used to draw attention to the start of a chapter

There was much creativity and high quality artwork amongst the legion of artists throughout Europe and this will be the subject of my next blog.

Peter Eley
Library and Archives Volunteer

Charming the Emperor

April 14th, 2015

On 7th May 1416, a new member was admitted to the prestigious Order of the Garter at Windsor: Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, King of the Romans and future Holy Roman Emperor. Sigismund first came to England in 1416, in the aftermath of the English victory at Agincourt, to seek a peace treaty between England and France. With Sigismund’s arrival in London on 3rd May, Henry V pulled out all the stops to impress him both in London and Windsor. The palace at Westminster was given over to the imperial retinue, while Henry moved to Lambeth. Sigismund was taken to view a session of Parliament and was also granted a Lancastrian collar by the King. He was particularly enamoured by London, and (according to one chronicle) the beautiful ladies of the city in particular, who had turned out in their finest gowns to greet him. The height of the celebrations came on 7th May when Sigismund of Luxembourg was installed as a Knight of the Garter at St George’s in grand fashion. Sigismund had not come empty-handed, and gave the college two prestigious relics: the heart of St George and a small piece of the saint’s skull. It is likely that he invested Henry into his own order at the same time, The Order of the Dragon, presenting him with a grand saddle with the Order’s insignia (now found at the Tower of London).

At Windsor, preparations for Sigismund’s installation had been underway since 1415, supplementing the choral staff and grandiose religious liturgy they performed in order to impress the foreign dignitary. Between 1415 and 1416, Henry V had given the college a statue of the Virgin Mary and eleven new service books, seized from a traitor, Baron Scrope of Masham. At the same time, efforts were made to recruit new vicars for the college, whose numbers had dropped from thirteen to as low as ten. Three of the college’s vicars, and one lay clerk, received payments for travelling to Oxford and the Midlands, looking for priests who were interested in becoming vicars. In order to attract the highest quality vicars in the kingdom for Sigismund’s arrival, new accommodation and a new communal hall were required. The college had been granted land within the Lower Ward by Henry IV in 1409, in an area called ‘Woodhaw’, and the first references to new buildings for the vicars came in the financial accounts for 1415-16 and 1416-17. Building works took place slowly – continuing until 1438 – yet efforts were clearly being made to impress the arriving dignitary with a grand religious spectacle at St George’s.

Sigismund was not a man to be easily influenced or cowed. Two years earlier, at the council of Constance, he had been corrected on his Latin by a Cardinal, only to reply (in perfect Latin) ‘I am King of the Romans, and above grammar’! It would appear, however, that in this case Sigismund was won over by King Henry’s generosity and the efforts of St George’s. Later that year, he signed the Treaty of Canterbury with England, promising his support against the French in battle, both offensive and defensive. The King had secured another important victory over the French, this time through diplomatic charm rather than on the battlefield, a victory which was in no little part thanks to the efforts of St George’s.

Euan C. Roger, Royal Holloway, University of London

Conservator’s eye view: writing instruments

March 24th, 2015

In my last blog I wrote about quire structure of the parchment, prepared not only for the binder, but crucially for the scribe and the artist to fashion their magic with masterly hand-writing and radiant illustrations and historiated initial letters. Here I give some detail on the writing instruments and inks used during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Before writing, scribes rubbed the parchment with pumice, cuttlefish or ground chalk to remove any impurities and make the surface smooth and absorbent. They pricked the margins, often through several stacked sheets, and linked the pricks across the page to rule the lines and frame the text space. The ruling instruments varied in different areas and periods. A hard point, stylus or awl was favoured in the early Middle Ages and again during the Renaissance; it produced a shallow furrow and edge effect on the page. A plummet, or metal point often made of silver, was common from the eleventh century onwards; it left a trace resembling a fine pencil mark. Several styluses attached to a handle resembled a mini gardener’s rake which was run across the page to produce parallel lines. One can detect the use of the scribe’s rake in manuscripts whose lines quiver ‘in time’.

Medieval writing materials

Black ink had several sources. The dark natural colour from the glands of the cuttlefish was known since Antiquity; just as common was the carbon black ink made of crushed charcoal dissolved in water. But the material Medieval and Renaissance scribes favoured above all else was iron-gall ink. Its tendency to bond with parchment meant guaranteed durability and its lustre was irresistible. Its source was the tumour-like growth around the gall wasp (Biorhiza pallida) eggs laid in their hundreds in the buds or soft twigs of oak trees. The crushed galls, together with a little iron-salt, were boiled in rain water and the black liquid was thickened with gum-Arabic – the water-soluble sap of acacia or, more commonly in Northern Europe, cherry, plum or almond trees. The red ink used for titles, headings and important parts of the text was made from the roots of rose madder (Rubia tinctorum). Many colours, such as red, were cooked down with soft rain-water and fermented until the right colour was achieved. Blue was a very important colour because of its association with the purity of the Virgin Mary and artists would, if it was available and could be afforded, use lapis lazuli. When the stone was crushed to a fine powder and mixed with egg-yolk (tempera) it produced ultramarine. Instead, scribes would use a much cheaper alternative blue produced from woad (Isatis tinctorum).  Yellow was often made with dried saffron crocus stimas, which produced a rich golden yellow and was sometimes substituted for gold.

Scribes made their quills by cutting a goose, swan or rook feather with a pen-knife. The width of the nib determined the degree of contrast between pen strokes, thick or thin, according to the direction in which they were traced and also had a bearing on the scale of the writing. Smaller handwriting generally required a narrower nib.

Medieval scribe

With the parchment, ink and quill ready, the scribe could start work on the text.

Peter Eley
Library and Archives volunteer

Views of a Solar Eclipse

March 19th, 2015
A letter from Canon Henry Cockayne Cust (Canon of Windsor, 1813-1861) to the then Chapter Clerk, Thomas Batcheldor, describes how he viewed the total eclipse of the sun on the 18 July 1860:

“I am glad you had a good view of the eclipse, my family saw it well, and I took a secondhand view of it in a pail of water” [SGC I.E.4/119]

Please do not try this at home!

It seems they may have been lucky to have had a good view of the eclipse. In the same letter, Canon Cust writes of recent terrible weather – perhaps typical of England in the summertime and whenever there is an impending celestial display.

Solar eclipses are usually a great cause of excitement because of their rarity. Some other perspectives on eclipses through the ages can be found in the Chapter Library’s collection of printed sermons.

Fulk Bellers, a Preacher of Gospel in London, gave a sermon just prior to the total solar eclipse in 1652 in which he reassures that firmament [sky] eclipses were not to be feared as “Jesus Christ may still go on to shine into our souls” [SGC RBK B.140]. Bellers included the story of the trick pulled by Christopher Columbus on the indigenous people of America during a lunar eclipse in 1504. Knowing an eclipse was about to take place, Columbus told the people that the gods would be angry if they did not provide him and his men with provisions. When the eclipse occurred, the frightened people rushed to give Columbus and his men anything they wanted.

A sermon ‘Occasion’d by the Total Eclipse of the Sun, Upon April the 22nd, 1715’ by Joseph Burroughs provides another insight into the continuing fears surrounding an eclipse [SGC RBK B.549]. Burroughs describes that an eclipse fills many people with amazement and thoughts of the Power and Wonder of God, but many more have been maliciously persuaded in superstitious fears of “great miseries and calamities”. Burroughs, like Beller, uses his sermon to reassure (or admonish!) people on the occasion of an eclipse with the message: heed not to the ways of the heathen!

According to the printed second edition of Burrough’s sermon, the eclipse in 1715 took place “about a Quarter Past Nine in the morning, the Body of the Sun was wholly hid from us by the Moon for some minutes at which time three of the Planets – Jupiter, Venus and Mercury…appear’d. There was Darkness in part for near an Hour before and as much after it was Total”.

Hopefully, the skies will be clear for the total eclipse of the sun occurring in the morning on Friday 20 March 2015. Enjoy the spectacle – safely!

Gemma Martin
Archives Trainee

The will of a 16th century canon

March 13th, 2015

At his appointment to a Canonry of Windsor in 1504, Robert Honiwood was Chancellor of Norwich. He subsequently became Archdeacon of Taunton (1509) and Prebendary of Lichfield (1512). He died in 1523. The fine brass monument to Robert Honiwood can be seen on the wall of the Rutland Chantry Chapel in St. George’s Chapel. Two account rolls that he compiled during his time as Canon Steward of Windsor still exist and are held in the Chapel Archives.

In his will, Honiwood is named “Robert Honywode, Archdeacon of Bath and Chanon of King’s College of Wynnessore”. The will continues thus:-
“My body to be buried in the Chapell where the Duchesse of Exeter lies buried in the College of Wynnessore by the awter [altar].  At my burying to Master Dean if he be present 6s 8d, to every pety canon [minor canon] present 2s. To every vicar and chantry prest 20d. To every clerk 12d. To every chorister 4d. so that the Dean and chanons and choristers and other ministers sing … masses of Requiem for my soule and all of those for whom I am bound to pray. As soon as possible after the day of sepulture, 1000 masses to be caused to be said … for  … all christian soules.  At the day of my burying £20 to be disposed among pour people, to every pour householder 20d and to every pour body 4d.” The subchanter of Windsor was to receive 6s 8d “for his diligence”. Each of Honiwood’s executors and servants, also the torchbearers at his burial were to receive a “blak gowne” and his servants and his chaplain were each to receive “the horse they were wont to ryde on”.  Master Orchard, Honiwood’s servant was granted, additionally, a feather bed.

To the Abbess of Burnham was willed 6s 8d and to every nun, 3s 4d to say prayers for the Canon’s soul.  The “Maister of Eton” was to receive 6s 8d; each chaplain, 20d and every clerk 12d to sing the prayers on the day of Honiwood’s burial.

The College of All Souls, Oxford, was bequeathed Honiwood’s house and land in the parish of Clewer.  His executors were to sell his house and land in “Estburnham” [East Burnham] and dispose of the proceeds for his soul, the residue being used for “charitable werkes of mercy and pitie”.

On a scroll issuing from the hand of the kneeling figure of Robert on his memorial tablet is written in Latin:  Virgo tuu’ natu’ p’ me p’cor ora beatu’ [O Virgin, I beseech you, pray to your blessed son for me].

Jill Hume, Archives volunteer

Conservator’s eye view: book structure

February 23rd, 2015

My blog dated 23 January gave a short introduction to the remarkable natural material called parchment or vellum and its durability. The collection of medieval documents and early books at St George’s Archives and Chapter Library is testament to its properties.

This time I will concentrate on the way a book was constructed after the parchment had been cleaned and dried and cut to the required size. Very large sheets could be folded several times and their edges cut open to form the basic unit of a book, the so-called quire, or gathering (and in the language of printers, a signature). Smaller sheets were folded only once to create a bifolium – that is, two leaves or four pages. Bifolia were inserted inside one another to form a quire. The quires of the manuscript of Biblical commentaries of Gregory and Bede held at St George’s [SGC LIB MS.5] are made up of four bifolia each, that is of eight leaves or sixteen pages. There are 24 quires in total in the book which equates to one hundred and ninety two leaves, or three hundred and eighty four pages. The arrangement of the leaves follows a pattern common throughout the medieval period – the hair side of the treated calf skin faces hair side and flesh side faces flesh side. The aesthetics of a medieval manuscript were determined well before work on the page layout, let alone the decoration, could begin.

Quire structure in SGC LIB MS.5

The quires were often distributed among scribes and artists in monasteries and chapel scriptoria to speed up the work. The differences of handwriting within a single volume will nearly always be per quire and rarely within the same quire.  Scribes used various devices to signal the order of quires: quire marks (consecutive numbers written on the last verso of a gathering), quire and leaf signatures (combination of letters and numbers on the leaves in the first half of a gathering), or catchwords (the first words of the next gathering written at the end of the previous one).  Each of the pages will have been textualised by the scribes and then elaborate letters or miniature illuminations will have been added before the completed quires are sent to the bindery for binding the whole codex, or book.  More information about binding will be the subject of a later blog.

For a brief, yet pleasant animated introduction to the above please see the Getty Museum video, ‘The Structure of a Medieval Manuscript’ on YouTube.

Peter Eley
Library and Archives volunteer

The early days of St George’s School library

February 16th, 2015

Nowadays, St George’s School pupils participate in the annual National Book Week and have access to a new computer suite and well-resourced library.  However, back-copies of the School Magazine reveal the modest beginnings of the School Library.

It was only on completion of the new school building in 1935 that the School Library had a room of its own and soon it became the centre of reading and other hobbies.  Recent acquisitions had focused on fiction, then on nature, while the weekly “Field” magazine was popular.  It was hoped that a large music section, good biographies of distinguished men in the history of the world, more poetry and some moving classics might be forthcoming. Donations and gifts of books were sought as the Library Fund was insufficient to maintain a well stocked Library with its books well maintained and replaced as necessary.

Soon the many contributions to the Library Fund were being acknowledged.  In 1946 a Library Committee was formed, dilapidated and out of date books were being replaced and the proceeds of fines for overdue or damaged books were allocated to the Library Fund.  A year later a small subscription by every boy ensured a small but steady supply of new books for the Library.  Soon it was reported that the school had been gifted some fine oak bookshelves from Chapter Library and that the Library, which now contained 1500 books, was being used by large numbers of boys.  More than 200 books were added to the Library during the school year 1948-49.  In 1953 there was said to be a fairly good selection of all types of literature, but much “dead wood”.  Up to date books on Natural History, science, sports, games, hobbies, music and art, true adventure stories and annuals and books by Jane Austin, Trollope, C. Bronte, More (“Utopia”), Butler (“Erewhon”), C. S. Forester and T. S. White would be gratefully received.  Substantial gifts of books or donations to Library funds are acknowledged in subsequent issues of the school magazine.

Jill Hume, Archives Volunteer

Conservator’s-eye-view: vellum and parchment

January 23rd, 2015

Over the next few months, St George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library will be publishing a series of blogs written by one of our invaluable volunteers. Peter Eley is the founder of conservation supplies company, Arquiva Conservation, which has supplied the Oxbridge colleges, the Royal Household/Royal Collection, National Trust and English Heritage. He has worked on many conservation projects and is currently carrying out a survey of the many wax seals held in St George’s Chapel Archives. Here he offers us a conservator’s-eye-view of some of the Archives and Chapter Library holdings, beginning this week with a closer look at vellum and parchment.

There is a remarkable collection of early documents and books safely stored at St George’s Archives and Chapter Library and it has been my privilege for several years to work as a conservator on many of the medieval deeds with wax seals attached.

All of the hundreds of deeds are hand written on vellum or parchment and in this rapidly changing age of electronic communication it is worth considering for a moment or two the merits and construction of this long-lasting natural material.

Vellum; the word is derived from the Latin vitulinum meaning ‘made from calf’, leading to Old French velin (calfskin).  The choice of animal skin and their treatment was determined by local economy and by the type of book or document for which they were intended. Goatskins were most commonly used in Italy. Sheepskins were favoured for documents (as per our deeds) since they showed erasures more noticeably than other materials and thus discouraged alteration. Large and thick calf skins were most suitable for giant lectern Bibles and choir books. Thirteenth century pocket sized Bibles used skins that had been split and pared down to thin leaves, ready for the scribes and illuminators to carry out their wonderful work. Calf skins of medium thickness and fine quality would have provided the durable and yet supple material for manuscripts of the size of Books of Hours, psalters, breviaries and pontificals.

To see how parchment is made please see YouTube “How parchment is made”, Mr Win Visscher showing Dr Stephen Baxter the process (a Domesday BBC programme).

Quite frequently in my career I have seen carefully executed repairs to manuscripts pages, especially on expensive Royal or ecclesiastical volumes, whereby the contemporary repairer has used pieces of ‘slunk’ or ‘uterine vellum’ (after their unlikely source, aborted calves). If well done, a tear or a blemish can be almost impossible to detect. Another use for uterine vellum, because of its thinness, was for the artist or illuminator to trace his/her design or initial letter onto the page in preparation for filling all or part of the page, following the scribe having written the text.  Today, a conservator can order similarly thin parchment called Goldbeaters Skin off-the-shelf to make fine repairs.

Despite the hundreds of years our parchment documents and books have survived in such good order, not to mention the climatic changes they have endured in this drafty part of Berkshire, the ‘skins’ have fought against attempts to restrain them – much as the tethered beasts they once were.

Peter Eley
Library and Archives volunteer