2019 – a year in the Archives and Chapter Library

As 2019 draws to a close, we thought that you might enjoy learning what the Archives and Chapter Library have been up to this year.

In June we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Vicars’ Hall Undercroft as the home of the Chapel’s historical collections. One of the greatest advantages of this location has been the ability to open our doors to the public. This year we have been delighted to welcome around 600 visitors for tours and events including our annual Adopt a Book open day, talks about the heroes and villains of Tudor England and a lecture on the music chosen for royal weddings. Tour groups included volunteers at Hampton Court, the Friends of The National Archives and PGCE students from Reading University. Find out more about arranging a group tour from our website.

A visiting group in the Chapter Library
Kristen shows the Library to staff of St George’s School.

You might also have seen us out and about in St George’s Chapel providing pop-up exhibitions for special events, such as World Book Day, the Friends of St George’s open afternoon and the Windsor Castle-wide Victoria and Albert: a Love of Literature. Keep your eyes on the Dragon and the RCT What’s On magazine for opportunities to see more like this next year.

We enormously enjoyed the research behind the exhibition we mounted in the south quire aisle in April – A Collegiate Community: the people of St George’s Chapel. It gave us an opportunity to discover some touching, funny and even outright shocking stories about the lives of some of the past members of St George’s. There were many more than we were able to include on this occasion, so it’s definitely a theme we’d like to re-visit in the future.

Our work supports other departments within the College of St George and hundreds of members of the public around the world by answering their historical enquiries. This year we particularly enjoyed uncovering the history of the Curfew Tower to help the team working on its restoration. Among many other topics of interest were the precise burial place of William Lord Hastings, the procedure for degrading a Knight of the Garter and the history of embroideries in the Chapel.

Away from the public eye, much of our day to day work involves collecting and processing ‘new’ old records. We have recently acquired important collections of records from the Chapter Office, the Canon Precentor and the Curfew Tower bell ringers. All incoming records must be appraised for long-term value, carefully packaged and fully described in our catalogue. Much of the recent material is currently closed to the public under the Data Protection Act, but in time it will be a valuable resource for understanding St George’s at the turn of the twenty-first century.

While taking in new material, we remain responsible for the careful preservation of documents and books already in the collection, some of which are several hundred years old. This summer an ICON accredited conservator conducted a survey of the physical and environmental conditions of our storage rooms. Happily, the resulting report suggests that our current provisions are very good and provides some really useful tips for developing our collections care in the future.

Much of our work is made possible by the enthusiasm and generosity of volunteers. Our regular team, who assist with document interpretation, digitisation and conservation, have recently been augmented by new recruits working on a project to dust the Chapter Library books. The team are responsible for working through each of our c.6000 volumes, using special brushes to delicately clean the binding and the first and last six pages, where dust is most likely to build up.

Volunteers dusting books
Ola, Julian and John hard at work with their brushes.

This week we are all getting together for an Archives Team Christmas party to celebrate a fun and successful year. We will be raising a glass to St George’s Chapel’s past and to its future. Happy Christmas!

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The Queen's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.