A little nibble at the records…

A little nibble at the records…

Parchment lease bitten away in chunks at the left and right-hand side
SGC XV.13.31, showing extensive rodent damage.

There are many ways in which a document can be destroyed; in the archives we have a number of water-damaged documents, as well as those which have been affected by rough handling and spillages.

Perhaps the most dramatic damage is that done by rodents. You can see how this document has whole chunks taken out of it by a hungry rat or mouse. It is a lease of Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire, from 1694. The pattern of the bite marks shows that it was kept folded, and the discoloration in the centre may be due to water damage or other, rodent-related causes. Although rodents will frequently tear up paper to make nests, as parchment is made of animal skins, they are more likely to eat it.

Parchment is made by some of the same processes as leather; animal skins (traditionally sheep or goat, with calfskin being of a superior quality) were cleaned and scraped before being stretched and limed. Leathermaking has some additional steps, most notably tanning, which makes it waterproof and it is frequently dyed. Although parchment can be dyed in the process, it is normally kept to its natural off-white colour, which is most convenient for writing on. Although it is not waterproof, parchment is more resistant to water-damage than paper. Our water-damaged parchment documents may be difficult to read, and soft where the parchment has started disintegrating, but the equivalent damage to paper documents would have turned them into papiermache.

Most of our parchment documents have suffered nothing worse than dust and dirt, but there were reservations about pests in the aerary, where the documents were stored, in the 1950s, as furniture beetles were found to have attacked the cupboard where the records were kept.

Anne Courtney, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

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